Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Between a Valve and a Hard Place

A cautionary tale.

It's only been a short while since I talked about the assertion that Valve's Greenlight needs a little bit of work. Getting accepted is difficult when one isn't aware of the exact methodology behind the acceptance in the first place. I've heard that strides are being made to address this, but not from any sort of official capacity. In the meantime though I can see how if given the choice between trying to push through Greenlight or finding a publisher to skip the process entirely, that some game developers may work on both. That might not be such a great idea though.

This is the story of Paranautical Activity, and how what should have been prudent planning and a boon instead turned into a situation that has resulted in nothing but headaches for the developer.

CodeAverice, like many smaller independent developers, was well aware of the fact that getting on Steam could be a huge boon for their sales and recognition. So when they started work on Paranautical Activity, a first person shooter that they also have incorporate elements from roguelikes, they made sure that the started a Greenlight page so that they could have a base of operations on Steam.

When Adult Swim came along and expressed interest in being the publisher for the game though, and to that end offered a promise that they could get the game onto Steam without the Greenlight, it would only make sense that CodeAverice would jump at the opportunity, right?

Well, turns out that little Greenlight page was about to be a huge problem. Valve decided that since Paranautical Activity was already on Greenlight, that they would not accept Adult Swim's bid to publish it. The reasoning Valve has given behind this is that "we don't want to send the message that indies should seek out publishers to get around the Greenlight system." Of course what this means is that Adult Swim can't deliver on its promise, and now CodeAverice is forced to compete in the Greenlight arena, something they weren't too keen on doing in the first place.

I'm usually not too critical of Valve, but in this case their decision seems rather meanspirited. I mean, they could have told CodeAverice not to do it again but then allowed the game release, and then also spread the message that if you're looking for a publisher then hold off on making a Greenlight page. After all, how were the developers supposed to know that they would be approached by a publisher in a position to let them skip past the process?

It just seems like what was a prudent move on CodeAverice's part in creating a Greenlight page early is now being used to effectively punish them for no legitimate reason. As they mention in the Penny Arcade article, they are now doing all they can to try and push the game, but:

“Well, now we're in full on Greenlight mode. Because that's how Greenlight works unfortunately. It has to be your one and only priority because if not someone else will out-whore you and get more votes,” Paranautical Activity's Michael Maulbeck said. “You’re basically forced to compete against other devs where it's less about quality and more about spamming for votes. The system is a hair's breadth away from a reality TV show.”

It's not a pretty situation; the word is spreading through some sites though and it could be that Valve may change its mind rather than face negative PR. However, I think it serves as an unfortunate reminder to developers that they may need to keep their cards close to their chest, and not seek out Greenlight early even if it would be a good idea to start a page just to get the fundamentals in place. Doing so, as it would seem, could lead to a lot more harm than good.

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