Ok, then. It’s been about one week since my indie game in development, a hand-drawn 3d puzzle platformer called “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth,” was listed on Steam Greenlight (see that page here). I hesitate to write about it now, since I’m sooooo close to reaching 1,000 “yes votes,” but the visitor count has slowed down to a crawl, so I won’t get there for at least a few more days.
Most people seem to complain about Greenlight. Even news sites that used to write about games that get accepted either don’t, or make fun of how random many of the games seem in terms of press or quality. Indie devs and gamers have complained about it for years. Well, I want to say that, for the most part, Greenlight does what it is supposed to perfectly, and most complaints about it aren’t at all justified.
First, some stats from a first time user. I paid the $100 USD fee, which allows you to put AS MANY GAMES AS YOU WANT ON GREENLIGHT (when you put it like that, it seems like a bargain, especially since the money goes to the “Child’s Play” charity). I posted description, screenshots, video, links, icon images, etc. and made the page public about seven days ago. I did not do any other press on other websites, other than my Twitter feed and showing my trailer during indiE3 (which got some very excited people even willing to donate to a Kickstarter if it existed, but ultimately only a dozen or so votes were probably collected from those viewers, albeit much appreciated). Therefore, most of the visitors to this Greenlight page came directly from Steam itself. My game was on the first page of new submissions for about four days.
I don’t use Steam often, and don’t pay attention to how it does things most of the time. They do advertise that millions of gamers are online with Steam at any given time (or more likely, millions of gamers with their PC turned on have Steam installed on their computers and are connected to the Internet, since Steam likes to turn on and connect automatically). After one week, I received about 4,500 “unique visitors,” about 73.2% of which left a vote for my game. Voters can vote “yes,” “no,” or “undecided.” At the time of this writing, 971 people voted “yes,” and 2,325 people voted “no.” Steam stresses that “no” votes do not effect which games are accepted for sale, and that a “no” comes from the question “would you buy this?,” meaning that my particular game just isn’t interesting to most people, not that it is necessarily bad. It also doesn’t mean that over 900 people would buy my game either, they just think it deserves to be on Steam. The “favorites” and “followers,” 54 and 45 respectively, are more accurate to who might buy your game for a fair price at launch, also similar to a Kickstarter campaign’s results for a separate but similar game I launched last year. The stats suggest that 1% of people who see my game would probably buy it: not realistic, but exciting given that over a million gamers are on Steam at any given time of the day.
My game is (barely) on track to what other games in the top 100 have done in the same amount of time. Although, some of those games received a huge boost at some point, exactly from what is unknown (perhaps a Kickstarter page or a post on a well-known news site). It is a little frustrating that Steam provides varied stats for both the top 100 and 50 games, seeming inconsistent and troublesome to developers who are particular about that sort of thing. It’s clear that my game has a long way to go before it ever gets accepted by votes alone.
Now, some people complain that 1) Steam does a bad job promoting Greenlight submissions, 2) Steam’s accepted games through Greenlight are random and not representative in interest and sales and is notorious to get through, and 3) Steam has no quality control for Greenlight. Let’s address that.
Steam actually does a fantastic job promoting new Greenlight submissions. You may not actually see any unless you go to the “Greenlight” page, but truthfully most gamers playing only AAA games wouldn’t care anyway. For the people that do check the page every now and then, Steam gives users “a queue” of randomized recent submissions for you to go through. If you choose, you can go through a queue of about half a dozen games, one by one, voting “yes” or “no” before going to the next. It’s a fantastic system that encourages people to discover games and voice some opinion, and only takes a few minutes for a user to help a bunch of games out. If you prefer, you can do things the old fashioned way and see all the recent submissions, organized by most recent automatically, every week or so to see the new games by icon and title.
It’s not a lot, but the little promotion achieved is surprisingly effective. It targets the world’s largest collection of gamers, and has gotten me more feedback than anywhere else. More than Twitter or Facebook. More than Youtube. More than Reddit. More than IndieDB (who has lately decided to not accept any updates to my game as “real news”, limiting that site’s potential drastically). More than this blogging site. More than several news sites dedicated to promoting indie games. More than a failed Kickstarter page to a similar game last year. More than a free Steam Greenlight “Concept” page. In fact, I think my Steam Greenlight page has more comments and “likes” than all of these sources COMBINED! Indie devs are probably concerned that it barely makes a dent compared to the top games: even if every visitor to my page so far voted “yes,” I’d only be halfway to getting among the average of the top 50. The sad truth is that indie developers need to be very good at getting press out there and in front of people’s eyes. It would be nice if Steam somehow limited certain games from getting too much attention, like if they were to limit up to 10,000 visitors to a game page before locking it’s stats to compare with others. But generally, press and generating excitement is YOUR job, the developer. It’s fantastic that Steam can get this many people to see my game as it is.
About Greenlight’s infamy of trying to get accepted. True, thousands of games are trying to get the spotlight, and many of them have actually been successful on Kickstarter, GOG, Desura, or other sites. Even then, look at those games and the number of comments they get compared to accepted games. Generally, games successful elsewhere not accepted through Greenlight barely have any comments, when successful Greenlight submissions have received thousands (interestingly, a basic Japanese indie visual novel submitted around the same time as me was accepted right away, almost all of it’s supporters of that native language, perhaps a great clue in how you can get more attention). Ultimately, Steam only cares about what users on Steam want, and therefore votes on Steam Greenlight are the biggest stat for them to compare. I’ve seen successful Kickstarter games on Greenlight for months get less comments than I did in a week. Is that the game’s fault? Do you just need more press? Is it Steam’s fault?
Greenlight has been accepting more games lately, as many as 75 every two weeks, much more than they did only a year ago. So they are trying to get through worthy games more. You could say this is because many of the top games are neck-and-neck to each other in popularity. It could be Steam wants more indie games to please more gamers. I believe Steam is planning to eventually end Greenlight and is trying to pass as many games as possible before then. In any case, when over 1,000 games a year are being accepted, if your game isn’t one of them, I wouldn’t put Steam entirely at blame.
And quality control… a recent batch of accepted games met the comment that some of the accepted games didn’t even have any screenshots or video of gameplay, only concept art. That’s a problem. But they got many comments, and probably votes. Ultimately, its the voters that control which games get accepted. If thousands of gamers think it’s funny to vote “yes” on a game called “Sandwich Shop Simulation 2014,” then it will get accepted. Maybe that sort of game is actually what’s popular, due to humor or being just fun, and maybe other gamers that take Greenlight seriously are just out of touch…
The point is it is up to you. Not Steam. The gamers are given the voice to make their favorite games available on Steam. Take that responsibility seriously, and vote often, only voting “yes” on games you really care about. Could Steam change some things? Maybe change organization of “recent submissions” based on recent updates to cycle older games back into the loop. Maybe accept all games, and let indie devs be in control of making their game stand out when released. Maybe charge for every individual submission, to avoid desperate devs taking advantage of their one-time all access fee by submitting every idea that comes to mind without preparing first? Maybe only accept FINISHED games on Greenlight, since over 60% of accepted games so far still haven’t been released.
Until then, Steam Greenlight is actually doing a better job than anyone else in promoting indie games, and I encourage any serious devs to use it at some point. The only better way to promote games is to actually show off your games in conventions and expos where possible, where you get immediate valuable feedback and encouragement. For now, the variety of feedback Greenlight gave me, especially all of the strong excitement and interest, encourages me to make my game as polished as possible to release this August.