For One Indie Dev, Steam Greenlight Turns Red

When Valve announced its new Steam Greenlight idea, it seemed a potentially great change in the way lesser-known games could find their way to players.

Before Greenlight, Valve’s process for identifying games to sell on Steam was something of a difficult and subjective one. Games with publishers could find their way into Valve’s walled garden, but indie titles without such support had a more haphazard time breaking through. In response, Valve democratized the process with Greenlight, allowing developers to post their games to the social networking portion of Steam and allow players to vote on games they would buy. It took the pressure of picking new games off Valve’s shoulders and allowed user interest to help get games on the portal.

But while Greenlight might have started off with good intentions for helping indie developers find a wider audience on Steam (while also saving Valve some money), it doesn’t always work out that way. For at least one developer, Greenlight has turned into a massive roadblock to making its game available to the Steam audience.

The developer in question is Code Avarice, a two-man team working on an old-school, voxel-graphic shooter called Paranautical Activity. Without the help of players up-voting the game, there’s no way for Paranautical Activity to get on Steam — despite having a publisher in Adult Swim Games that was ready to help.

As Mike Maulbeck, one half of Code Avarice, put it in an interview with Game Front, if the pair had never created a Greenlight page for Paranautical Activity, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

“The long short of it is,” Maulbeck said, “We put up a Greenlight, Adult Swim picks us up, we ignore our Greenlight, Adult Swim flies out to Valve and Valve decides they ‘Don’t want to send the message that indies can seek out publishers to bypass Greenlight,’ and shoot us down, and now we’re here. With a Greenlight that is in desperate need of resurrection.”

That leaves Maulbeck and his partner, Travis Pfenning, in a tough spot. The pair originally created the Greenlight page before Adult Swim approached them, and let the page languish in the meantime while continuing work on the game, figuring that the help of the publisher meant the Greenlight campaign was obsolete. Now that the game is ready to go out to the world, Code Avarice suddenly finds itself needing to rekindle support on Greenlight.

According to Maulbeck, the way Valve okays game for Steam has a lot to do with being “trusted.” Adult Swim has published games with Steam before, so that makes it a trusted publisher, and it means Valve doesn’t feel the need to constantly vet the quality of each new title from Adult Swim before okaying it for Steam. But Greenlight has its own set of rules, requiring an outpouring of support from the player community for any given title to make it through the process. And the Greenlight field has expanded so much that clearing the Greenlight hurdle currently requires a huge number of votes — and a lot of developer energy poured into the campaign to get players to click the Greenlight button.

Valve is rather secretive about the ins and outs of its Steam business and how games make it onto the portal. When reached for comment, the company stuck to its guns: It doesn’t want developers thinking that signing with a publisher means jumping the Greenlight line.

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10 Comments on For One Indie Dev, Steam Greenlight Turns Red

Axetwin

On June 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Am I the only one that doesn’t see the big issue here? I mean, Greenlight is about letting the consumer pick which games are officially picked up by Steam right? So I don’t think just because Adult Swim was ready to back it means it gets a free pass pass the elimination portion of the process. Quite frankly, if it DID mean it got a free pass, then you KNOW other major companies would exploit the ever loving crap out of it. LIke they now do with Kickstarter.

Anathemize

On June 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I agree with Axetwin. If their game is good enough then it will pass green-light. There are other avenues to sell their game. How about GOG. Or how about getting Adult swim to get some reviews for the game. If it gets good reviews people will vote on it because they will want it on their steam account.

Luther

On June 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm

yeah i don’t really see the problem, plus I personally wouldn’t vote for it since the pics are showing me a game I wouldn’t ever want to play.

Red Menace

On June 4, 2013 at 8:09 pm

No thanks / Not interested.

Phil Hornshaw

On June 4, 2013 at 8:24 pm

The issue for the developers at Code Avarice is that, if they had gotten the publisher before ever creating the Greenlight page, they would have been added to Steam with no issue. Major publisher games don’t have to jump through the hoops of Greenlight — instead, they have an agreement with Valve and go straight up.

