Steam Greenlight was announced earlier this summer as an opportunity for smaller games to get a chance at attaining a much-valued listing on Valve’s digital distribution service. Alternate download services like Desura and Gamersgate are certainly good to have around, but there’s really no denying Steam being the 900-pound gorilla of online distribution no matter what EA and Ubisoft might wish. If you want to make a living being an indie game developer and your name isn’t notch, you really want to be on Steam. It’s not going to assure a hit game, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly going to hugely increase the odds in your favor. So Steam Greenlight was highly anticipated, making it all the more disappointing that its release was a complete clusterfuck.
Day 1 was August 30th, and the service sucked in ways that have been tallied up by other sites already. Zero discoverability, joke games that weren’t submitted by the developers, a downvote button that nobody knew quite what to make of, and a wall of little squares on the game selection screen with nothing to help the user figure out if one was worth clicking on for more information, all went a long way to making the service more trouble than it was worth. One company even submitted a porn game, despite Steam’s terms of service making it very clear they don’t distribute them. (Tangent- It wasn’t Polymorphous Perversity, which is a freeware game that’s one of the few of its sort worth checking out. Link should pretty obviously be treated as highly NSFW. You’ve been warned/tempted.)
It’s been a week since then, though, and things have changed quickly. Valve has started the work of integrating user requests into the system to make it more than the unhelpful jumble of content it started as. The joke submissions have been tossed out and a $100 entrance fee instated (all proceeds go to Child’s Play) to make sure of serious applicants only. The sorting is still a disaster, you still only get a teaser image and title, and the small text box that pops up when mousing over a title is rarely enough to let you know if it’s worth clicking on for more details, but the process of creating some basic usability has started. Interviews have started popping up with Valve promising more updates in the coming weeks, and the Greenlight blog even had an article directly addressing its birth pains.
So, despite all the drama and wringing of hands, it’s just too early to have much of an opinion on Greenlight. The thing that it is today isn’t the thing it’s going to be next month, and probably not even next week if they keep updating at the current rate. There’s a lot of neat stuff on the list already, gaining votes and trying for all the attention it can grab. At the moment the best a developer can do is try to muster interest on their site and direct potential fans to their Greenlight page, but with any luck, in a month or two, we’ll all be able to kick back and browse page after page of games we’ve never heard of to find the new and exciting things that make us go “Yes, yes I want this!” This is what I was picturing when I first heard about Steam Greenlight, and it’s still the thing I hope to see it become.