It's been about two months since I put my game Drifter up on Steam Greenlight and it's been going okay with the game having received nearly 10,000 yes votes and the ratio of yes to no votes is pretty much even, which is probably not all that bad for a niche space trading game. If you ask me, anyway.
Still, progress has been a bit slower than I was hoping and it hasn't been all that easy getting people to visit the page on a consistent basis. These are my problems to overcome of course, and I will overcome them in time (I hope) but in the interests of sharing information to give everyone a better idea of what to expect before bringing a game to Greenlight I have been posting the Drifter Greenlight stats page daily at isdriftergreenlityet.com and am writing this post with some insights into the Greenlight process that I hope will help others prepare themselves for what lies ahead.
Also, I wish to acknowledge that Greenlight has its fair share of problems as a system for getting games on to Steam's curated storefront and that it is not a perfect system by any means. Even Valve have admitted as much though they insist that they are trying to make things better. That said, given that at this point in time Greenlight is one of the only avenues available for independent games to get on to Steam and because Steam represents such a large percentage of the PC digital distribution market it makes sense for us to arm ourselves with as much information as possible before tackling this seemingly Sisyphean task.
First off, not to be immodest, but in order to frame this piece, I'd like to think that Drifter isn't exactly some unknown game coming out of nowhere with no work put into promoting it. It's gotten coverage from numerous high-profile gaming press outlets over the past couple of years. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign last year which helped build up an early fan base for the game. I even have a relatively large number of followers on Twitter and my mom says I'm pretty cool. I figured if over 3,000 people wanted to give me money for my game, it should be a walk in the park to get a bunch of people to go and vote for it for free.
In retrospect, that was somewhat naive of me.
The problem isn't exactly in getting those votes, it's the sheer number of votes required to get to a point where Valve's internal approvals team will pay attention to your game. That point is somewhere within the Top 100 games as ranked by yes votes received. Ostensibly Valve also looks at other factors to help determine if a game is going to be greenlit such as crowdfunding success or how rapidly a game may be getting votes, so the general idea is that they are paying attention to the Top 100 but the Top 10 (or so) is where most approvals have been happening.
Currently, to get to the Top 100, you are going to need approximately 16,000 to 17,000 yes votes. The good news is that no votes do not count against you and that games are ranked against each other by yes votes received however if your yes to no ratio is not very high it means that you need to get considerably more people in front of your game to get the votes you need. The bad news here is that Greenlight has been designed deliberately to make it difficult for people to find games via Greenlight itself apart from the voting queue that doesn't seem to generate very many votes, perhaps 100 per day at most. The idea here, at least in theory, is that a game must be able to stand on its own merits and show that it has an audience who wants to play it and more importantly, pay for it. What this means in practice is that you will likely be spending a considerable amount of time and effort on promoting your game to get it on to Steam.
Once into the Top 100, the goal of most games is going to be to reach the Top 10. By my estimates a game is going to require somewhere around 50,000 yes votes to get into the Top 10. At the current "Average Top 50" split of 60% yes/40% no that means a Top 10 game is going to need to drive a little over 83,000 voters to their game. For a game like Drifter with an approximately 50% yes/50% no voting split it means you'll need to send over 100,000 voters your way.
Unless your game has a large audience already or are otherwise fortunate enough to get a large amount of concentrated word of mouth surrounding your game while it is on Greenlight it will likely take a few months or even longer to get into the Top 100 and then into the Top 10. While this may seem daunting, there is no time limit so at the very least this will give you time to get feedback on your game and its presentation and it will hopefully give you an opportunity to improve your chances of getting the votes you need. Also hopefully by this point you have your game available for direct purchase or pre-order through your website so you can start selling it even if you're not on Steam.
As for the approvals themselves, it seems like Valve have been approving somewhere between 5 and 10 games every 2 to 4 weeks lately, though it can vary and initially they were approving more games less frequently. When games get approved the rank of all of the remaining games goes up, and those that have forward momentum will move closer to getting greenlit. For instance during the last two batches of approvals Drifter jumped around around 3% of the way towards the Top 100 each time. So at the very least this means that these more frequent approvals will hopefully keep the list moving forward, at least somewhat.
Anyway, that's about all I have to offer for now though I hope it is of some use! To those that are working their way through Greenlight and those who are going to be there eventually I wish you luck and I hope that your game makes it through as quickly and as painlessly as possible!