Friday, 3 May 2013

Taking A Closer Look at Greenlight - What's Working, What's Not, and What Can be Done

Getting green to mean go, again.

Last week I talked a little about the issue that the Mutant Mudds developer had getting the game onto Steam, something which still hasn't happened and which may never happen, depending on whether it can get out of the Greenlight limbo. While developers now don't (or rather can't) go to Valve themselves in order to submit something for consideration on Steam, going through Greenlight hasn't really made the process any easier ... or any more transparent.

As I mentioned in the last post, there must be a vetting process. Without it you can pretty much kiss the entire concept of quality assurance goodbye, because within the first forty-eight hours the market would be flooded with so much garbage and shit that you could probably spend a couple of weeks trying to dig through it all.

Of course, I wasn't really content when I saw both how Valve handled such things before Greenlight -- that being if your game was rejected you weren't told anything beyond that, no sort of goals for potential improvements, no cliff's notes, no nothing -- and with Greenlight, people can either like a game and want it to appear on Steam, or they can say "No Thanks", but it's not really known how these two choices are weighted against each other, or if they even are at all to begin with.

I believe that the first step may be simply being more open with the game creators themselves. I'm not saying that Valve should have to give comprehensive rules to each person that submits to Greenlight in regards to how the thing works, but give them some idea of what constitutes a game that will be greenlit. It could be a metric, a set of criteria, anything. Just don't leave them hanging.

The real reason I was compelled to write this post though, is because of the idea that Enrique Dryere, one of the people behind the game Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, had to say about the process.

Namely, that perhaps there is room for a multi-step approval process to take place. Give games stages of approval, rather than just having it be an all or nothing gamble. Dryere knows that the same problems that I've mentioned above would be present if there were no vetting process, so his suggestion is as follows:

"Draw a clear line between Greenlight and Steam. It could really be that simple.

"The separation would work similarly to the division between Xbox Live Indie Games and Xbox Live Arcade, except that the process of going from one side of the wall to the other would be facilitated for titles that prove themselves through methods similar to what currently exists. Games that find success in the Greenlight market would be pushed onto Steam."

The key difference here is that developers would be able to get immediate access to Steamworks, rather than only have access once a game is approved. This would allow the developers to build games better suited around it, rather than building something and then having to force it to fit.

Games would essentially be available for purchase through Greenlight, but not have full implementation on Steam unless they made the cut. Thus, you could still get games that appeared on Greenlight using the system, but it would merely be a step on the way.

That's not to say this method is without potential problems in an of itself. There would have to be some minimum standards to prevent the shovelware scenario outlined previously. Likewise, allegations of things like malicious coding or games infecting computers that download them would have to be cracked down on with lightning fast immediacy to make sure that any potential problems are averted. Either that or the Greenlight store would have to have heavy disclaimers that absolve Valve, creating a use at your own risk scenario that probably wouldn't be very helpful in the long run either.

I think to that end, that games should have to prove that they are free from malicious software, and that if they are in a very early build then they should state such things upfront. From there though I could see the concept working for the most part. "Graduating" to a full Steam title could be determined both through whether people that are willing to wait like the game, but also by how well the game sells during its time as a Greenlight title.

It may not be a perfect system, but it would be a step in the right direction.

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