Before the fee, it was difficult to know what Greenlight was going to mean for the indie community, since its "new toy" sheen hadn't yet dissipated. It's even more difficult to gauge what Steam itself wanted Greenlight to accomplish, with or without the fee.
In its launch announcement, Valve says Greenlight will serve "as a clearing house for game submissions" and "provides an incredible level of added exposure for new games and an opportunity to connect directly with potential customers and fans." If that sounds a lot like Kickstarter, it's because it sounds a lot like Kickstarter. This isn't a bad thing; it equates Greenlight to something that has run the online course and has experienced public showdowns and successes, something known.
While a few developers benefit from the high-speed, viral-hinged community vetting of crowd-sourced creative sites, even more have failed. Still, sites such as Kickstarter truly can help raise awareness for a legitimate project, even if that interest doesn't transform into cash. In this sense, Greenlight has an advantage, in that it's not trying to raise money. It only wants attention.
Developers want their games to reach astronomical levels of awareness as well, and recently this translates into a fixation on one particular service for the success or failure of their projects – Kickstarter, and now, Greenlight. Hundreds of pitch emails switch from titles such as "Snappy the Turtle, a new indie adventure game" to "Kickstart Snappy the Turtle" or "Vote for Snappy the Turtle on Greenlight." This shifts the focus away from the game itself, in both the mind of the developer and the person receiving the emails.
Since most people receiving the emails are video games journalists and potential publishers or fans, it's safe to say they don't particularly care about Kickstarter or Greenlight – they care about the game. So should the developer, more than anything.
Those who have succeeded on the development side offer a unique perspective on Steam Greenlight. We asked a few what they think about the service, the $100 and its impact on indies: Adam Saltsman, Markus Persson, Edmund McMillen, Christine Love and a group discussion among Rami Ismail, Zach Gage, Greg Wohlwend and Mike Boxleiter. Their thoughts are below.
Adam Saltsman (Canabalt): I don't mean this in a negative way but I don't really see what Greenlight has to do with indie developers hoping for a big break. It seems like a great way to vet already-successful or super promising content for whether or not it would be a good fit for Steam specifically as a distribution channel.
I think a lot of devs are looking at it as some kind of like lottery system where, "Oh man if enough people like this trailer I made for my Flash game then I'll make a million dollars." But no, you won't, because Steam is probably not going to slot it into a channel if the game itself doesn't make sense for the network, even if everybody on 4chan votes for it.
I think for most people the playing field is basically the same as it was six days ago. for those few teams out there with solid games that are already a good fit for Steam and have a good following, Greenlight seems like a fantastic way to augment your pitch to the editors/curators of the service.
I have been pretty busy the last few weeks though, so maybe I'm missing some important detail. Or maybe I'm just burned out from the kind of overall sense of intense pandering from the combination of Kickstarter videos and Greenlight videos that have been saturating our little sphere of the internet.
Markus Persson (Minecraft): I have no informed opinions on it, other than a gut feeling that social media is and will remain infinitely more important than Greenlight for indie game developers.
Edmund McMillen (The Binding of Isaac): Now I don't know for sure Valve's motivations behind Greenlight, but if I was Valve the reason I would have made it would have been to appease devs who got rejected by Steam but strongly believed their game had a big enough fan base to support their Steam release.
At times it can be hard to convince Steam your game is worth getting behind, and I know a lot of devs who had to release their games on their own first, get good reviews, and prove their games have a fan base before Steam approved their game for release. Greenlight makes sense for these types of games.
Hurdle-wise Greenlight seems to have the same obstacles as something like Kickstarter, where in order to get anyone to care about your game you need to make something that will get a lot of attention and essentially go viral on Steam. I'm not sure how great this is, but in all honesty it's probably better than what they had before and will allow for more devs to get games on Steam than previously.
I personally don't see much issue with the $100. I mean, the only real negative I see is the fact that they didn't start Greenlight with it. $100 isn't much if you strongly believe your game has a chance on Greenlight; if you don't believe it's worth the $100 then you are simply wasting your time with Greenlight anyway.
It's really a lot like the IGF (but a lot less expensive). I submitted two to three games a year to the IGF for over six years, each time paying $100 an entry. I did this because I strongly believed that my games had a chance... and sometimes they did. At this point in time I was working part-time at GameStop and doing contract work – I would make sure to hunt down an extra job to pay for my entry fee, but I got it done because I believed in what I was doing.
Christine Love (Analogue: A Hate Story): One of the things I really like about Steam – and have personally benefitted from a lot – is their ability to draw a lot of attention to stuff that would otherwise be lesser-known and niche. I don't think Greenlight plays to that strength at all. It's a good way for them to pick up games that are already popular, but... did they really have a problem with that before?
$100 is a lot to ask from people in bad financial conditions, but I think what's more significant is the cost in time. I don't think I'd recommend to anyone in good faith that they spend a lot of effort in promoting a Greenlight pitch that only has a vague chance of getting accepted, when their time could be better spent on improving the game itself, or doing the kind of marketing that will lead to more people actually playing their game.
Rami Ismail (Super Crate Box), Zach Gage (Spelltower), and Greg Wohlwend and Mike Boxleiter (both of Intuition Games): During a roadtrip, these four indie developers discussed Steam Greenlight if it cost $1,000, as a thought experiment. The complete recording can be found here, but to summarize: $1,000 is a lot and $100 is reasonable (even for a prank) – but what would be even better is a fee for a Greenlight account, which would allow developers to host as many games as they want.