Learning the news that Valve was scrapping Steam Greenlight and replacing it with a brand new initiative last week was quite shocking. Not that Greenlight deserves to stick around. The soon to be defunct system was a horror show that allowed Steam’s store page to be flooded with subpar, barely developed and outright terrible games.
But Greenlight has been around and causing some very obvious problems for so long that it seemed as though Valve had no desire to fix it. Then, out of the blue, it seems that the developer is attempting to bring some level of quality control back to its storefront. Sort of.
Greenlight started with the best of intentions. Before its introduction in 2012 it was incredibly difficult for independent game developers to get their games onto the Steam store. Back then, if you could get your game onto Steam it was guaranteed premium exposure the likes of which all the money and marketing in the world couldn’t buy.
Pre-2012 it was probably too difficult for indies deserving of attention to get on Steam. Something had to be done and Valve figured Greenlight was the answer.
Fast forward to 2017 and Steam is now awash with games. While this could be considered a good thing, after all a virtual storefront that sells digital games doesn’t exactly have limited amounts of shelf space, the result has seen Steam’s reputation for quality completely collapse.
While it’s certainly true that Greenlight has helped those deserving indies get their games onto Steam, the net result has been akin to the floodgates opening. Steam has been flooded with games of varying quality. Up to a dozen games (and sometimes more) of varying quality are released every day, with 80% of Steam’s entire library seeing release within the last three years.
Greenlight was a system that was too easy to game, as it turned out. Although Valve eventually implemented a $100 fee to register for the service (to stop joke submissions that saw the service flooded with Half Life 3’s), this did not deter some truly horrific games from seeing release on Steam.
Steam slowly went from the digital storefront that assured a certain level of quality to a store that made it incredibly difficult to separate the good from the horrific.
While the first wave of Greenlight games looked promising, both that service and the storefront eventually gave way to a seemingly unending torrent of crap. To be clear, I’m not talking about games that we simply didn’t like or care for. I’m talking about games that are genuinely, objectively terrible, put together by “developers” who know nothing of actual game development, smashing store-bought assets together in the hopes that they could make a quick buck while they “developed” their next game.
“Developers” such as Digital Homicide, who released more than a dozen terrible games onto Steam. When they were called out on their behaviour, most notably by Jim Sterling, they threatened, harassed and attempted legal action.
While Digital Homicide and their library of unplayable garbage were certainly the most notable purveyors of shit, there is unfortunately a long, long list of awful, unplayable rubbish on Steam thanks to a total lack of quality control on the service.
We’ve come into contact with a few of these kinds of games at Words About Games in the past, though we try our best to avoid them. Games like Botology, Guardians of Victoria, Z.I.O.N. and more. We don’t like to talk about them.
We’ve seen “developers” purchase asset packs from the Unity store and attempt to sell them as entire games, as in Uncrowded, a game we covered back in 2015. Many others have released unfinished games, some even going so far as to include next to nothing in their actual game, as was the case with 2015’s Journey of Light, a game that included a single unbeatable level.
And then there’s something like BMC Studios’ “Zombitatos the end of the Pc master race” which is…I don’t even know what this is.
It’s not really a problem in and of itself that these games find their way onto Steam. It’s a digital storefront, there isn’t exactly a limited amount of shelf space. Steam’s major issue is that of discoverability. The Steam store is an absolute mess, making it near impossible to find a hidden gem amongst the torrent of turds.
Valve have attempted to introduce filters in the past, separating the new releases into “popular” and “all” – though this exacerbates the issue of actually finding hidden gems. While the Popular New Release tab does a decent job of filtering out the bad games, it also filters out a lot of those hidden gems. If enough people haven’t heard of (and don’t buy) a game then it doesn’t make its way onto the popular list.
Similarly, all a “developer” has to do to have a chance at the popular list is to launch their “game” for £1-£2 to entice enough people into taking a punt, increasing their visibility on the store page.
User reviews are similarly useless. Aside from the joke reviews that you’ll find littered across a lot of these games, which give the game a positive rating despite calling it awful, it’s also very easy to manipulate review percentages via key giveaways, friends reviews and various other underhanded methods of boosting review scores.
What Steam Direct proposes could put an end to all of that. It very much relies on one thing – how much it will cost to submit a game onto the storefront. It’s a very fine line that Valve are attempting to walk.
Steam Direct potentially removes all barriers to entry onto Steam. Now developers don’t even need to garner the requisite community votes through Greenlight (not that they needed to before given how easy it was to scam your way through the system). Simply pay a fee and release a game.
In announcing the new initiative, Valve are listening to developers. Currently they’re considering a submission fee of between $100 and $5,000 (per game). While $5,000 will certainly put a stop to games like Zombitatos and the end of the Pc master race, it would also certainly stop a number of smaller games from actual developers from making it onto Steam.
If the submission fee is $100 then it’s entirely possible that the Steam storefront will basically look like Greenlight does now, locked in a race to the bottom much like the Google Play app store. Although more robust discoverability tools that actually connect people with games that they would find interesting would mitigate the inevitable shitstorm considerably.
It could go either way. The direction it goes depends entirely on what Valve decides the fee will be. While Valve could sidestep these potential issues entirely by simply hiring a team of people to perform quality control on submitted games, this isn’t the path they are choosing to follow.
We’ll undoubtedly learn more in the coming months and it’ll be these details that will tell us whether Steam is on a path to recovery or whether it’s about to double down on its current problems.
Because while there is no such thing as too many games, there is such a thing as having so many shitty games that you can’t find the good ones.