Steam is the most popular digital distribution platform for video games, and lately more video games go through it than ever. 40 percent of the entire Steam library was introduced in 2016 alone. That's over 4,000 games, many published through its Greenlight program, which allows anyone to submit their game to user review. If enough Steam users vote that they want the game, it will be sold in the Steam store alongside Call of Duty and other big budget video games.
This endless stream of new games, mostly from smaller developers that a few years ago wouldn't have a way to reach Steam's 125 million active users, might sound like a good thing, but in practice it's kind of exhausting. Games that could be worth attention are increasingly squeezed between games that could be described as lazy, sleazy, or both. Steam's operator Valve seems to have taken notice, announcing the end of the Greenlight program. Its replacement, Steam Direct, will make it harder for the little guy to take advantage of the giant platform.
"In the coming months, we are planning to take the next step in this process by removing the largest remaining obstacle to having a direct path, Greenlight," Steam said in the announcement. "This new path, which we're calling 'Steam Direct,' is targeted for Spring 2017 and will replace Steam Greenlight. We will ask new developers to complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account. Once set up, developers will pay a recoupable application fee for each new title they wish to distribute, which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline."
A seemingly more internal and professional route would do away with problems created by Greenlight. The video game user base being what it is, putting a game into the arena for anonymous scrutinizing can create needless strain. On the other hand, the bar for getting a game to Steam's store can seem comically low. Steam's interface hasn't made wading through the crud any more efficient, and attempts to turn users into curators hasn't fared much better. When a game does rise to the front of the store, it usually indicates it's already made some money.
Steam Direct has some distressing ambiguities. Musing over what the new submission fee could look like, Steam wrote, "We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we'd like to gather more feedback before settling on a number."
Greenlight's current fee is $100, but $5,000, even recoupable, would create a massive obstacle to anyone who isn't part of a larger, commercial company. I can't imagine whoever "responded" with that higher figure is subsiding off $2 beef patties. The needed paperwork could also make things difficult for younger and international developers. Some of Steam's biggest hits came from small teams and complete unknowns, such as Undertale, Stardew Valley, and Five Nights at Freddy's. It's difficult to imagine Valve would damage its own service, but it wouldn't be the first mistake it's made.
Deciding what kinds of game deserve merit or publication can be a messy politic, especially since it so often boils down to "you know it when you see it." Alternative services, like itch, tout a flexible pricing system and feature its favourites on the front page, though it comes at the cost of a much smaller user base. In the comments of Steam's announcement, a user going by 'M' suggested, "make the fee 10.000€ so shtty wannabe devs cant put their crap into the store anymore. we already got too much gargabe in there."
So while games like Bloody Boobs, released today, before the end of Greenlight, and sounding like something a Sheffield shoe store clerk would murmur about hooligans, are safe, it calls the whole future of the Bloody Boobs franchise into question.