Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Greenlight: Putting Skin In the Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 5, 2012

Since last week’s lukewarm post about Steam’s Greenlight system for submitting games, it has undergone quite a few changes. Mostly for the better. They’ve changed the biggest thorn in the side, the “up / down” votes, with better communication for the meaning. The new queue system I’m… not sure I like so much. But one of the most interesting changes, as of last night, is this one:

Valve announces that any indie dev participating in Greenlight must ante up $100.

This could have been far, far worse. My immediate thought was, “What? Valve went from crowd-sourcing their slush pile to making money off of indie devs that don’t even get their games sold on the service?” But this isn’t the case – the money goes to charity. This is purely a case of Valve requiring developers to put some skin in the game in order to be displayed on Greenlight. It’s also a one-time fee for the developer, not a per-game fee.

Okay, so here’s the deal. I’m not happy about forking over $100 for a new, unanticipated expense. That’s not a comfortable fee for anybody these days. Even if you run a small, successful full-time indie studio, that money could go to buy pizza for your entire team and then some. It’s nice that it’s going to charity, but a lot of indies out there are practically charity cases themselves, living on Top Ramen and working from their cramped studio apartment. As a part-time indie, I have a day job to finance my game-making habit, which helps. But that’s still $100 that could have gone to buying me a new office chair instead of the one I’ve been using which has a broken spring and ripped upholstery where the cushion is now shredding and falling out.

But I’ve paid entry fees for IndieCade and the IGF which got me even less exposure.  I’ve purchased a tool and a game engine license for more than this that I never ended up using. If you are in the business of indie games, these kinds of expenses… happen. It’s not that big of a deal.

And more importantly – it was clear that Steam overestimated their community when they launched Greenlight. Greenlight was rapidly becoming flooded with total junk. I’m not talking just poor-quality indie games… I’m talking completely made-up crap that people were whipping up in an hour to clog up the channel. Where it was clearly a joke, Valve took some minor disciplinary action, but it was quickly getting to the point where I didn’t feel like up-voting anything because I could never be sure if I was looking at a “real” game or not. The trolls had taken over.

The tried-and-true technique for combating this is to require participants to put some skin in the game. One could argue over how much this should be, but it needs to strike a balance between being affordable for the serious participants but uncomfortable enough to weed out the un-serious.  Is $100 the right balance? On a platform where many (most?) customers spend that much on games every 3-4 months, maybe.  I don’t know their metric. But while I’m not particularly happy about forking over yet more money – particularly as my expectations are low, it’s well within reason for any indie who would be serious about releasing a Steam-worthy game.  They’ve probably already spent a hell of a lot more than that already on production costs.

What if your game never gets on Steam? That’s not only a possibility, it’s a probability. Again, if this was just a fee to be silently viewed by a panel judges (who might not even play your game) *cough*IGF*cough*, then it might not be a particularly awesome investment. But if viewed as one more avenue to help people discover your games, probably more effective than paying ten times that amount for Google ads, then it is not so horrible. While Greenlight doesn’t allow direct links to other websites, most savvy indies (even me, once I got a clue) can put the URL of their website in their description.

As to Steam achieving its dominance over the indie game space… well, from that perspective, I do wish that Greenlight would turn into a failed experiment, like so many others. I feel very, very strongly that indies should neither pin their hopes on Steam nor “settle” for portalized distribution no matter how many portals accept their game. As much as Steam might be an incredibly valuable tool for indies, it should always be viewed as a partnership that could turn sour at any moment. Maybe they have a change in management and the new leadership decides they really prefer the EA / Activision method of “dealing with” indies. Who knows? Being independent doesn’t mean you can’t work with these guys, but it should always mean that you don’t have to.

Anyway – I’m now out another $100, and I can’t even tell if my game is still on the RPG list (since you can no longer view games anonymously, and games you’ve already voted for disappear from the list, and the new queue system serves to confuse things even further). But I have hopes that this will make Greenlight an actually useful resource not only for getting games on Steam, but for helping people discover new indie games.

(Incidentally – if anybody wants to drop a couple of bucks into a tip jar to help me offset that fee, there’s always a PayPal donation link off to the right… of the blog articles… 🙂 )

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 22 Comments to Read

  • Simon said,

    Are you tracking traffic to your existing store coming from the greenlight page?

    I’m wondering what just being in the greenlight list will do to your exposure to people who are already in the market for indie titles?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    It’s not an exact science, particularly since Greenlight doesn’t allow (or didn’t – so far as I could see) direct links in description field. There was definitely a bump, not a clear win in the short term, but it looks like it may have generated a few extra visits, downloads, and even sales.

  • Craig Stern said,

    “This is purely a case of Valve requiring developers to put some skin in the game in order to be displayed on Greenlight.”

