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.