Steam Greenlight recently launched! What a great idea from a great company who made a great service! But it hit a strange snag in its first couple days and the response made the independent game developer community blow up. The fact that they're freaking out about this right now is making me a little bit sick so I had to puke up my two cents before I could get back to work making games. But first, some context:
Read Me, Game Industry Layman!
Steam is an online store for PC games. It was created and is run by a company in Bellevue, Washington called Valve, who created the service years ago to digitally distribute their own games. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the rest of the AAA industry. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the indies. When that was massively successful, they decided it was too difficult (even for their highly competent and dedicated staff) to filter through all of the games that were submitted every day for placement on the service. Greenlight was their solution.
Enter Steam Greenlight
Greenlight is a service Valve recently launched that allows anyone to submit a game. The game gets added to the Greenlight website where the Steam community can vote for it. After enough votes, Valve will put it on Steam (I realize it's a little more complicated than this, but you get the gist). After just a couple days there was a serious problem; a significant portion of the submissions were insincere, deliberately offensive, underdeveloped, in violation of Valve's policies, or just horrific garbage that no one would ever play. In order to nip this in the bud, Valve implemented a one-time $100 dollar submission fee. The logic here is that it creates a barrier to entry which weeds out submitters that aren't serious. This fee is not about profit; Valve actually donates 100% of the submission fees to charity. But regardless of that fact, this fee is what started the fire.
Why Did The Internet Blow All Up?
For some inexplicable reason, a lot of indies and journalists made some asinine assumptions; that Greenlight was going to level the visibility playing field, that Greenlight was going to be an environment of progress and fairness that advances the medium, that Valve has some vested interest in the success of indies, that Greenlight isn't functionally exclusionary, and mostly, that $100 is just too much money. No one anywhere should be under any of these impressions! All of the noise has that distinct air of indie entitlement, where they erroneously assumed that another service exists (or should) for their personal benefit. Look at Valve's press announcement. They made it pretty clear what Greenlight is for:
"...a new platform feature that enlists the community’s help in selecting some of the next games to be released on Steam...As well as serving as a clearing house for game submissions, Greenlight provides an incredible level of added exposure for new games and an opportunity to connect directly with potential customers and fans."
Unless I've gone dumb and I just don't see it, it says NOWHERE that everyone with a game gets to be on Steam. Sure, everyone can submit a game, but then doesn't mean everyone gets a fair shake. You get to be on Steam if you pay $100 and submit a high quality game that a lot of people really like. This is what Steam has always been about! Why would they change this?! Why would they suddenly abandon their tight quality control guidelines and change their policies? Why would they they suddenly start giving unappealing, low quality games that won't profit ANYONE a place on a service that has historically delivered high quality games to committed PC gamers? Why would they suddenly alter the landscape of their incredible service after a decade of doing things in a very specific way for very specific reasons for a very specific audience? They wouldn't! And they never said they would. But what bothers me most about all of the ire is that is Greenlight still benefits the independent game development community as a whole because without it, there would be way less indie games on the service at the end of the day. This is going to help us! It's just not going to help every last one of us, for fuck's sake. Nothing does that! Grow up.
Is $100 Really Too Much Money?
This is still the most common complaint, and this is what I have to say to that; when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to take my girlfriend at the time to her senior prom, even though I didn't have a DIME to my name. It was really important to me that I did this, but I didn't have a car, I didn't have any income, and I didn't have a lot of time. So I washed vehicles, cleaned garages, mowed lawns, and ran errands for people until I had made enough money to rent a tux and take her to dinner beforehand. I made somewhere between 50 and 100 dollars (I don't completely remember) and it took all of a weekend. All I had to do was know people, and have arms and legs and half a brain. If I didn't know any people, I would have sold some of my possessions. If I didn't have any possessions I would have dug coke cans out of dumpsters and traded them in at the recycling plant. And so on and so forth. If you care so much about getting your game on Steam (because you believe you've made a good game and selling it on Steam will change your life) then you can raise 100 fucking dollars. This argument is asinine. Go make a great game, and then everything will line up for you, assuming you've got half a brain.
Oh, and we'll be submitting to Steam through Greenlight and I could not be less worried about it. More on that in 2013. ;)