Steam Greenlight’s $100 and Fallacious Arguments Surrounding it

I’m going to throw up the PA Report article on this. Surprised me that Ben wrote all that — twitter was arguing with him pretty harshly for initially supporting the fee. His piece covers the basic issue, but still leaves room for a lot of people to make bad arguments and suggestions. Most out of innocent ignorance, but still. Lets go over them!

Why are you complaining? Apple/Google/XBLIG/Whoever already does this!

Okay okay okay.

The $100 Dollar Fee is ONLY an arbitrarily chosen check-valve (no pun intended).

It is not tied to profits, it’s not tied to recouping costs or ANYTHING. I will be referencing this a lot. The validity of the 100 dollar fee is actually DAMAGED by sending the money to charity. While charity is great, it shows that the system could be replaced with anything. This is probably the most important point to make about the fee.

ALSO, these services are generally “Shall issue” services. If you meet a quality criteria (basically “functioning”) and don’t break any rules, you get on. You need to be reviewed and you CAN be rejected arbitrarily, but generally speaking, you’re mostly assured that you will get on. Steam and Greenlight are “May Issue”. You’re paying 100 bucks for a CHANCE of getting on. Maybe a 10%, 5% or 1% chance of getting on, mostly through the mechanism of a popularity contest. These services are not comparable on a 1-to-1 basis, though certain individual aspects may be relevant.

They’re just asking developers to put their money where their mouth is.

Oh god I hate this mentality so much. It’s like asking someone to cut themselves to prove their seriousness or something. A lot of times spending money and putting “your money where your mouth is” is appropriate. Some things involve real investment and doing so is definitely a sign of willingness and seriousness. But there is a difference asking someone to buy something they need and asking them to burn 100 dollars and harm themselves financially for no other purpose but to appear serious. Going to charity is less bad than literally burning the money by a lot, but the idea is still the same: This is an artificial economic barrier rather than a “real” one. The “Put your money where their mouth is” statement also misses the big question of “Is this the most optimal solution?”, which it almost certainly isn’t.

Also a lot of these people are living life styles that are already them putting their money where their mouth is.

Come on, who can’t afford 100 bucks for something like that? Even if you’re poor, you should be able to get 100 dollars together!

Well yes: You should. While I’m sure there are some super small percentage of worthy games by really poor people who can’t afford, even those in extremely harsh situations can usually scrap together money. But there are two parts of this.

1) Risk/Reward. Spending a 100 dollars if you have a good shot at a return is one thing. But what if you have a low chance project that is still well done enough to possibly succeed? If you’re a starving artist, it might not be worth the risk, even though your game is the type of thing the Greenlight system was presumably meant to handle.

2) Why are we punishing Starving Artists again? So assuming they can afford it, the money is NOT going into the system. It is not supporting other works. It’s forced charity from someone who can’t afford it. These people are used to paying for their craft and while in theory this is no difference and those who can do it will do it, this is, again an ARTIFICIAL economic barrier.

Why do you think you’re entitled to be on Steam for Free?


This is mostly from dumb forum scumbags, but I’ve seen it here and there. So the obvious.

A) Having a game listed on Greenlight is “not getting on Steam for Free”

B) You wouldn’t be getting on Steam “for free” anyways. This wouldn’t be generosity on Valve’s part, they take a cut of your profits. Greenlight doesn’t supersede that.

C) The fee doesn’t go to Valve so you’re effectively, to them, getting on Greenlight “for free” anyways, only with a dissuasion mechanism in place.

So this is just dumb as hell and I doubt anyone who reads this will have said it, but some of you might want a quick and easy counter argument.

Valve is sending a strong message that if you’re not willing to spend 100 dollars, you have no business being on Steam

This is dumb for a number of reasons, first of which is how Greenlight was originally sold to us, and how it was at release. Valve clearly wanted to be inclusive. The system was supposed to determine worth, not them or any other arbitrary metric like willingness to spend money. Valve, if anything, was super Naive about the wonderful, open world they wanted to create for amatuer developers. Then the whole thing failed in a day and they reacted violently. If you think this is clearly a “message”, you’re a fool. This is the nuclear option, used in desperation. It might have an attached message, but we can’t be sure. Valve is valuing the user experience and keeping things moving correctly over valuing the developer experience. This will probably even change over time because of how desperate an option it is.

