Valve Software announced yesterday that it will end the Greenlight program, which allowed community members to support the addition of independent games to the Steam online games marketplace. The move aims at giving developers and publishers “a more direct publishing path” on Steam.
Greenlight, which Valve described as part of Steam’s gradual transition “from a tightly curated store to a more direct distribution model,” gave gamers greater access to independent titles, and Valve says that more than 100 Greenlight titles have sales of $1 million or more. Steam, which debuted 13 years ago, was one of the earliest places where games could be purchased for download, and has arguably remained the most important sales platform for PC games.
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Greenlight promised to give smaller developers access to that market, but it has been persistently troubled. As detailed by Kotaku, by relying on users to upvote games they wanted to see on Steam, Valve inadvertently pushed developers to curry public favor, including by giving away free copies of games in exchange for votes. At the same time, Valve’s lax internal quality control still meant many Greenlight games were low-quality ‘shovelware.’
In Kotaku’s words, while Greenlight was intended to be the backbone of a symbiotic community, in practice, it “subtly pits users and developers against each other in a relationship that’s turned toxic.” In one particularly notorious incident, the developer Digital Homicide became the target of a group of activist Steam users who worked to have its games removed from the service. Digital Homicide filed an $18 million lawsuit against that group, alleging its members had crossed the line between activism and harassment.
Steam will not be reverting to its old walled-garden approach. In place of the complex Greenlight voting system, it will begin charging developers a flat fee to have their games listed on Steam. The new system, called “Steam Direct,” is projected to go live in Spring of 2017. Steam is weighing how high to set its publishing fee, which they say could be anywhere from $100 to $5,000. While a higher fee would help filter out low-quality games, it would also be a major barrier for many legitimate developers, particularly those outside the U.S.