    As opposed to the thousands of dollars we’ve already dropped on developing our games to begin with? As opposed to the years of uncompensated toil? Is there anyone in the universe who actually, truly thinks that it takes an arbitrary $100 fee to make us “invest” in our games, or that this is necessary to prove that we take them seriously? I honestly find this notion patronizing and frankly, kind of offensive.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You are talking about you. I was trying to find legitimate games buried in a bunch of titles that I wasn’t sure whether or not they were real or just something some kid came up with over the weekend. Is it worth $100 to be in a listing with a crap-filter in place?

    I can’t answer that question for you, obviously. I’ve got plenty of misgivings about Steam, and I’m not particularly happy about another $100 charge when it’s not like I’m making grundles of money off the game (or ever will, with or without Steam). But considering that my #1 problem selling Frayed Knights is getting it *SEEN* by anyone outside of an awesome but lamentably niche audience, I anted up. Any kind of advertising you do is going to be a gamble, whether it consumes time or money (usually both).

    So even though I feel there’s a non-zero chance Greenlight could fail and I ended up contributing to a charity that wouldn’t have been my first choice (though I do like the cause), I felt it was worthwhile in the long term. But every indie will have to make their own evaluation on that one.

    TBH, the low number of unique new views of the Greenlight page in the last twelve hours has me questioning the value of the decision already. I really don’t think my chances of having Frayed Knights getting sold on Steam improved much with the launch of Greenlight, either…

  • Benjamin said,

    I’ve been reading your blog for ages and immediately up-voted Frayed Knights when you posted about it.

    Kinda funny though, I have a little extra cash on hand and was browsing around Steam last night but couldn’t find anything I felt worth buying. Duh, I only played the demo of Frayed Knights and meant to buy it when I had some spending money but it slipped my mind. So I won’t be hitting the donate button but will purchase the full version, hopefully that will help offset the cost.

    I think it is good that Valve has set a barrier of entry though, finding your game in the Steam client wasn’t easy. The internet will be the internet, capable of great things but rife with cowpats. Is it a reverse poll tax? Sort of but is there another way to filter out serious devs from trolls?

    As this is the end of my lurking I’d just like to say thanks, your blog has been great reading for the past couple years. Your gaming tastes jive with mine so your thoughts on both the developer and player side of things has been most enlightening.

  • Kurt said,

    How do you link to websites in the description? Twitter links work, but the usual [url=http://]Blah[/url] doesn’t work for anything else.

    Greenlight hasn’t been thought through in the slightest. There should’ve been a nominal fee from the get-go. Maybe $5, like the Chrome Webstore. Requiring a manifest file to link images/etc could’ve annoyed some spammers enough not to bother.

    They should just cancel it. The mad rush will be over in a few months time, anyway. They’ll have to adjust the threshold, daily. The Yes/No voting still isn’t perfect unless the red/green bar is gone for good, and the service is not worth $100.

    They should just create an offshoot app store, where $500-1000 gets you published, but not advertised in the main store until you sell X copies.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Thank you, Benjamin. I hope to hear more from you!

    Yeah, I really don’t know — whenever a community gets large enough, the portion of clueless & douchey folks will eventually hit critical mass and make it so you can’t have nice things anymore. So you either put in barriers to dissuade them, or you spend an inordinate amount of resources to police it. Either way isn’t very fun, and it’s unfair to the majority that are willing to play by the rules, but that’s life I guess.

  • Kurt said,


  • Kurt said,

    Don’t tell me your censoring comments?

  • Kurt said,

    Maybe it’s parsing the text wrong…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I had to check the auto-filter. I guess with all those dollar signs, the filter thought your comment was spam.

  • Benjamin said,

    You’re very welcome! Might not be for a while, FK just finished downloading so I have some dungeons to delve.

  • Steam ‘Greenlight’ and the $100 fee controversy « Tales from the Ebony Fortress said,

    […] work, or those working minimum wage jobs to pay the bills while developing games in the evenings. The Rampant Coyote mentions that “a lot of indies out there are practically charity cases themselves, living on Top Ramen and […]

  • Craig Stern said,

    “You are talking about you.”

    Not just me; I’m not so arrogant as to think I’m the only developer who has struggled to make his game happen! Jay, I know that you yourself have been through a lot making Frayed Knights. I don’t think that anyone has the right to tell us that we’re not committed, or not legitimate, unless we spend $100 more.

    About whether $100 is a good deal: only time will tell, though I admit I’m awfully skeptical. A pay wall strikes me as a quick-fix solution that puts the burden squarely on small developers, a little like the teacher that punishes the whole class because one or two students won’t stop talking out of turn. And of course, it won’t do much for discoverability that couldn’t be better handled by better interface design and smarter algorithms.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    What I meant was to distinguish you from the non-serious abusers of Greenlight.

