Valve recently announced that the fee for submitting to Steam Direct will be $100 per game. That’s right. For $100, anyone will be able to put a game on Steam.
This is a huge relief for many indie developers. Before this announcement, the only information we had was that the fee would be anywhere in the range of $100-$5,000. Somber Dawn just became a studio this year, formed by myself and a small a group of friends. That was an incredible degree of uncertainty. Speaking as an indie dev who literally started this year, the $5,000 price tag per game would have been a huge kick in the teeth for us before we even got started. The announcement of the rock-bottom $100 fee is nothing short of amazing for us.
However, people still have major concerns.
Open the floodgates
Hooray! Anyone with $100 can sell on Steam! … Oh, crap. Anyone with $100 can sell on Steam! It’s no secret that for various reasons (cough, cough, Steam trading cards), absolute garbage games got through Greenlight. Now, those developers will be able to flood Steam with their crappy, lazy, cash grab games. Valve has promised some major revamps to improve curation. It can successfully weed out terrible games while showcasing the gems, Steam Direct will be awesome. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume the curation system will be awful. We still want the low Steam Direct fee. Why?
Ask a few people about their Greenlight experiences, and you’ll likely get vastly different stories. Some got through with less than 300 votes. Others had to wait to be in the top 100. (As of the end of Greenlight, you needed over 4,000 votes for the top 100. This includes both Yes and No votes. Hence the reason it was so bizarre that I’ve seen people with less than 300 Yes votes talk about getting Greenlit.) Valve was anything but transparent about the Greenlight selection process. The idea of letting the community pick the worthy games to make it to Steam had good intent, but not being clear about the rules was frustrating to developers. I’ve talked to a developer that saw the community successfully Greenlight three of their projects, and they still had no idea how.
It was a planning nightmare. With Direct, my company will be able to release Intrusion Protocol in August. We can form a solid plan around that instead of working toward an ambiguous release date.
Driving traffic to your Greenlight sucked
My main gripe wasn’t with the Greenlight concept. It was that driving your own traffic to your Greenlight page could be seemingly impossible for a little guy. There were a lot of barriers people don’t consider that make the conversion rate terrible. First of all, if a person following a web link was running the Steam client, they probably had to log in via their browser to get to the Greenlight page. Think about the last time a website asked you to log into an account you weren’t already logged into. You probably just closed the tab and moved on with your day. Even worse, think of the last time a website asked you to login to an account you didn’t have. Forget about it. Also, a lot of players who like and support your game may not have a Steam account. You may be thinking, “people without Steam wouldn’t buy the game anyway.” That brings me to my next point.
The only thing someone receives for clicking that “Yes” button is a possibility that in the future they may be able to buy a game. Is that enough motivation to go to a page, potentially create an account, log in, and click a button? I don’t think so. You may be able to get people to create an account to buy something, but not to cast a vote they feel is ultimately meaningless.
From what we can tell, these six hundred-ish views on our IndieDB Greenlight announcement got us about four Greenlight votes.
Why is Steam Direct better?
All of that crap I just talked about? You have to deal with that just to make your game available! I’d rather be adrift in a sea of terrible games than struggling to even get to the market. I think it’s much easier to drive traffic to a page when there is a potential immediate value to the visitor. Instead of receiving not-even-a-promise that they may be able to buy something they want down the road, the visitor can just buy the damn game. That is immediate value.
I’m positive I have close friends and family who didn’t vote for my Greenlight. (That’s right, I saw my analytics, ya jerks.) But if that same link I’ve been showing them gave the option of just buying the game, they probably would. People want to feel like they’ve accomplished something with their time, and they don’t feel like a Greenlight vote gives them anything. “I had to log in for this?”
So even if Steam’s new curation efforts suck, I believe it will be so much easier to drive your own traffic to your page. Steam Direct moves the goalposts so getting to the market is painless. While it obviously tears down a barrier for game developers and sellers, it also tears down barriers for buyers, which seems a lot more important to me. To me, it looks like the benefits outweigh the costs for developers.
Chad Holmes is the marketing director, developer, and writer at Somber Dawn Studios.