Who needs publishers anymore? When Kickstarter was first introduced, it was said we were approaching a new age in gaming, where gamers had the ability to fund the games they wanted, not the games that publishers assumed would be profitable.
Valve appears to be furnishing the next step of the consumer’s ascendancy with today’s announcement of Steam Greenlight. The platform will ask Steam users to assess pitches by developers and publishers, then make the call whether or not to publish the game on Steam. Positive feedback will indicate a higher willingness by the community to spend money on the game, and will increase the likelihood of the title entering the Steam Store. Greenlight will use the system introduced in the Steam Workshop to monitor community feedback and organize content.
Overall, Greenlight looks like a winning proposition for everyone involved. But as with any classy deal, there will be some catches.
The first few pieces of fine print are some basic requirements for submissions. Obviously, games must be compatible with Windows, although Mac is also supported. Submissions must include a video presenting the game or the concept behind it, as well as tentative system requirements.
Things get trickier as the process of gaining buzz gains speed. Valve has stated that the number of votes needed before a game gets “tapped” will fluctuate in the first few days and weeks of the process. The position of a title in Greenlight, or the specific number of votes it has, will matter less than a general positive reaction.
The system looks generally solid and well-intentioned as these things go. More user feedback is always a good thing, and should ease the sometimes brutal interior process of giving the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to creative projects.
A lot can go wrong, though. Throwing important business decisions to a hive mind to decide on can easily result in a list full of uncreative, pandering, or mainstreamed concepts. In the Steam Workshop, a mod which turns Skyrim’s moon into the “Me Gusta” face holds a respectable 4/5 average, and currently has 5,071 subscribers. Will Valve seriously consider it if a pitch or finished product of a game about the “Me Gusta” face gains the support of the community?
With Kickstarter, cheap humor and poor ideas are generally filtered by the requirement for backers to pay to support the production of the product. If a developer demands $3,000 to produce “Me Gusta”: The Game, backers will have to pay for the product to see it done, not just acknowledge their interest. Because “Me Gusta”: The Game is a terrible idea, the developer is saved the effort of finishing the game when nobody puts the money down for it.
Greenlight does focus primarily on finished products, but the risk of granting the community sway in allowing products into the Store is still present. Without moderation, the only titles to make it to the Steam Store will have broad and boring appeal, or be the games which were already favored to win. Niche products, like point-and-click titles or slow-paced strategy games, absolutely have to have their own category, or risk becoming endangered on Valve’s platform. And, if the internet decides to push bad content to the top, I hope Valve has the wisdom to step in.
It’s uncertain whether Greenlight can replace a team of experienced Valve employees at spotting viable titles. I’d rather like for Steam to never look like the Xbox Live Arcade, but if things begin to drift in that direction after Greenlight’s launch on August 30, I hope Steam will be able to steer the hive mind better than it can steer itself.