Secondly lets say Valve IS sending a message… so what? Surely this is there system and they can do whatever they want with it, but that does not put them beyond criticism. It does not mean we can’t criticize them for failing to deliver on their promises and ideas. Valve has the right to do anything they want and we have the right to rage about it. In fact, raging about what we disagree with benefits everyone. That’s how a free market works.

Thirdly, just because “a willingness to spend 100 dollars” is something that is probably a good indicator of a serious submitter doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good thing to require or test. Most serious game designers would probably be willing to gash themselves with a knife to get their work on Steam too, but requiring that would CLEARLY be bad. So just because go-getters are willing to do something, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily beneficial or wise to have them prove it like that.

Valve should return the $100 if your game gets Greenlit

Okay first this is silly because it’s a charitable donation: Valve doesn’t HAVE your money. Secondly, if you get on Steam, the $100 doesn’t matter anymore. Finally, this implies that the purpose of the fee is more to punish people who don’t succeed on Greenlight, not block horrible awful entries. The system NEEDS choice and it needs games that will be rejected (just not many of them). If Greenlight was just a list of games that will definitely get on steam, there wouldn’t be much “choice” So there is no reason to inflict disproportionate punishment and make the $100 feel more like a “you failed” tax.

But $100s is the magic number. It can’t be lower…

… Tons of people said with no backing whatsoever. But how many bad entries do you need to cut out to make the service work? Lets say the ratio before the 100 dollar tag was 1 legit game per 50 junk games. Lets say now it’s like, 300 games per 1 joke/ridiculously bad game. Obviously very few people are willing to throw down a hundo on a lark, but what about 50 bucks? 100 bucks? Let’s say the ratio at 50 bucks is 100:1. So we have a small percentage more bad entries (that will never get upvoted). How much does that save the legitimate sector of the industry in donations? $25000. That’s like, a whole kickstarter for a small game. Now that’s not a HUGE amount of money, but I think letting a few bad entries sneak in at 20-50 dollars (or as Ben says, maybe even 5) spares people a bunch of money.

But what about the Discovery Issue?

Valve has really done very little to help that. In fact, limiting the amount of games you see at one time doesn’t help. There are also pretty poor mechanisms for searching for certain kind of games or genres. There’s no tag system or anything either that could also help. It’s a huge, hot mess right now that only helps the current winners win more. It doesn’t matter if there 100 or 1000 under entries under the first 12-50 entries you see on the Greenlight page, because you’re probably not going to go much lower than that anyways and there are no mechanisms for finding awesome, unranked games.

So what would you suggest?

Well I’ll admit, I don’t think my ideas here are perfect, but I’ll try and contribute something that you folks can pull apart and criticize. But I’ll make it simple…

More ways to get on Greenlight

You can keep the fee. That’s fine. Maybe make it lower, maybe keep it the same. But lets say you also had a system that new entries that haven’t coughed up dough to Child’s Play are unlisted. You can see them with a URL link, but you’re not listed. Someone would then — through their website or twitter or whatever — encourage their fans to upvote their game. Once a threshold is reached, the game becomes listed. Bigger studios (ones that have an office, be it a small one!) generally would probably rather just throw down 100 bucks to make their advertising easier, but smaller indies might rely on fan love and discovery through other websites to get noticed on the cheap. This isn’t a PERFECT situation. It doesn’t block fake entries with no actual production that are over promising undelivered things, but given that Valve is making a system for Indies, it really should lean more toward inclusive than exclusive. A few bad entries won’t kill the system like 1000 bad entries will.

The good news in all of this? I doubt this system will stay how it is. Valve seemed to apply it’s 100 dollar tax in desperation and can not possibly think this is the optimal solution. I’ll be expecting big changes in the coming months. Valve is a company that makes tons of bad decisions all the time, but is nimble enough to always address things it does wrong and is rarely satisfied with just leaving broken systems.

(Also to anyone worrying, I got money, this won’t stop me at all. It just BOTHERS me.)

