[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]arRab: Veteran by Chadrick Evans had its campaign close successfully on March 10. The one-man developed RPG then hit Steam Greenlight on March 27. Two days later, on March 29, Chadrick updated backers with the news that the Greenlight page was not doing well. A massive 72% of page viewers clicked “no thanks” when your biggest hope is to see folks click “yes please.” Although an upvote doesn’t necessarily contribute to an actual purchase down the road, developers need those yes votes in order to see their game greenlit for Steam. You see, the more positive votes, the higher a game’s ranking goes. Once it gets into the top 100 Greenlight titles then Valve (usually) will give it that much-desired ticket onto Steam.
Is there anything inherently wrong with WarRab: Veteran? No, definitely not. Folks visiting the Greenlight page have dismissed it due to graphics, but that mindset permeates throughout comments across many game pages. One of my ‘favorite’ insults which regularly appears on Greenlight campaigns is that a game “looks like it’s from [insert arbitrarily old year here]” as if graphics are absolutely everything to games. For some gamers, yes, that’s true – but many of us won’t entirely dismiss a game just on one aspect. As it turns out, Steam Greenlight comments often bring out the worst in people just as is the case on YouTube, N4G, and any other open comment forum out there. No matter how many people may feel excited about your game, you’ll often get a great deal of “drive by” hate. And, just for reference, there are many less-graphically appealing games than WarRab: Veteran on Steam now thanks to Greenlight…
One aspect of Chadrick’s message to backers really affected me though. It was the overwhelming framing of this event as the end of WarRab: Veteran’s shot at Steam. Yes, it is disheartening to see people say cruel things about a game you’ve put so much effort into. That alone is not grounds for Greenlight termination. In fact, practically the only serious ways you’ll find a game blocked from Greenlight are if your game is highly sexual in nature, explicitly using copyrighted content (sometimes this gets a free pass…), or have a “concept” rather than “game” to show. The concept distinction doesn’t apply here as his game actually has screenshots and hefty descriptions, as opposed to Greenlight pages with a scribble and line of explanation. As long as voting has not been actively shut down by Valve the game is free to remain on Steam and accumulate upvotes.
Many don’t realize this but downvotes do not hurt your chances. Yes, it’s much better to receive upvotes, but downvotes don’t take anything away from you. WarRab: Veteran is still free to keep its place on Greenlight and grab more votes as time goes on. With that said, there are many problems with Greenlight – the biggest being discoverability. New game pages go live every day which means only the biggest fans of the service will look through everything. Most see only what’s new, providing a “soft” failure condition for campaigns which don’t see massive upvoting campaigns in their first week. Chadrick will need to push, rather than give up, to see his game make it onto Steam but it is entirely possible!
Steam Greenlight is a fantastic concept implemented in a semi-functional manner. The issue of campaigns disappearing from view is just one of them. Allowing users to vote for whatever they want is great in theory but has proved entirely problematic in reality. After all, despite all their posturing, Valve has final say and regularly ignores user upvotes. In one well-known incident, they blocked the super violent Hatred from their service despite its nearly immediate Greenlight success. They soon reversed course, however, but have quietly blocked other games in a similar fashion. Sometimes users also upvote games which do not seem a fine fit for Steam.
Glitchy, half-finished games make it onto Steam thanks to Greenlight – and no, I’m not referring to Early Access. There are titles release as complete products when they most certainly aren’t and receive heavy negative reviews. The only positive reviews are likely outright jokes made at the purchaser’s expense. I will not name specific titles here, but if you’ve been on Steam for any length of time you’ve probably run across a few yourself. And Valve (usually) isn’t responding to user complaints. These games are allowed to remain on the service as testaments to Greenlight’s greatest failure. Purely user controlled gate keeping doesn’t turn out for the best in every circumstance. Although I don’t believe this has happened yet, it is also possible that massive public outcry over a developer might even cause a game to get immense amounts of downvotes even if the game is very much worth playing.
Did you know that Valve intends to end Steam Greenlight at some point? Practically from the moment the system began there was word from Gabe Newell that this implementation was not what they needed in the long run. Eventually, they want to make the marketplace truly open for everyone. That is a lofty, incredibly challenging goal. As such, we still have Greenlight to contend with multiple years later. It has proved to not be a golden ticket as many hoped, but it’s still serviceable. In the past few months games successfully greenlight have also increased tenfold, which makes it seem Valve is purposefully opening the gates wider and wider for entry. With this in mind, games like WarRab: Veteran seem to have a better shot at making it than they would have in Greenlight’s heydey. Back then, updates were monthly and limited to a few choice games each batch!
Steam may not be the only avenue to success for indie games, but it is definitely a very powerful one. Unfortunately, this means many developers must face the whims of Greenlight diehards who may not always have the best intentions in mind. Sometimes they vote up terrible properties because they’re funny, or gross content because they’re acting immature, or pass on games which have had tremendous effort put into them. However, as long as Valve keeps Greenlight going it’s what every new developer will have to contend with for the right to sell on Steam. WarRab: Veteran is one of the many victims of circumstance but still definitely has a shot of making it. Whether it happens soon, or once Valve finally changes their procedures, it will occur. It’s just a shame the fates of indie game developers rest on the shoulders of an incredibly unpredictable populace.