[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen it comes to digital distribution storefronts on PC, Steam is king. Although many others exist such as Desura and Itch.io the vast majority of gamers would prefer to get any and all games through Valve’s impressive storefront. With recent numbers showing as many as 8.5 million users concurrently logged into Steam, if you can get your game’s name anywhere within its confines you’re (usually) in a bit better shape than without it. As such, whenever a PC game campaign launches on Kickstarter or Indiegogo there’s usually a Steam Greenlight page to go along with it.
For those who aren’t aware, Greenlight is a system within Steam where users themselves vote on which games they’d like to see be sold on Steam. If your title can accrue enough votes to be in the top 10-100 currently on Greenlight then it’ll be “greenlit.” At that point the developer does whatever they need to do – finish the game, work out business whatnot with Valve, and then finally publish their game to the marketplace. This period of time from being greenlit to launch can be nearly immediate to a multi year timeframe. With crowdfunded games in particular it is usually on the longer end of things since those proposed games are still in alpha states.
When you post a game onto Greenlight it gets a brief stint of attention by being one of the most recently posted submissions on the home page. Of course, there are so many titles posted that this moment is short-lived. Where you really get attention is by Greenlight fans who will regularly check their queue for new game listings. From there they’ll either upvote, downvote, or save the page for later. It’s a pretty simple process in all and serves as a decent way to get attention to your game prior to Steam acceptance. There’s even a spot for you to add in a Kickstarter or Indiegogo funding widget! Folks cannot back through that, but they can see how well your campaign is doing and visit the page.
What interests me is how much impact Steam Greenlight does or does not have on the success of a campaign. Almost everyone running a Kickstarter has one because of the long-held beliefs toward Steam as a necessary component of PC release. That’s fine and all, but does simply getting upvoted – and eventually Greenlit – really draw that much more attention to your campaign? Unfortunately, I do not have access to the information that campaign runners have that shows where links are coming from and where they’re going. With a great deal of that data maybe it would be possible to offer a pretty solid answer. Lacking that I can simply take a look at the titles which were crowdfunding-based and also listed on Greenlight.
At the start of Greenlight in 2012 we saw a heck of a lot of projects arrive. Some looked finished, some were existing releases, and others looked like folks’ first attempt at creating a video game. Whatever the case, it was not super full of crowdfunding games just yet. If you look at the service today you’ll find tons of games that are seeking funding support. Chances are if there’s a cool-looking campaign on Kickstarter then you’ll easily come upon its Greenlight page as well. This shift has been happening for a long time. In many ways it seems to do with the current mindset that your best method to fund development is crowdfunding. Some newer developers may not even be able to conceive of making games without that sort of external, user-generated support.
As of the writing of this article, there are 1768 video games (not non-gaming software or “concepts”) within Greenlight that have yet to be greenlit. However, considering how regularly titles are greenlit now, the number may shift regularly. Unfortunately, Valve gave up with posting lists of recently greenlit titles in 2014 so the only way to know that even happened is to be following each game specifically. 2759 titles have been greenlit so far but not yet released. And how many are actually available in some capacity on Steam today? An astounding 4562 Greenlight successes are now out via Early Access or full release. Just a few years ago that was more games than Steam had in total!
But where is that connection to having a Greenlight campaign succeed with getting eyes on your campaign and having it work out? I don’t believe there is a connection between the two, at least at this point in time. Kickstarter is a crowded marketplace – and it always has been – but now we see so much more high-quality work every month. The same holds true of Greenlight. Fans of this feature visit pages regularly and may upvote most things they come across. An upvote does not mean much, though. It doesn’t hold nearly the same value as even a $1 pledge. Yes, you may very well get greenlit but that does not correlate to getting your game funded.
Here’s why I believe this to be the case. Let’s just look over the numbers of games on Greenlight which currently have or had funding campaigns. Without looking over every single page myself, simply searching “Kickstarter” reveals 262 games hoping to be greenlit. “Inidegogo” has far less at around 60. However, these are not the full numbers. If a Greenlight page does not specifically mention Kickstarter or Indiegogo by name in an update or in the synopsis it will not show up in my searches. As such, we can assume there’s at least 50 more games which fall under crowdfunding. That gives us about 372 pages out of 1768. When you turn it over to greenlit Kickstarter projects (again, ones which actually turn up in the search) the number is a little smaller at 181, and Indiegogo at 35. As for released, that’s when things really trickle down. So far 31 Kickstarter games which were greenlit also released. Indiegogo is much lower at a paltry 2.
So those are some of the basic numbers to give you a sense of crowdfunding’s scale within Greenlight. It is not overwhelming, but a sizeable portion indeed. The information everyone needs as far as I’m concerned is to see how many greenlit games succeeded with their crowdfunding endeavor. As it turns out, about 14 Kickstarter-labeled titles showed up in searches because they’ll be on the service later. So I’ve ruled them out, giving us 167 greenlit titles in regards to Kickstarter and still 35 with Indiegogo pages. Of these, there were 64 failed Kickstarter projects and 20 failed Indiegogo ones. Wow. This means nearly 40% of those Greenlight successes did not draw enough attention to succeed at actually crowdfunding themselves. Poor Indiegogo has things even worse with 57% of those Greenlight pages amounting to very little. In general Indiegogo is not nearly as hot a site for game funding as Kickstarter is, though.
It was a bit of an interesting trend to see a handful of games utilizing Steam Greenlight as a sort of mobilization base to generate interest. Most of the time developers seem to utilize social media or blogs to do this. Considering Steam is home to so many gamers it doesn’t seem like a horrible idea to grab support there. Well, as long as you are still doing so via other means like Twitter and forums. Steam Greenlight in and of itself is a very transaction-based landscape. Most folks visit a page, stay a minute or two before upvoting, and then move on to the next. Only a few will likely really stick around or favorite/follow your page for further updates.
I find that all of this proves that there’s not really a great relationship between getting your game funded and seeing that happen as thanks to getting attention on Greenlight. No, it doesn’t to do so, but there is no correlation. If your game is certain to be funded then definitely jump on Greenlight! That way you can be prepared to release your game there once its finally ready for launch. However, people running a campaign right now should focus almost entirely on the campaign itself. Launch a Steam Greenlight page if you like but do not worry about keeping it heavily updated and lively during that period. Why? Because your time is limited and your attention should be focused purely on areas where it may be beneficial – aka the actual campaign itself and social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Heck, if your title is getting enough media attention than perhaps even a Reddit AMA would be in order. Generating a fanbase and interacting is immensely important so keep your team focused on doing exactly that!
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that in a year or two perhaps Steam Greenlight as we know it will cease to exist. Since its launch, Gabe Newell of Valve has stated how this is basically a stopgap measure. It is far from ideal and they would love to offer a more open system eventually. However, until they figure out what that looks like Greenlight will stick around. There have been many moves which make it seem that Greenlight is on its way out, but then again, nothing has actually been stated to give it an end date. Whatever the case may be my suggestion is to not obsess over Steam Greenlight during a campaign. If you succeed there will be tons of time to fuss over where exactly your game will sell.