When Valve announced in February that it would be ending the Steam Greenlight program, which cost $100 to join, in favor of a new, streamlined process dubbed Steam Direct, many indie game publishers were dubious. Valve still hadn’t settled on the fee that Steam Direct publishers would pay to publish their games, and they said that it could run anywhere from $100 to $5,000. That left a lot of indie devs steaming mad, many of the most successful noting that they’d never have made it onto Steam, and thus into success, in the first place if they’d had to pay a major fee for the privilege.
And for the "you can always borrow/crowdfund for the fee" crowd — I was already in the red and heavily indebted when the game launched.
— Tom Grochowiak (@TomGrochowiak) February 12, 2017
“Cinders earned over $300k, but I started MoaCube with less than $3k in my bank account,” noted Grochowiak. Daniel Steger of Stegersaurus Software, who publishes $1 games for XBox Live, added that “My experience with XBLIG says $5k per title is too much. Hopeful devs will bankrupt themselves w/ no profit.”
And so it was a great relief to indie developers when Valve announced on Friday, according to Engadget, that Steam Direct publishing fees would remain at the $100 Steam Greenlight rate – albeit on a per-game basis, rather than one-time-only.
That’s not to say that Valve’s argument was completely without merit; they were debating going with the higher fee to prevent abuse of the system – that is, people publishing an endless catalog of shovelware. The ease of publishing on Greenlight actually forced Valve to pull titles, as in the case of developer Digital Homicide, whose entire catalog of games was pulled from Steam after they threatened a lawsuit against players who left negative reviews on the platform. The developer published 18 titles on Greenlight in one year, all of which were fairly universally panned.
Ultimately though, through monitoring community discussion, Valve had to conclude that it would be hard to justify anything more than the minimum fee. Instead, they have promised to “closely monitor” Steam Direct submissions and attempt to filter for quality through comprehensive oversight. And according to The Escapist, they’re also working on improving the Steam store’s search functions to help players better filter their results.
“So in the end, we’ve decided we’re going to aim for the lowest barrier to developers as possible, with a $100 recoupable publishing fee per game, while at the same time work on features designed to help the Store algorithm become better at helping you sift through games.”
Valve also added that their improved oversight will allow them to more closely monitor for “bad actors” intent on abusing features such as the Steam Trading Cards system, and “reduce the financial incentives” for them to do so.
As part of the Steam Direct decision, Valve is also rethinking how the Steam Curator program is going to work. In their words, Curators are “individuals or organizations that make recommendations to help others discover interesting games in the Steam catalog.” Many of the most popular Steam Curators are also popular gaming publications or critics, including PC Gamer, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Jim Sterling, John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, and more.
Valve’s new vision for Steam Curators makes it easier for them to do what Valve wants them doing; to wit, recommending games for their followers to buy. Curators will find it easier to create special personal game lists, such as for Steam sales, feature more of their own content like game reviews, and will get faster pre-release access to game titles. “Over time,” laughed Valve, “we became less and less confident that we represented the interests of all those different players. The Steam Curators features was designed to be a solution to this problem.”
“We’re expanding the kinds of content that Curators can create, allowing them to provide more information to players who are thinking about buying a game, and improving the tools to allow them to easily manage all their recommendations.”
Ultimately, whatever you think of Valve and Steam, a low barrier to entry is good news for the indie game community, and it seems that Valve is not only in agreement, but willing – at least on paper – to put in the necessary extra work to support it.
[Featured Image by Valve Corporation]