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Not uniting to “beat” Greenlight but understanding the struggle

As and indie dev with a game stuck in Greenlight I won't be joining the group of devs trying to "beat" Greenlight but I understand that their frustration isn't just out of some entitlement.

If you still haven't seen it here's the article.

As a solo indie dev with a game stuck in Greenlight for some months now, no I won't be joining that initiative becase 1) getting in the top 100 still doesn't mean you'll pass Greenlight tomorrow, or next week or next month (at least now since changes to Greenlight seem to be coming anyway) and 2) as a part-time dev busy finishing his game and still contacting the press and YouTubers I don't have time to spend on people who might not return the favor (even if the "rules" state that you have to vote for other games).

Greenlight could have worked but it's missing one important feature: a recommendation system based on the recent activity of a user on Steam

BUT ... before judging too quickly "these indie devs that surely made crappy games so that's why they don't get votes" here are a few things you must know:

  1. Greenlight itself will drive traffic to your Greenlight page mostly on the first few days after you submit your game which means as long as you are on the front page of the listing.
  2. If you play a lot of say strategy games Steam won't suggest to you strategy games currently on Greenlight to vote for so you have to actively search for them (which most people don't do, at least not anymore)
  3. Downvotes don't penalize your progress toward your top 100 as stated here.
  4. Getting in the top 50 right now requires about 9,000 votes (average based on current stats) 

Greenlight could have worked but it's missing one important feature: a recommendation system based on the recent activity of a user. Basically something similar to the recent Steam update that seems to do a better job now at recommending games based on your recent activity.

So what this means is that devs have to bring traffic to Steam themselves. But why do devs want to have their games on Steam in the first place? 1) To actually reach more people than they can reach on their own and of course 2) answer to people who will only buy a game if it is on Steam (a request all indies not on Steam receive frequently).

it's a dishonest shortcut to assume that all games not on Steam are just bad

As a solo dev, if I'm able to easily get 9,000 yes votes on Greenlight on my own then I may as well redirect all these people to my own website and sell to them directly. It if indeed results in 9,000 direct sales I then become a very successful indie dev and then I can quit my day job tomorrow. So why not do that instead? Why don't all devs who passed Greenlight didn't do that in fact! Ah yes, because these 9,000 votes are to appear on Steam, not for a DRM-free copy ...

Ever wondered why devs submit their Flash games on Kongregate and other portals instead of hosting them themselves? For the exact same reason devs submit their games to Greenlight. While a few do succeed on their own it's a dishonest shortcut to assume that all games not on Steam are just bad. 

With 75 million users, even a game targeting a niche market can do very well on Steam for a solo dev. Reaching that niche outside of Steam though is a whole different story. Gaming websites don't drive as much traffic as they used to (when they're not all busy covering the latest big production in 4-5 articles in a row) and many YouTubers are focusing on non-niche games in order to get more viewers and that's when they don't tell you they'll wait that your game gets on Steam to cover it (true story,nice catch-22 eh?).

In the best of world we'd all be focusing on direct sales instead of trying to get on Steam but if we could do without Steam then we wouldn't have any difficulty to get the Greenlight votes required to get on Steam in the first place.

So when you hear an indie dev frustrated about being stuck in Greenlight it's really about that. Steam is a wonderful tool to reach more people (if only 0.01% out of 75 million) but to benefit from that you have to be able to reach on your own a number of people that would make you a successful full-time indie dev if Steam wasn't in the picture ... 

I hope this helps to put things into perspective. Not all indie devs feel entitled, they're just trying to figure a way to reach players that will buy their games if they would only know about them.


I recently announced that my upcoming game is available for pre-order and of course notified my newsletter subscribers. The response wasn't quite what I expected so I decided to investigate. It turns out that many people following me are actually waiting for the game to really make it on Steam to buy it. So even by doing my homework and reaching out to people on my own, my capacity to sell my game is still impacted in a significant way by being stuck in Greenlight ...

Of course, the only thing I can do from here is do my best to reach even more people and hope it's good enough!

About me

My name is Dave Toulouse and I'm a solo independent game developer (operating under the name Machine 22) who worked on a dozen projects in the past 7 years. My curret project is the turn-based strategy game Human Extinction Simulator.


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