For One Indie Dev, Steam Greenlight Turns Red

“We review Greenlight votes, reviews, and a variety of factors in the Greenlight process,” Valve Marketing Director Doug Lombardi wrote in an email to Game Front. “However our message to indies regarding publishers is do it for your own reasons, but do not split your royalties with a publisher expecting an automatic ‘Yes’ on Greenlight.”

That stance makes some degree of sense; it’s likely Valve doesn’t want Greenlight to become a platform through which publishers find smaller games they can prey on.

“Valve has a stance that makes sense under very specific circumstances,” Maulbeck said. “Yes, it prevents predatory publishers from preying on Greenlight devs and basically stealing their money. But it also prevents devs who dont have time to run a big flashy greenlight campaign from signing a mutually beneficial deal with a great publisher like Adult Swim. I hate how Valve feels they have to hold the hand of indies, like they’re the protector of us from the big scary publishers. Indie devs are grown men and women who don’t need Valve to make these decisions for us.”

The worst part of the situation for Code Avarice is that, without the exposure and sales that come with Steam, the developer might not make enough money from this game to fund its next one and still survive. As Pfenning put it in an interview with YouTube Let’s Play video maker Green9090, the worry for him is that, if working on games full-time doesn’t allow him to support his family, he’ll have to go back to doing other jobs, potentially leaving games behind altogether.

But the situation seems as though it might get better. The video with Green garnered some support for Paranautical Activity, and Code Avarice is putting its effort into its Greenlight campaign in the meantime.

“We’re a far ways away from where we need to be, but this is a really good start,” Maulbeck said. “We’ve got some ideas on how we can continue the momentum. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Those ideas include a Kickstarter campaign that could help grow interest in Paranautical Activity, and if it was successful enough, might allow Maulbeck and Pfenning to stop worrying about Steam altogether for the game and begin work on their next title.

But even if the worst-case scenario comes true — not enough Kickstarter support, not enough Greenlight support, and Paranautical Activity can’t get the attention (and sales) Code Avarice hopes for — Maulbeck doesn’t seem to think it’ll be the end of the team’s game-making efforts.

“If the Greenlight fails, and we don’t make any money with Kickstarter, then we just finish the game, take whatever sales we can get on the platforms we can get on, and move onto the next game,” he said. “And try to learn from our mistakes.”

But Maulbeck still thinks Code Avarice will have to work to get on Steam, in some form or another, whether with Paranautical Activity or its next game.

“It’s hard not to shoot for steam. They’ve got such a monopoly on the market. If it was financially viable for us to boycott steam, we’d do it. We really don’t have much of a choice. We have to choose between dealing with a broken system and going bankrupt.

“We definitely wouldn’t be putting up a Greenlight until we were sure we needed it,” he said.

Paranautical Activity is currently available through BTMicro, Gamer’s Gate and Desura — find it here. The Paranautical Activity Steam Greenlight page can be found here.

Read more of Phil Hornshaw’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


On June 7, 2013 at 1:34 am


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.


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.