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LONG BLOG

Steam direct, is it the answer?

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Ok for better or Worse there's talk of Valve shutting down greenlight and replacing it with new admission system and a price between $200 and $5,000.
So far very little in known but I thought I'd do a Cblog about it anyway because a lot of games I like made it to Steam via Greenlight and there's upcoming games I know of hoping to do just the same.

Firstly let me say Greenlight is not a perfect system and it's very easy to abuse the system to push through games that aren't great. Either because some people are easily bribed or because some people fall for easy ploys and calls for action.

  

That said I have some concerns for the '$1,000 entry fee' both due to lack of information regarding certain parts of it and lack of indication it's going to fix the issues with the existing Greenlight system for other parts.

1) what happens to the games already on Greenlight?

It's a big question that needs answering. There are games still trying to get greenlit and there are titles that have been greenlit but not set to release yet. Are Valve just closing admission to greenlight or the system as a whole?

Hell will developers who have paid to be on greenlight just have to swallow the greenlight cost or will they get that money taken off Steam directs cost?

2) Will they actually bother to have people vetting the stuff?

At those prices it'd be pretty much expected but this is Valve. The big issue with greenlight is the lack of oversight from Valve in monitoring it. Most of that job fell to the community to self police and with incidents like Spyware being uploaded to greenlight and even other peoples games and content. Well Valve only took action on such things after the community made a big deal of it and made it very public.

You think it's bad stuff getting on greenlight well if Valve doesn't vet it properly this stuff could end up in the store not just sitting on an out the way greenlight page.

3) Will this be accounted for in a new revenue share contract?

Valve takes a 30% cut of anything sold on their store the question is will this new entry fee just be something indie developers now have to absorb or will it be accounted for in the games sales? A possible route Valve could go is make it so they take a lower cut say 0-10% until the game has made the developer back their entry fee then have the cut they take after that ~$1,000 be the standard 30%.

The reason I bring this up is the classic image of the starving indie developer living on Raman noodles just trying to finish their game and suddenly facing a $1,000 entry fee could be pretty harsh for smaller indie developers to just write off that cost. However if Valve lowers the cut they take initially until that money is made by the product it would alleviate some pressure the developers might end up feeling from this move.

 So now that's out the way here's what I see as how this is planned to work to clean up Steam and also the issues with it already.

The higher price admission is designed to keep titles out that were done as a fast cash plan. It's not a new practice with indie developers. Back in the days of XBLIG it was very well known that certain games were released as fast cash. Just to keep the indie studios above water with some revenue from sales. Well some greenlight games, for example most of the output from certain litigious  pair of game "developing" brothers were to get fast cash. The thing is even a bad game can sell on steam because cards have value. Make a game that has 5 cards total, set it with 3 cards from drops and you almost guarantee about $0.10 -$0.12 per card. Now those cards being sold nets the developer a portion of their sales, The Steam fee is $0.01 or 5% whichever is bigger and the developer can set how much they take from the sale vs how much the seller gets. TF2 and DOTA2 have a 10% take. The "trick" is to place the game price below the expected selling price of the cards or create a way people can get the game in a bundle so it works out less than they'd make selling the cards on. This generates sales from people looking to sell the cards on and a small amount of revenue from card sales themselves. Thus bad game can game the system to sell and make some money easily with the $100 admission fee.

 

With a higher fee and Valve hopefully working to curate a bit then it will stop developers releasing cash grabs and make them more focussed on game they want to make and have put time into and at least somewhat care about.

However the downside of this is pushing away let's say, more experimental developers. For better or worse there's quite a few free games on Steam, not just free to play actually free and as they make no money then it's a heavy demand to ask for ~$1,000 for them to get on Steam. Add to that more niche genres would see less titles in them or games with more niche or specialised appeal e.g. LGBT oriented visual novels. I know it seems almost out of character for me to be out in defence of such titles but even though they're not aimed at me (arguably depending on design aesthetics the Lesbian ones may appeal but that's a whole sidetrack to the point) I do believe that it is good they're on the store and easily available for those who are interested in them. For all my snide jokes about Gone Home and games like it and how much I rip at them I do understand some people like them (for some mysterious reason) and as such, even though I may find them mediocre at best. I'm NOT calling for them or games like them to no longer be able to get onto Steam, I respect that even they have a place. Hell even hidden object games have a place on Steam, they may not be great but I'm sure there's some audience for them.

