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Is Steam Greenlight feeling the pressure?

by on May 9, 2014
 

This week, Steam removed a game from sale from their Greenlight service — a system that enlists the community’s help in picking some of the new games to be released on Steam. Earth: Year 2066 was quoted, by its creator, to be a “first person sci-fi apocalyptic open-world RPG game inspired by such video games as Fallout and Half-Life 2.”.

However, those who bought and downloaded the game (which was tagged as Early Access) soon found out it was nothing more than a small open map with no missions, horrible animation, full of bugs and with art assets stolen from other peoples work.

To make things worse Muxwell, the lone developer, started deleting negative comments and criticism of his game, eventually deleting the entire Earth: Year 2066 forum and making his profile private. Whilst I doubt any laws were technically broken, many are calling Earth: Year 2066 a scam. Because of this, Steam has took it down from sale (it’s still up in Greenlight) and offered all those who purchased it a full refund of $20.

Broken_English

Earth: Year 2066′s store page was full of broken English and lacked sense – yet still got to a point where money changed hands

Also this week, one of the first games to be Greenlit and released, Towns,was abandoned as sales for the game weren’t as high as expected. Leaving those who did buy the game with an unpolished and incomplete game (Towns wasn’t listed as Early Access as the tagging system didn’t exist when it was launched).

Here we have an inherent problem with the Steam Greenlight feature – one which may spill into the main storefront itself.

On paper it sounds like a great idea: young budding developers have a great tool to showcase their ideas and prototypes, maybe gain some extra funding and eventually have their fully realised game released on PC’s premier game store. However, there seems to be a slight disconnect between receiving these extra funds and releasing a full game.

Before Greenlight, even before Kickstarter, small indie developers would scour the land for cash to fund their dream game. Breakout indie hits like Super Meat Boy, Fez and Limbo were funded primarily by those making it, their families and, if they were lucky, a government art grant. The latter is important to note. For this, they would have had to prove their game – this no longer has to happen on Greenlight.

Greenlight is starting to mirror the problem faced by Kickstarter, in that it’s now too easy for an idea to receive funding, rather than prototypes and working models.

Kickstarter_DFException to the rule. Double Fine had the track record to keep its promise of a finished game

We have become investors, and we may not be very good at it. Some companies don’t need investors. Valve has the critical mass and, very importantly, the talent to steer it’s own ship. Public companies like EA have investors and stockholders they need to make money for. Nothing will get funding unless they know it will sell.

However us starry eyed gamers, with open hearts and loose wallets, happily toss money in the general direction of some good sounding ideas and pretty concept art and ask nothing in return. It is generally expected that crowdsource investors (apart from some little perks) never receive payment from profits made, so no pressure to repay. We don’t know who’s making the game, we don’t know their talent besides a few screenshots and how well they’ve made their profile’s .gif image.

Because of this, true diamonds in the rough – the Fezs, the Limbos and the Super Meat Boys – are lost in a sea of open hands almost begging for funding. This in turn leads to upvoting and spamming of one’s own game. Pandering to voters and corners are cut in order to get a working prototype out to secure more cash. Quality and vision is lost, the goal to release a final product is put on the shelf in order to get money.

I was super buzzed when I first heard of Steam Greenlight. I thought it would be an excellent way for those with true ideas and talent to showcase their products and for me to vote for them with nothing other than a mouse click. Now, with the chance of getting money before a game’s release, the Greenlight page is now a loud squawking rabble I must pass when entering the Steam store. I am disappointed.

SMB

Strapped for cash and hungry, it was talent that granted the developers of Super Meat Boy their success

Steam’s overall quality is only as high as the lowest entry barrier they put up. Greenlight has the potential to allow truly great ideas come to fruition but stories like this, and how easily it occurred, sour what can be a great resource for young aspiring game makers. Instead, atrocities like Earth: Year 2066 can trick their way to receiving funds, and well meaning games like Towns try to run before they can walk.

Even update posts about games that have gone through to possible world wide distribution refer to them as “batches”, seemingly taking away anything special about the fact someones work is now up for sale – almost as if the head Greenlighter is bored of his job. This can only weaken the concentration of great games Steam offers, and weakens Steam itself.

These kinds of stories will keep happening more and more as Greenlight grows. It needs a fundamental shake up on how games get to a point where money, real world money, starts swapping hands. The barrier for entry needs to be raised, games need to prove their worth before funding is available and, most of all, we need to keep a tighter grip on our cash.

We need to demand more from those offering it. Great games don’t become great games because of the money thrown at them, but from the trials and tribulations all those involved go through. In its current form, Greenlight isn’t rewarding talent or dedication. Hopefully in the future it’ll become more refined at cherry picking hardworking people.


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