To those still defending the $100 fee

I don’t think Valve’s decision is indefensible, especially when viewed as a short term solution. Some people have put forth somewhat rational defenses. Sadly, the majority of responses are either Pro-Authority (Valve did it, so by default it is the correct decision, so shut up) or reek of that “LIFE IS HARD, DON’T TRY AND CHANGE IT, DEAL WITH IT” attitude a lot of people lapse into when stuff like this comes up. Yes, life is hard, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t lash out at things we think are bad. A lot of people seem to think we should have the fee simply because paying for things is the usual way of the world, with no regard to how the system was proposed, what Valve’s original intentions were or how and why the responded how they did. It just plays into the basic stereotypes of consumerism. It’s like people are functioning on cultural autopilot. So if you’re still defending the current system, check your “Deal with it” attitude at the door and really think about it. It might not change your mind, but it’ll make your position stronger, no matter what it ends up being.

12 thoughts on “Steam Greenlight’s $100 and Fallacious Arguments Surrounding it

  1. I was for a $5 fee before it even launched, like the Chrome Webstore. Anything over $25 is ridiculous for what you get out of it — a chance of being on Steam, maybe.

    But if your game’s good enough then it’s not much to pay!
    Actually it is, because Greenlight is a popularity contest, not a place where the best game gets the most votes. And most games aren’t even playable yet.

    The idea behind Greenlight was to give transparency to the greenlighting process, so Valve don’t have to trawl through every entry themselves. Greenlight has done this at the expense of turning it into a popularity contest. Popular games will get the required amount of votes, not necessarily the “good” games.

    Discoverability over time
    What happens when the hype dies down? Are people going to continuously rate games every single day? I’m assuming most will be bored of it after a month and it will have stopped making headlines, leading to dwindling page views, etc.

    You’re left to advertise your own game, which is the usual, but hardly trivial or worth $100. Posting in forums is spamming, and all the popular gaming websites have been openly hostile against you sending them an email about Greenlight games, even though almost all of the games existed long before Greenlight was announced…

    My Solution
    Just bite the bullet, treat us like adults, and turn Greenlight into a seperate app store. Let the $500+(?) be the publishing fee to use the platform. The games will be selectable in Library > Greenlight. After 10k+ sales they get moved into Steam proper and advertised in the main store.

    I would have bought 10 great games already if this was the case.

    If there’s some fake/malware crap, just keep increasing the publishing fee and contact the relevant authorities. Obvously Valve will be scanning on their end. It’s no different to current games on Steam — they can send you an update instantly that could be infected. I’m assuming Valve has sufficient controls to combat it.

  2. Ya know, while 500 is no chump change, that would be a really attractive offer. 100 for a gamble is frustrating, but more for decent certainty is quite a nice proposal.

  3. But there is a difference asking someone to buy something they need and asking them to burn 100 dollars and harm themselves financially for no other purpose but to appear serious.

    You imply that getting on Greenlight serves no purpose, but don’t elaborate. I’m skeptical that this is really the case. It may only be one data point, but the guy making Towns said they had a massive boost in users, getting a million unique pairs of eyeballs. That is not something to scoff at, especially for a niche game.

    Regarding your starving artist point, they’re starving because they’re pouring all the money/time they have into game development. Which is an expensive thing in itself, 100 bucks is a drop in the bucket in comparison. Now, I’m not saying that this pay-wall is an optimal solution, but like all brick walls, it works to keep out those without the proper determination, but will not stop the rest. Having unlisted entries seems like a good improvement to cover even the unlikeliest of edge cases.

  4. You imply that getting on Greenlight serves no purpose, but don’t elaborate. I’m skeptical that this is really the case. It may only be one data point, but the guy making Towns said they had a massive boost in users…

    You maybe had a point until you listed one of the most popular indie games out there, haha. It has been in the Indie Royale bundle and featured elsewhere, too.

    Towns was also on my frontpage on day one, as was Project Zomboid. There was maybe 200+ games on there by that point, so I doubt it was a random shuffling.

  5. In theory there COULD be value to it ultimately for most mid-range games, but that’s yet to demonstrated totally. If that’s the case, it’ll be interesting, but by the time we know I have a feeling that the system will be changed up again.

  6. The problem I see is they’ve got to somehow limit the number of games that try to use Greenlight. Anything they do is going to be pretty arbitrary, and they’ve got to ask devs to hurt themselves somehow, because that’s how they can best limit the number of devs who use their service. If they wanted to use “willingness to gash themselves with a knife” as the limiting factor, I’d be totally fine with that, although it’s obviously not a realistic option.