So consider the standpoint of the developers: despite making a game that has attracted the attention of a publisher, they’re still forced to generate community support to put their game on Steam. This isn’t a rule they could have anticipated, and if the publisher had come to them before they set up the Greenlight page, their game would be on Steam right now. Instead, they’re forced to take time away from working on the game, or on a new game, or from their lives in general, in order to run a Greenlight campaign that other developers and publishers aren’t forced to do — and if it fails, they’re stuck unable to sell their game on Greenlight. So the issue is what seems to the guys involved to be an uneven application of the rules. After all, Assassin’s Creed 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts aren’t stuck running Greenlight campaigns to get on Steam.

Evernessince

On June 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I would disagree Phil and here’s why. When they signed up with steam green light they agreed that steam would promote their game through that service and that it would be published if it obtained enough votes. The only reason adult swim was able to find out about the game was through green light. If steam was to allow them to skip that process, not only are the game creators breaking their promise, but they are also bypassing the system. Why would steam allow these games to just get free promotion without receiving any incentive. If anything, they should allow games to be picked-up by other entities but should charge a fee to get out of the contract they agreed to when going on greenlight.

Phil Hornshaw

On June 6, 2013 at 9:06 am

@Evernessince

I think you just got to the heart of some of Valve’s concerns. Because of the situation on Greenlight right now, a game can appear to be popular and have a lot of votes, without necessarily being actually greenlit. And that may well bring publishers looking for titles they can fast-track onto Steam for an easy profit on their part, with the work already done for promotion; meanwhile, indie devs are giving up 40 percent of what they make to this publisher, and that’s Valve wants to protect people from. I also think Valve doesn’t want publishers using Greenlight to find new games, which is more or less against what the feature was originally designed to do.

All that said, in this case, the only people that it seems are being hurt are the guys at Code Avarice. The hinge issue here is whether Adult Swim actually did find Paranautical Activity because of Greenlight, which I don’t think is the case — Code Avarice got into talks pretty early with Adult Swim, and that’s why its Greenlight campaign has languished. The game is also available on a number of other services. So this is a case in which I don’t think it’s true that Greenlight was the reason the game got noticed in the first place, and if it was, it was so early in the process that Greenlight made no difference. As Mike Maulbeck mentions, if they’d known Greenlight was going to be a barrier, they never would have signed up.

I also think Maulbeck makes a good point when he says that indie developers are able to make their own decisions. Valve may have good intentions behind this rule, but shouldn’t indie devs be able to do what they want with their games? Is it fair that signing up for Greenlight means you have to play by Valve’s Greenlight rules forever? What if circumstances change?

Obviously it’s a complex issue, and it’s possible to see both sides, I think. From the indie community’s standpoint, by and large, I think a lot of developers are seeing this as the actual indie developer suffering because of Valve’s rules, not anyone else. I do think Valve has an interest in protecting Greenlight, but it seems like there might be a better way to do that.

Aedelric

On June 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I am with the rest, this is a non-issue.

The point of greenlight is that the consumer picks, if you want picked then make a great game that people want. Advertise and get a fanbase like the rest of the greenlight success stories, no shortcut for you Code Avarice.

Evernessince

On June 7, 2013 at 1:34 am

@Phil

I think to best way fix any future dilemmas would be to notify everyone who wants to add their game to greenlight that they cannot seek out secondary publishing while using greenlight. I don’t know if steam really actively notified indie devs about this and it could go a long way.

Code Avarice are just unfortunate of not having known of this and being the first to run into the issue.

R.J.

On June 9, 2013 at 11:04 am

I can see where this would be a major source of frustration for devs, but at the same time, I can’t necessarily blame Valve for being concerned that publishers might look to Greenlight as a source for finding small devs that might be overly eager to jump at an offer. I guess if I were looking to get a game through the Greenlight process, I would expect that I would be choosing that and foregoing the chance to sign up with somebody else. It seems like some of this would be cleared up by being very up front with devs that they can’t back out while the Greenlight process is ongoing. While I might sympathize with the situation, I don’t know that this is really Valve’s fault.