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Here's what Steam Greenlight voters look for in a game

With the first Greenlighted games announced for Steam, we now have the opportunity to analyze the games and genres that appear to be capturing the attentions of Steam gamers, in the hope that you too can top the Greenlight popularity charts.
Valve has Greenlighted its first batch of games, simultaneously revealing its intricate methods of selection -- i.e. picking the top 10 most voted for games on the service (minus Slender: Source, which was left out for reasons we can only speculate on). This gives us the opportunity to analyze the games and genres that appear to be capturing the attentions of Steam players, in the hope that you too can top the Greenlight popularity charts and claim your place on the Steam store. The biggest takeaway from the games Greenlighted is that Steam users are, in general, looking for the types of experiences that you'd perhaps associate more with the triple-A space, and less with what you might consider the more niche indie game scene (which is hardly surprising, given the audience). First-person games, for example, are very much "in" -- six out of the ten games chosen feature a first-person perspective. Again, it's not really a genre you would associate with indie games as such, and is definitely more at ease with the mainstream and the modding scene. Three out of the 10 games selected were mods (Source mods, of course), showing that Greenlight is a fantastic way for modders to get their works on the Steam store, whether they are planning to charge for them or not.

Take a look around

Another gameplay element that is clearly capturing hearts and minds right now is the free-roaming adventuring genre, with open-ended exploration at its core. It's easy to say that games like Minecraft have really shown what this approach to game design can achieve, but in actual fact, the Greenlighted games that fit this header are more varied in their content than you might imagine. Project Zomboid for example, focuses far more on survival than it does on creativity, while Routine, with its non-linear exploration aboard a Moon base, coaxes players into discovering areas in a non-randomly generated world that perhaps other players might not. zomboid.jpgThere is, of course, another very obvious genre that runs through a good portion of the Greenlighted titles -- horror. Half of the games feature survival horror elements, with zombies a particularly prominent feature. It would appear that, as much as some of us continue to lament the oversaturation of zombie games, the genre is (ironically) refusing to die. The most notable takeaway from the 10 Greenlight games is that not a single one of them is a puzzle game, a platformer or an arcade shooter -- three genres that make up a good portion of what is usually perceived as your average indie game. In reality, what this means is that Steam users are simply looking for more of the same. For the most part, they want experiences that are similar to those already available on Steam, which obviously isn't great news for a good portion of indie developers.

Breaking through

That being said, there are clearly some exceptions, as there always are in these circumstances. McPixel, a collection of minigames with a pixelart visual style, is unlike anything we've seen via Steam before, while Towns, a very indie-looking citybuilding management game, again isn't exactly your usual Steam fodder. But none of this matters a jolt if you don't already have a community or fanbase built up around your game. All 10 games already had fanbases, thanks to either already being available to download/purchase elsewhere, or being in a playable alpha/beta form. Until you have such a fanbase for your game, it would appear that your chances of quickly being Greenlighted are slim. Not that putting your game on Greenlight without a community is a bad idea. As a journalist with a high interest in indie games, I have spotted a good half-dozen games I find very intriguing through the service, which I had not seen before. On top of that, I've noticed dozens of people on Twitter posting links to Greenlight games that they believe are worth backing. Hence, it would appear that a Greenlight page can indeed help you in your bid to build a fanbase. If you're willing to part with that $100 submission fee, my advice is to go for it, and then link the page alongside all your other press assets. The fact is that it doesn't appear to matter how quickly you build up your number of votes, so you might as well start as soon as possible.

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