Nearly five years after Steam Greenlight was first announced, Valve today said it is putting an end to the controversial system that allows users to vote on which games they believe should be sold on the popular PC digital distribution service. The service will be replaced by something called Steam Direct, giving developers easier access to the platform for an undisclosed fee. Direct will be launched in the spring.
Greenlight was Valve’s first attempt at opening the Steam store significantly beyond the original, tightly curated list of games selected by a small group of Valve staffers. Valve says it considers that effort a qualified success, leading to more than 100 Greenlight games grossing at least $1 million on the platform. “A lot of those probably wouldn’t have been published in the old, heavily curated Steam store,” the company notes in its press release.
That said, Valve now sees Greenlight as “the biggest remaining obstacle” for developers who have a direct path to the Steam audience. “Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path and ultimately connect gamers with even more great content.”
To that end, the upcoming Steam Direct system simply requires new developers to provide some corporate paperwork and tax information (“similar to the process of applying for a bank account”) before distributing games on Steam. Any title submitted through Direct will require “a refundable application fee… which is intended to reduce noise in the submission pipeline.” Valve says it hasn’t set an exact amount for that application fee, and developer responses have suggested somewhere between $100 and $5,000 could be plausible.
While Steam Greenlight originally launched as available for free to any game developer, Valve quickly rolled out a $100 per developer fee to “reduce the noise in the system”. That required payment was controversial at the time, with some comparing the system to paying for a raffle ticket that only offered a chance to ever be listed on Steam.
At the same time, Steam has faced what some see as overcrowding issues in the post-Greenlight era (thanks in part to the 2013 introduction of Steam Early Access for games still in active development). As time went on, it seemingly became easier for Greenlight games to get approved for sale on Steam. More than 4,000 new titles appeared on the platform in 2016, compared to just 379 in 2012. While you could once assume that a game on Steam met a certain quality benchmark, the service is now more like an iOS-style free version. -all where finding quality titles can be much more difficult.
Valve has rolled out a number of tools to help users cut through all this noise, such as a massive Discovery update in 2014 that introduced tags, user-curated lists, and algorithmic discovery queues on top of already existing user reviews (which themselves overhauled in 2016). Valve also began honoring refund requests for games played for less than two hours in less than two weeks, making users less wary of taking a chance on an unfamiliar game.
Valve says these changes have been effective in helping users choose from Steam’s vast selection, as “the average time customers spend playing games on Steam has steadily increased since the first Discovery update. Over the same period of time.” the average number of titles purchased on Steam by individual customers has doubled.”
Still, Greenlight offered at least a small filter that prevented some of the least appealing candidate games from even appearing in the main Steam digital storefront. Under the upcoming Steam Direct system, the only major barrier to putting a game on the service is a bit of paperwork and a small fee. In other words, be prepared that Steam will be less selective and busier than ever in the coming months.