Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Clear As Mudd - The Struggle for a Dev to Get His Game on Steam

It's hard to tell if there's light at the end of the tunnel when you don't even know if it's a tunnel that you're in.

Those that have followed this blog for a while know that I'm usually quite kind to Valve. After all, even though they have made mistakes, and even though Valve Time is a thing that is sometimes infuriating, for the most part they do a lot of good. Just because they do a lot of good though, doesn't mean that I think they can't ever do better. That's why I'm sharing this tale, not out of anger or maliciousness towards the company, but rather perhaps in the hopes that, as one of the few companies that actually seems to give a shit about things, that they also give a shit about this.

If you own a 3DS, then the name Mutant Mudds might mean something to you. It's a platformer that was released on the system last year to fairly decent reviews. It even winded up being ported to the Wii U, and the PC as well. The next logical step after this for the developer Renegade Kid to attempt to get the game on Steam. Turns out though, that it's far from a simple process, as Jools Watsham elaborates upon in his blog:

"I filled out the form and uploaded a playable PC build of Mutant Mudds with the hope of opening up a dialog about the game to see what features they would like to see supported on Steam, such as achievements, etc. I received an email from Steam about 10 days after submitting:

"Thank you for submitting "Mutant Mudds" for potential Steam distribution. We have taken a look at the information provided and determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution. It is our company policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like you to consider Steam distribution for your future products."

Watsham goes on to elaborate that he was far from indignant about the rejection. In fact, he was predominantly confused over it. He, "assumed the game was at least above average and at least on-par with the quality and genre of games currently found on Steam. Steam’s rejection of Mutant Mudds made no sense to me. And, to boot, their policy is not to provide feedback. That’s helpful."

This is something that Valve can directly fix. I'm sure there are reasons why they don't get out feedback; probably because if they started giving in-depth feedback then people would attempt to start abusing it. However, I find that any feedback at all, even one or two sentences explaining why a game was rejected, you know, just broad-strokes stuff, would be preferable to nothing.

That being said, now if you're a small time developer, you can't even submit directly to Valve through Steam, now you have to go through Greenlight, which is exactly what Watsham tried to do once the service was up and running.

"Mutant Mudds sits at #82 on the Greenlight list right now. It has hovered around there for some time now. It was at around #40 or so at one point. About 30,000 folks have voted either yes or no for Mutant Mudds to be included on Steam, with a 54% / 46% split in favor of yes. Yep, those numbers pretty much sum up what the Greenlight community thinks of Mutant Mudds: polarized. At this rate I can’t see how Mudds will ever be deemed suitable for a Steam release."

So that's how the game sits, now in a seeming limbo of neither being flat-out rejected, but not being accepted either. I'd imagine that it's a difficult place to be in for any developer. It's somewhat odd and rife for speculation, because even the Greenlight vetting process seems like more than a simple popularity contest. I mean, if it were just that easy then some games would have been approved ages ago by that reckoning (I'm looking at you Bunny Must Die).

The thing is that when people are given the choice to either express interest or say "Thanks but no thanks" they are given so without really knowing what outcomes it might affect. Reading the update under this Destructoid column about this situation doesn't really clarify anything. When you vote to pass on a game certainly something must be noted about that, but what exactly? How does it weigh against all the affirmatives?

I think that at the very least that the vetting process needs to be more open. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a vetting process at all, because that would be insanity. However, at least let the developers know what some of the criteria are; make what they're after clear and demonstrable. I think that would lead to a lot more happy people, even if their games don't make it onto Steam.

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