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Why changes in the Steam ecosystem terrify me

Steam has long been a highly curated ecosystem, and is now moving further and further away from this approach. I don't like that.

For a long time, Steam was a highly curated ecosystem, providing a significant barrier of entry to budding indie developers. For a little over a year now, however, they've been using the Greenlight system that we're all familiar with. Developers pay in some earnest money (which Valve donates), they post their games on Greenlight, and hope to pass user curation.

Greenlight has a number of issues, which I'll get into in a minute, but they're not the focus of my post. What bothers me is a number of remarks made by Gabe Newell only a few months after Greenlight first came about. See the article here. The gist of it is that Valve, even when Greenlight had first released, had been looking at phasing it out, in favor of a more open marketplace or API which developers can use like a storefront.

Okay, so this is old news in every sense of the word, but to be fair, it's only just now becoming directly relevant to me. I'm not a full-time game developer. I spend my day job in php, html, javascript, sql, and other assorted web technologies. The point being, any progress I've done on my own game is done in my free time. I've only recently reached the point where I've been ready to share/promote my own game and unless something changes, I'm still probably a year away from an early access release. But when I make that happen, I'll want to be on Steam.

For a little context, allow me to point out that this isn't my first rodeo. I've made a game before that did not make it to Steam, and a mobile game that can be found on the Google Play and Amazon App stores. Oddly, it's performed quite a bit better on Amazon, but that's a different subject altogether. It hasn't actually performed well at all.

Not that I mind, or am disappointed; I made the game mostly for my wife, and published it just because. I'm also well aware of the reason behind the game's poor performance. I put absolutely no marketing muscle into it at all. Well, I tried, but D**mit, Jim, I'm a programmer, not an advertiser.

And here's where the rambling comes full circle. By setting a high bar, Steam creates an experience that is not only better for the players, who can (arguably) expect a higher quality of games, but also a better experience for the developers.

Quite frankly, the larger and more open a marketplace is, the harder it is to be discovered. If I get a game on Steam right now, even with the higher acceptance rate of Greenlight games, I can still find myself in a variety of feeds on their storefront. Sure, I'll be edged out by those twenty addons for that one game, but I'll have a lot more exposure than I could have achieved through my own marketing efforts alone. On the otherhand, the more open Steam is to developers, the more my game gets buried in a slough of match-threes and bird-flapping games. The games that stand out will most likely be those with the greatest marketing muscle (i.e., not mine), and those which have the most downloads (which I can't get without that great marketing muscle).

My suggestion to Valve: Keep Steam Curated!

I love the idea of user-curation. I think Greenlight is conceptually fantastic, but ultimately flawed. In fact, careful readers will remember that I said I'd get back to that "in a minute." Unfortunately, I lied. This post has gone on quite long enough, so I'll set the subject aside for now. The upshot of that decision is that I can emphasize my original point.

Keep Steam Curated.

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