Why The $100 Charge On Steam Greenlight is Wrong
Launched by Valve, makers of Half Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead, and Team Fortress, Steam is the number one digital distribution platform for PC video games. Despite a shaky start and recent alternatives like Desura and EA’s Origin (boo, hiss, etc.) launching, Steam’s position seems fairly unassailable.
Valve have been upgrading and updating Steam since it launched, adding new functions and functionality. One of the newest is Greenlight. Greenlight is a voting platform for Steam, which allows users (that’s you and me) to vote for games which have been submitted for sale on Steam.
In and of itself, Greenlight is a fantastic idea. For a long time now Valve, through Steam, have championed indie developers, giving them a platform to get their work out to the public. That’s not to say it was easy. Valve are a business before they’re anything else, and have never been in the habit of adding games to Steam without good reason. Exact details of how and why games were chosen to go on Steam are hard to come by, but previously a developer would have to submit their game for consideration and hope for the best. Community support, good press, and favorable reviews would no doubt have helped a game’s case for addition to Steam, but for every one indie game available on Steam, there are plenty more that didn’t make the grade.
Greenlight was received with open arms by almost everyone; a simple, straight forward process for not only submitting games, but making sure great games get the reception they deserve? Yes please. Of course, this is the internet, which means we can’t have nice things. Ever. Greenlight was released with no barriers to submission. All someone required was a description of the game, some art assets, and a title. The trolls arrived, and things started to get messy. Almost immediately, Greenlight was bombarded with fake games: multiple instances of Half-Life 3, Call of Duty, and more than a few with rather… unsavory titles.
So, in order to avoid constant trolling and the complete devaluation of the system, Valve implemented a charge of $100 for anyone submitting a game to Greenlight. They’re not just pocketing that charge, it’s being donated to the Child’s Play charity, a very worthy cause. Still, a $100 charge to submit a game is a mistake. I understand the necessity of charging something to prevent trolls and spammers – that’s a no-brainer – but $100 is just far too much. For a lot of people, $100 may not sound like a lot, but most indie developers – the type of people most likely to submit games to Greenlight – tend not to have an extra $100 spare.
$100 may well be spare change for some people, but not for the average indie developer. It’s easy to romanticize the image of the noble indie artist, slaving in obscurity, bravely and nobly resisting the temptation to work for “the man”. The truth of the matter is that the average indie developer is stone cold broke. If they’re working full-time on their own game, they’re probably not seeing anything like a regular income. They may be surviving on savings, bank loans or financial help from friends and family, but every penny, pound, or dollar will be precious. I’m not a game developer, but as a full-time student and homeowner, I’m intimately familiar with how difficult and expensive it can be to pursue your dreams at the same time as keeping your bank balance in the black; $100 is a little over £60, which is almost enough to feed my girlfriend and I for a fortnight.
And while there are developers for whom $100 isn’t a problem, the fact is that a fee of that size remains exclusionary. It’s a barrier to entry – a barrier that we need, yes, but a barrier that’s too high. If you want to stop trolls and spammers, $10 would be enough. Hell, even $5 would probably do it. $100 will definitely stop spamming, but it’s also going to stop legitimate developers as well.
Follow Craig’s intermittent tweets @d20shapedheart