Steam Greenlight, the process through which developers pay $100 to gain access to submit their games for players to vote to sell on the platform, is going away. In its place is Steam Direct, a process through which developers will be able to pay a per-game fee to guarantee access to the store front.
The new system has been heavily criticized despite a lack of information at this point in time as to how much it will cost and how developers will be able to recuperate said money. Regardless, I’ve decided to put in my two cents on what Valve can do to implement Steam Direct in a manner that improves over Steam Greenlight.
1. Keep Those Fees Flowing
I don’t personally care if Valve is charging money for games to be submitted, and I don’t even particularly mind if they pocket the money from it either. I’d like to see that cash go toward improving the platform, and it likely will since Valve has funded continued updates like reviews, curation tools, better support for refund policies, even though Greenlight money went to charity. For the most part, however, I view the idea of a $100 per title barrier to be just what Steam needs: hurdles for developers to jump over that aren’t damning for the legitimate little guy. Don’t forget, the per-instance fee is what prevented Digital Homicide from using the justice system to harass 100 Steam users, and I have no doubt in my mind that the Romines wouldn’t have had half of their inventory on Steam if they had to pony up $100 for each submission.
Valve is talking somewhere between one hundred dollars and five grand for the submission fee, and in all honestly I think they’ll err toward the lower end. The highest I’d honestly go if we’re discussing a per-title submission fee is $250, and frankly that’s on the high end. This is also disregarding Valve’s statement that the cost will be recoupable, although they haven’t said how. I also assume that there will be different rules for mod submissions.
Let’s face it: $100 isn’t a lot of money if you’re selling a video game, if you can’t recoup that then maybe your game doesn’t belong on Steam. I know that’s not going to be a very popular opinion, but it needs to be said. We already have a place where budding developers can go and dump their experimental free games that won’t sell $100 worth or were just made as a hobby, it’s called Itch.io. Cobbled together a flash game and want to provide it for free? There’s Newgrounds. Steam Greenlight already costs $100, if Valve went with my idea of keeping the price, the only major difference is it would be more costly to dump a few dozen games on the service.
Ultimately, Steam isn’t a dumping ground for weekend projects, high school finals, and troll/meme games. That’s Itch.io. There are other distribution channels.
2. Use That Money To Fund Moderation
This is important, the fee for submission should be going toward improving the store front. By that, I mean it shouldn’t take months upon months of player reports and negative press for you to remove dead games that are unplayable due to offline servers, whose developers are out of business and never bothered to take their store front down. We shouldn’t have to deal with developers like Karabas who make bullcrap claims that they’ve won awards from shows that haven’t happened yet.
Ultimately, Valve’s increased dividends from developers putting down cash for their direct placements should go into improving the infrastructure that they use for said platform, like how the money you pay at toll booths (theoretically) goes toward keeping the roads maintained.
In fact, let’s go a step further and set up the Steam Direct Sponsorship fund, for developers who are doing great work but for one reason or another could never afford the placement on Steam. Let’s say they’re a developer from Venezuela where $100 USD translates to a fair grand. Let some of the money from submissions go into a kitty for these guys and gals, they can submit their game Shark Tank style and let Valve decide which are worthy of passing through.
3. Throw the Whole System In the Trash
Ultimately Steam Direct is the wrong solution implemented to fix a problem that only exists because Valve decided it should. The problem could be solved through curation of games that come in through Steam, as Valve did before Greenlight, but Valve doesn’t feel like curating. They have the money, but don’t want to spend it. They have the employees, but thanks to the flat structure anything related to customer service has been slowly automated over the past few years because nobody wants to do the work and there isn’t anyone in charge to force said work.
So the ultimate solution, the one most guaranteed to never happen, would be for Valve to take quality control into their own hands.