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Brief History of Greenlight

Steam Greenlight: why it is good for indie developers and Happy Birthday! Legends of Eisenwald journey through the new way for players choosing games to be released on Steam.

Alexander Dergay, Blogger

September 2, 2013

16 Min Read

How It All Began: Submission Process in the Pre-Greenlight World

Steam is the biggest online game distribution platform and for indie game developers it has always been sort of a Holy Grail – many dreamt and keep dreaming of putting their game on Steam. I was not an exception and as we were one year developing our game, Legends of Eisenwald, I started collecting information about how to get on Steam - it was in 2011. It turned out to be quite a depressing task. I started to search Internet for tips and experiences of indie companies that managed to get their game on Steam. There were quite a few stories of initial rejection, of a long wait for a response and many others along with a few stories of success. Perplexed I decided to actually see how the process looks like.

It turned out that a submission process is very simple – there is a short form where you need to provide a name for your game, some description, link to a game build, some press quotes if you have any. And with a simple submit button it was supposed to be sent to people at Valve. Well, I really hoped our game would get someone's attention there but I had a lot of fears at the same time. What if our game gets rejected? What if they don’t respond for months? If rejected once, is it even possible that my game will be accepted the second time around?  And these thoughts kept circulating in my head and I didn't have answers. There seemed to be no way to contact Valve other than through that submission form. Later I learned it’s possible to talk to them at a computer fair like GamesCom or PAX but still, often you need an appointment and that seemed also quite a challenge. There were a few articles that I found very helpful, one of them was here on Gamasutra by Scott Tykoski.

Greenlight Inception

Another year passed, it was 2012, we just finished our campaign at Kickstarter and started to think about submitting our game through this form. But then on July 9 came an announcement that Steam Greenlight will be released on August 30 and that it replaces previous submission process.

First I was upset, I had to rethink all our plans. But the more I read the news about this new way of getting games to Steam the more I liked what I saw. And I realized right away that equally to Kickstarter, Greenlight might become one of the greatest things happened to indie game developers – because Greenlight provides a new platform to reach more players for our game. Actually, this seems like a good road for developers: start making a game, make an alpha, then via Kickstarter and Greenlight into the release.

Steam Greenlight launched as announced and I was overwhelmed with the amount of games it featured. I spend several hours each day voting for games, some in my team too and that seemed so new and fun! For the first four days it was possible to see the individual rankings for each game but then Valve took them away. I think they might have figured that open rankings give popular games more views making the process less fair to other games. The rankings looked like this:






View/Fav Ratio



Project Zomboid







Slender: Source







No More Room in Hell










































Heroes & Generals







Cry of Fear







Project Giana













Greenlight Pipeline

Then once a month about 10-15 games were greenlit. We were working very hard on our game and tried to learn what had to be done to be accepted at Steam. That initial splash of votes was really great yet it gave me fears about our game not doing so well. A couple of things were clear though – I saw that projects receive a lot of votes and exposure in the first days but then the votes declined. Also, projects with some promotion were definitely doing better than games that were just put out there with just hopes of being seen by many people.

And in December we launched our Greenlight campaign. We sent our press releases, invited our backers from Kickstarter to vote for us and we were doing really well – we got into top 100 games in just 6 days. Back then the statistics of a project owners looked like this:

First week statistics

Basically, it’s the same information then the rankings in the first four days but available only to developers regarding their own game but no other games are seen.

The feedback in comments on our game was overwhelmingly positive – I heard about other projects when people were writing bad or even mean stuff about games but luckily it didn’t happen to us. I deleted just a few spam comments and a few comments that were using expletives.  We answered a lot of questions, kept posting updates and news and it was really a lot of fun.

Greenlight Evolution

Then in January Greenlight evolved once more and statistics became much more informative, including at least some anonymous comparison to other projects (even though sometimes if there was a game that was launched after us, we could figure out by looking how many days the game was on Greenlight). Here are examples of how the statistics looked for Legends of Eisenwald back in January:

January statistics part 1

After good first month the amount of votes we were receiving kept declining. We were trying to do some promotion but since the game wasn’t really polished at that moment it was not an easy thing to do. There were some articles in press about our game, sometimes a video preview and the result of all those things was visible, votes would spike a bit that day.

But still, despite low amount of visitors we kept climbing higher. When a new batch of games was accepted, we would get significantly higher because mostly games ahead of us were accepted. Sometimes very popular games like Papers Please would overtake us and many other games but still, most games display similar to ours dynamic.

At the beginning of April we were in top 20 games, and after the next batch we got into top 10. Where we stayed until we got greenlit on May 17th. By this time Steam started greenlighting games more frequent but would take a bit less and we felt very happy.

Here are our stats one week before we were greenlit:

May statistics

May statistics

Happy Birthday Greenlight

Valve kept accepting games and on Aug 28 accepted biggest batch ever, 100 games! Which brings the number of greenlit games to 176 and 61 released. Over 1300 games will still compete for the votes of players but it remains to be seen how many games will be accepted next. I don't think another 100 will come anytime soon. Also, to celebrate, Steam put all released greenlit indie games on sale, nice move.

So, why Steam Greenlight is actually good for developers?

I read many articles with developers complaining of not being accepted. With over 1300 existing games now it is probably hard for Valve to accept them all. They are making a good effort but competition is healthy. And they promise to increase throughput in the future, so if you have a game put it out! Who knows, it might work faster then you think.

Greenlight is not a perfect system, for players it's not easy at all to dig through so many titles. I saw a few who said they voted for everything (as did I) but it's a minority. And Valve could do some incentives for voting and I am sure it will happen. In my mind, Valve is a company that goes and experiments with things and it's much better than being stuck in one particular business model.

Same thing applies to Greenlight. It's not perfect but it's a giant leap from what the submission process used to be. Here are some important things why I think Greenlight is great:

  • There is no risk of immediate rejection;

  • It is a new platform to display a game to many potential customers. When we were greenlit, we had 115k visitors, 47k yes votes, and that's a big amount;

  • It's possible to track the effect of a promotion campaign by looking at the statistics (the more press the better, of course);

  • In case of mistakes or even PR nightmares it's no rejection and you just have to keep working towards your goal, it's a delay;

  • You receive a feedback about your game, an honest and brutal sometimes, yet very helpful;

  • Valve asks developers for feedback on how to improve service and implements new things (look how the statistics evolved);

  • Direct contact for developers with Valve in Greenlight Dev group which was virtually impossible before Greenlight.

Negative complaints about Greenlight are mostly about games not having enough visibility and that's definitely can be improved. But at the same time Valve cannot do everything, it's a job of developers as well to promote their game.

Possible improvements from discussions I participated in the forums and in Greenlight developers group:

  • Improve interface of the Steam store page to increase visibility of Greenlight projects (random displaying of some projects is one solution);

  • Create again top 10, 20, 50 or 100 lists - this will be mostly helpful for games already in good position but at the same time it will give more press coverage to Greenlight;

  • Give access to Steamworks SDK if a game enters top50 or top100 and stays there for some time.

I am positive Greenlight will keep evolving and Valve will do other innovative and fun things with it and their other projects.

I hope it was interesting and/or helpful, and would love to hear your comments!

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