ScreenCritics Shaun explores the successes and failures of Valve’s Steam Greenlight platform, and why Valve should have closed it sooner.
Steam Greenlight is dead, and it couldn’t have happened to a more awful platform. Since launching in 2012, the service descended quickly into a maelstrom of horror stories. The marketplace became a byword for shovelware, beta’s and tall tales from developers who were making a quick buck pedaling misconceptions. It became commonplace for laughably poor games to find their way into the service, even games that weren’t finished could be sold for actual money with enough determination. It’s departure is long overdue, but why was Valve so slow in killing such an unpopular beast?
Of course there were quality offerings on the platform. Games like Youtubers Life and Super Hot got their big breaks thanks to Greenlight – games that arguably would have struggled to find a market otherwise. Greenlight was intended to bridge the gap between indie development and the biggest PC platform, which up to that point was almost exclusively the reserve established publishers. Valve’s intention can’t be questioned, it’s just a shame the execution was so ruddy poor.
For Valve, the experience is yet another blemish in their recent history. Reports have suggested that the company hasn’t been happy with Greenlight since 2013, so why did it take so long for them to take the entire thing down? Why did they knowingly let a service exist that, for intents and purposes, was a glorified shovelware den? The problem with this absence of care is that Valve are trusted by PC gamers to deliver the best content, and they failed gamers by not curating the marketplace more rigorously.
Steam, once upon a time, had a reputation as the best place to find consistently good PC titles. Steam Greenlight though has arguably tarnished this reputation, and showcased just how poor Valve are in their role of gatekeeper. It’s another example of Valve falling asleep at the wheel as the system was gamed by dodgy developers and broken to the point where terrible games could amass passage to the Steam store. It should never have been allowed to occur in the first place, yet Valve stood gamely by and allowed it to happen.
Perhaps though the biggest disappointment comes from the failure to consistently deliver on its core missions statement. What was intended as an entry point for those with little financial clout became such a gutter for the worst of the video game industry. It’s these indie users who will ultimately lose out, and its budding developers who will have to shell out more money and hand over more information to get their games seen. Valve has discussed the new Steam Direct service but hasn’t given information on how high the bar of entry is. Almost certainly, it won’t be as easy for your local gaming dev to get their game onto the service as it was with Greenlight. And that’s a shame.
This is where the successor will hopefully learn from Greenlights abject failure. Steam Direct will hopefully weed out the lesser efforts – or at the very least raise the bar of entry high enough that only the most determined of troll company’s will dare enter. It should also go some way to eradicating a number of games on Steam that have no business being sold for actual money. Perhaps it’ll also serve to create a marketplace of genuine quality content that consumers can trust. Much like how Greenlight became a sign of a games probably awfulness, Steam Direct could become a genuine place of innovation.
We also can’t overlook the positives that arguably came from Greenlights miserable run. If nothing else, Steam Greenlight helped to turn Steam into a more user-friendly environment. It’s arguably because of Greenlight that features such as User reviews and refunds became so important to the way that the Steam Marketplace. These are now staples of the platform, and invaluable tools in fighting back against this wave of awfulness. If there’s one thing Steam Greenlight did for PC gamers, it gave them more power to opt out of such terrible purchases.
For Valve though, the entire experience serves to remind them that just because they can do something doesn’t mean they should. Curating the worst of the worst on the platform became a favorite pass time for gaming fans, and it will remain a constant shadow over the entire platform as it continues to develop. Fans will be keen to see just what Valve have in store for the future of indie development on Steam. The hope is that they can actually do some good and reverse this trend.
History teaches us to be skeptical until proven otherwise.