    “Classist”? Perhaps. But, necessary.

    I guess they should have just kept the $100 instead of giving it to charity, and claimed some sort of “overhead”. It probably would have looked better for them, while still serving the same purpose.

  7. Actually, there’s one thing to make I think this fee is not a bad idea:
    If your game has a low chance to be selected, don’t put it on Greenlight. That’s it.
    Why? because if you think that, it’s probably true; just make it better, and talk about your game to convince it’s not just another garbage game.
    And if he’s good? Valve will know that before you have to win anything popularity contest. My opinion is, the system hasn’t change so much, but the games that Valve doesn’t want, the public can push it back (like Mutant Mudds and La-Mulana).

  8. First, I want to say I think the whole quality control of steam problem with greenlight is laughable because I have played some terrible games from steam that are over the $10 for download.

    Second I agree, its kind of like reprimanding a child. You want to educate or structure, not punish. In this case, Steam as the parent, has a problem with the behavior of the environment they are letting their kids play in. So, instead of doing work to improve the environment — search ability, social network structure, built in sharing and selectivity to make the service useful, they are pushing the problems on the devs — the kids. Making it the dev’s fault that their service doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, and then they punish them arbitrarily by saying who can come over and play. (that was terrible.. terrible analogy haha).

    I agree that maybe system hurdles is a better solution than $$ based democracy. Some sort of fan selectiveness. Hell, they have a good enough user base; they could even have some competitive structure between games of comparable genre (not that that would be perfect.. I don’t know what it would entail, but they could at least be creative!).

    This reminds me of the old apple iOS dev problem. For a big guy, a 100 yearly fee is just the cost of doing business. But in the world of pay-as-you-go APIs and the multitude of share-alike licenses.. it is too bad that they are going with the archaic model.

    Its too bad no one wants a “new steam”.. As we have internal problems with the likes of onLive and others, which I still have some hope for, dev friendly competitors have it tough. So, the solution to this problem will have to be manageable, or else it wont come from the outside.

  9. I’m probably going to reply more later, but I just wanted to talk you for such a thoughtful comment, Matt.

  10. I agree with most of your arguments in this post…but I still think $100 makes sense. (Perhaps the ideal number is really $50-$75, but in principle, it makes sense)

    The concept of an “entry fee” is fairly ubiquitous in both “open” contests and related economic theory. A few simple examples are poker tournaments, chess tournaments, and even the NBA draft. (Yes, basketball players who haven’t officially earned a dime have to pay $75 for their name to be included in the pool of potentially selected players)

    All your arguments about inclusiveness would be every bit as appropriate there. Yet, all three of those events would be completely screwed-up if you got rid of the entry fee.

    At the end of the day, forcing people to invest an entry fee ALWAYS causes the average quality to rise (this is an economic principle), and it’s not a fact you’re even disagreeing with.

    As for your alternative, there are two major problems with it;

    1. Easily exploited by pranksters. How hard is it to get a group of people that follow you to upvote some garbage game just for the humor/trolling aspect of it?

    2. Punishes legitimately good games. What if a studio doesn’t have a group of fans yet to upvote their game? Well, then they pay their $100, but their initial average rating won’t benefit like the prankster games mentioned above. So this would actually hurt those indie guys worse than the present model does!

    Strange that people are getting up in arms about this, really.

  11. I can’t speak on the draft, but Poker tournaments need Pot money, as do chess tournaments. Even then, there are organizational and venue fees and we are at the whim of capitalism.

    Steam’s fee is not inherently capitalistic. It is, indirectly (as Steam hopes to have a better service and make more money, obviously), but changing the mechanism wouldn’t have the same catastrophic side effects it would on other systems.

  12. That is very true. I was just using those as examples of entry fees, not as analogies. However, it works well as an analogy with the NBA draft, since the league funds the event from its own coffers, not the measly entry fees they get from top young players)

    In fact, the NBA implemented it for the exact same reason Steam did; way too many people submitting their names to the draft as a complete joke. Even nowadays, for $75, there a LOT of broke college kids that do this for a laugh. Every year, there are about 4,000-5,000 entries, when at most 100-120 players have a real shot of being drafted. (There are 60 spots total)

    You are correct that the effect from changing it won’t be as catastrophic as it would for either chess or poker tournaments, but again, what is the alternative?

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