All aboard Steam Greenlight

Steam Greenlight has launched. I’m getting mental images of a steam-powered rocket, emblazoned with Valve’s logo cast in iron and bronze, hurtling towards the space frontier carrying the hope of all humanity, i.e. Half-Life 3.

Lamentably, my imagination proves far too much for reality (I feel you, Ice King), but we do have something that’s almost as awesome. For those not in the know, Greenlight is an initiative by Valve for the community to be involved in the selection process for games to be included in the Steam online store.

In the age before today, submission involved developers submitting their game and/or material, which a small Valve team would then process and stroke their majestic beards (or lady equivalent) before deciding if the game should be on Steam.

From my consumer standpoint, it’s perfectly reasonable. After all, you don’t want to clutter your storefront with sub-par or broken games, only to have a mob of unhappy customers demanding refunds later on. They’ve done a considerably good job of filtering thus far, with exception to one or two every now and then.

Now that Steam Workshop — the highly successful mod-platform — is smoothly chugging along like an animated house in a musical, Valve has decided to capitalize on that feature as well as their vast user base. At the time of writing, Steam’s statistics show 2.5 million users logged in right now. That’s half the local population. I’m ignoring registered user numbers because there are those that hold multiple accounts or even dud ones for whatever naughty intent. Either that or some just see Steam as a DRM-chore to get to their games.

Greenlight works like Workshop, in that content is submitted and then left to the mercy of community voting. Naturally, there’d be those who make trolling and griefing their sole purpose in life but the general consensus is that they’re a minority. And the results show, with the better mods being pushed right up to the top. It’s a good thing Valve was smart enough to not use star ratings as the voting system; we all know how that works on the internet.

The obvious advantage for developers here is marketing: in an instant they’d get access to millions of scrutinizing gamers who are able to give feedback. Alright, so it’s mostly “this looks awesome” and some other variation of it, but I’ve seen a number of constructive ones in my brief venture. And for some of these games, exposure is really what they need the most. There are a number of those in development with really interesting premises, but are maybe lacking behind in some field such as art or audio. Given enough interest, potential and some measure of guarantee, they could turn to crowdfunding to hire someone else for help. Of course, it’s a muddy issue right now since we’ve yet to see the results of a successful Kickstarter for a game.

I gave a go at rating one page of submissions. It started off splendid, a trail of upvotes in my wake until I hit one particular title. The idea was good; not exactly my cup of tea, but I could see it being appreciated by a certain group of players. I did not, however, like the UI and visuals, both the fidelity and the aesthetics. Because there were only screenshots available, I was forced to imagine how it would play. It didn’t go very well. Suddenly, I was conflicted. Every video game is a labor of love, and who was I to put it down on the basis of personal preference alone? I decided to not vote and returned to the main page. There it was again and forever will be, looking at me, waiting for my approval or otherwise.

It’s incredibly easy to abuse and equally so for hyped games to garner the votes required for Valve’s consideration. But what about the others?

If you have the time, check out Greenlight for yourself. I happily discovered new games I would have otherwise overlooked, including ones such as platformer Project Giana. This, combined with Workshop and the Community overhaul, has placed Steam at the very top of providing  a system that PC gamers want to use. Valve has done it yet again, and the competition is going to have to face an uphill struggle.

Don’t think you’re off the hook just yet, Valve. I’ve still got eyes on Source Engine 2 and what you have planned for it.

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