Valve wants to take itself out of the equation when it comes to the Steam PC gaming marketplace, and that means it is ending the Steam Greenlight program and introducing a far more open platform.
Steam Direct is a new path for developers to bring their games to the Steam store, and Valve is looking to launch it this spring. Under this new program, any and all developers are welcome to launch their games on Steam. All they have to do is fill out some basic paperwork (similar to opening a bank account) and then pay a to-be-determined fee. Valve is still talking with a range of gamemakers about that charge, but it is considering between $200 and $5,000 per game submission. Valve will also do a simple check to ensure that the game runs on the operating systems it says it does and that there is some game-type content, but — beyond that — it’s letting nearly any game loose on the community.
This will end the Greenlight program, which was a service that enabled developers to submit their games for community consideration. If enough Steam users approved of what they saw, Valve would then consider bringing it over to the store. But that system has broken in several ways over the last handful of years. Most notably, it doesn’t work because way too many people are making games. That volume would make curating Steam a near impossibility for Valve.
“There was a time when we would get into a room and there would be 400 good games that we wanted to bring to Steam, and we were looking at the tools we had and the bandwidth we had, and we would say, ‘OK, let’s pick 10,'” Steam business lead Tom Giardino said.
And those 10 games would never serve the tastes of every gamer that is now on Steam. By “getting out of the way,” which was a theme that Valve touched on repeatedly during our conversation, the company is stepping back and treating this PC gaming portal like a much more open market when the consumers will end up choosing the winners and losers instead of Valve.
Of course, this means that Steam may end up getting a lot more crap — only, Valve points out that your definition of crap is likely different from mine. But, that said, the company still plans to offer DMCA takedown options for games that violate copyright law, and it wants deter lazy pranks. For the latter, that’s one of the reasons the company is considering a per-game submission fee as high as $5,000. Right now, Greenlight developers submit one fee and then they can put as many games as they want up for voting.
With Steam Direct, Valve’s gaming platform is more like Apple’s iOS App Store and the Google Play market than ever before, but the company claims that the big difference is discoverability.
“We want to have happy customers, and we do that by having as much of the content on Steam that customers are interested in,” Steam engineer Alden Knoll said. “It’s really all about building a system where good content will naturally rise to the top.”
Now, I pointed out that Google and Apple would likely point out that, if you don’t count their store ads, they are both trying to enable the best content to rise to the top. But for both of those app markets, most developers believe they will never succeed unless they get a curated Featured slot by Google or Apple. Valve, however, won’t feature certain games for everyone. Instead, it wants Steam to naturally show each game to the customer that is most likely to care about it. The company claims it is already doing that. In a blog post about its Discovery 2.0 features, Valve claims that despite having more games than ever on Steam, key metrics like the time people spend playing games and the number of games that make more than $200,000 in their first three months are on the rise.
Knoll and Giardino credit Greenlight with enabling Valve to figure out how that discovery would work before launching Steam Direct.
“Steam Greenlight, and a bunch of the tools and features that we worked on in the interim years were a super useful bridge, but now, instead of having a bunch of good games where we’re the bottleneck — where we’re in the way — we want to get ourselves out of the way so more of those games can come to Steam faster,” said Giardino. “Greenlight was a super-useful stepping stone. It helped us go through and solve a bunch of problems for developers.”
But now, with Steam growing rapidly, the company sees now as the time to turn the reigns over to the community. That might mean that the service gets hundreds of new games every couple of days, but it is confident that its algorithms will show you the handful that you actually may want to spend money on.