Now it is possible that games etc could do kickstarters or fundraisers to get on Steam but that's yet more stuff an indie developer has to do.

The next question has to be what is the alternative?

Well one is to borrow an idea from Nintendo and how they curate their system. Firstly they have the initial cost (Nintendo are known for often requiring studios to buy their own dev kits from them, if that's still the case I can't say). Add to that Nintendo require developers to get Nintendo certification, what does that mean you might ask? Well it means at least one person on the development team must take and pass a Nintendo programming exam........ no really Nintendo does or at least did make developers sit a programming exam to be allowed to release games on their system. Now before people freak out at the idea of an exam to get onto a system, from what I've heard the exam is pretty much a joke. The exam is extremely basic such that any-one with even a small amount of programming experience will pass it with ease and any-one whose made a game will likely have no problems with it. The way this works though is it means games that are essentially pre-built asset flips with nothing original programmed in won't get on the system because the "developers" of such titles have little to no knowledge of programming and a such even the simple Nintendo programming exam would be beyond them.

So how could Steam do this?

Well maybe a Steam programming exam and have the fee to get on Steam $3,000 -$5,000 BUT that fee being to be a Steam certified developer for maybe 10 years not as is presently being suggested a ~$1,000 fee per "app" you put out on Steam. The advantage of doing it this way would be that said indie developer now has added value in themselves. As such it could mean other teams seeing them as desirable as they are cleared to release games on Steam already. I'd say it's possible a $3,000 -$5,000 investment in something that could be of great benefit to a career for 10 year or so isn't as objectionable as a ~$1,000 fee per title and gambling on that title making money. Also I'd say make it so until a developer with the Steam certification has had titles that amount to the cost of the certification that they have a lower revenue cut taken from the game, say 10% or 20% at most rather than the normal 30%.

The obvious problem would be Valve would still need to monitor this system in case of mercenary developers merely passing any game onto Steam for a fee including the previously awful asset flips (in essence becoming almost publishers themselves). However them doing such a thing would damage their reputation and or see their certification revoked by Valve early.

 In end though Steam Direct, even without all the information so far, seems like a mixed bag.

+ In Theory it could help create more exposure for indie titles that do release as they're not swamped by a deluge of poorer titles.

+ For perspective customers it would likely make it easier to browse Steams new releases.

+ It should result in less asset flip games coming out

- It's a real gamble for developers and could hit indie titles particularly hard.

- It's going to mean there's less cheap games for customers

- It's going to mean the likely hood of free games being released will go down

- Titles that are fairly niche and fans of them might find the games just not coming to Steam

- It will mean less people can flip Steam cards for profit

So Steam Direct, is it a good or bad idea do you think?

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About Dwavenhobbleone of us since 8:33 AM on 06.19.2012

A qualified Environmental Chemist who happens to live in a fairly dense city with no real environment or chemistry industry.

I review indie games on another blog and you'll see them pop up here if I think the review is a good or interesting one (along with a shameless bit of self promotion)

I also operate another blog reviewing films and I mean t pick that back up when I can.

I've been gaming since the SNES days. I've been in the pro scene before for tribes 2 but hate the present pro scenes and have no interest in going back into it.

I tend to get into quite a few Betas and love ones without NDA as it means I can write about them. I have even beta tested an xbox 360 game in my time (and no not a normal public Beta one )

In gaming I'm normally the guy looking at the shelf below the AAA titles first to see if there are any great hidden gems.

My gaming drug of choice: Timesplitters in any flavour (Why won't you make Timesplitters 4 Crytek, why ????? I need my fix of insanity )
Xbox LIVE:hobblejp
Steam ID:dwavenhobble


 

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