    What I’m saying is that YOU have done all this – invested a massive amount of cash (relatively speaking) and time into your game. We’re the guys who should have our games out there. We’ve “paid our dues” as far as we’re concerned…

    But Valve doesn’t know us from Adam. And from a purely numerical perspective, we’re no more “legitimate” than some popular joker on Steam who throws together some fake screenshots and recruits his network of gaming buddies to drum up some upvotes for his “game.” By Sunday night, I was really getting worried that these guys were going to be the ones who would inherit Greenlight, leaving the “working glass indies” once more in the dust.

  • getter77 said,

    What this really seems to come down to is the age-old problem of Valve not better staffing the verification side of things, to say nothing of making the process less opaque—compounded with the whole “Handle the indies like a Bum Fight, come right this was past the velvet rope Ye Big Publishers” aspect.

    A cursory few minutes, for example, of a generally average person browsing the internet should’ve netted Steam the likes of Din’s Curse and other such projects AGES ago—-for them to act like they are working divination and alchemy to sift out even the most obvious of projects that continually fall through the cracks is just ridiculous.

    There was never even community rumbling at large for every Indie under the sun—mainly it was just the “especially puzzling as to why not?” cases. So instead of just solving that in a straightforward manner not unlike whatever apparent pact of power that the likes of Desura and maybe Gamersgate have—-thee chose….this.

  • Benjamin said,

    Craig, getter77 and RC’s views all seem completely valid.

    I can’t approach this subject from a developer’s point of view, only as a user. But my past three Steam purchases were Dungeons of Dredmor, Lone Survivor and Legend of Grimrock. I’m probably in the minority of customers but with the exception of Grimrock I wouldn’t have known about those games had they not shown up on Steam and that’s only because RC blogged about Grimrock.

    It is complicated, as the free market generally is. That is one thing about Valve, they take their cut, like any middleman will but I see a certain anarcho-capitalist bent to their business model. Gabe gets his but without Steam would I ever have purchased Jasper Byrne’s game? Would Gaslamp Games have made that sale? Probably not.

    I think RC was correct in viewing the Steam client as advertising. It has a large number of users and if you say hey, here’s and old school game a certain number of users will go for it, just like I have with LoG, DoD and LS and various other games over the years. A niche market for sure but that’s better than no market.

    If a $100 investment makes you $500… yes it sucks that you’re down $100 but you’re up $400. I recently bought a license to harvest bloodworms that cost me $50 but I made $600 in the first week. I don’t like having to pay the state for the right to harvest them but in the end I came out on top. Until a true free market exists we need to make do with what we have.

  • Charles said,

    Something I don’t understand… You were charged? I figured that $100 fee was for new entries. Mine is still up and I haven’t paid anything. Now I’m kind of worried my entry will just vanish (like it did on indiedb because uploading images didn’t work).

    As for the principle, I don’t see any better way. $100 is awefully expensive for a prank, so that should be taken care of. It’s not proving once more that you are serious about your work but proving you’ve actually got something worth showing as opposed to just trying to be funny.

    Like in many fields (driving, gun ownership…), the serious get to pay for the idiots. Nothing new under the sun.

    I don’t think they failed in seeing it coming. Had they set it up on day one, people would have flamed them for it. Now that events demonstrated the necessity, no one is blaming Valve. We rightfully blame the idiots. I don’t doubt that this was planned ahead of time.

  • getter77 said,

    The other thing with the potential “advertisement” angle, is that, if anything, this will greatly exacerbate the problem of sooo many people…as opposed to just not knowing like yourself Benjamin….getting downright militant about the “Not on Steam? Never and you suck!” line of thinking and stinking up threads in all corners of the internet where folks struggle to cultivate a playerbase.

    This even moreso enmeshes Steam into the collective user psyche as something that “must” be from even this early stage targeted means—-something far different than, say, Desura’s Alpha funding initiative.

  • Charles said,

    I imagine people could see the Steam selection process as a filter. “Not on Steam? If you weren’t good enough for the Steam users there’s no reason you’d be good enough for me.”

    Which of course is unfair since success on Greenlight greatly depends on your existing fanbase.

    Still I see no reason to blame Valve or this. It’s like gravity it takes time and energy to break away. I find no reason to complain about the 6000 free visits I got to my entry, which generated 200 favs which in turn could generate 100-200 customers. Not too bad for half an hour spent filling out a form.

  • Michael A. said,

    First, thanks for sharing some actual numbers, Charles. One thing I find annoying about many of the arguments being put out, is that they are extremely high on emotion, and very low on actual data.

    Secondly, don’t you think that you are perhaps being overly optimistic in thinking that 200 favs would generate 100-200 customers? Would be interesting to hear what kind of sales bump you’ve actually seen from Greenlight, if you know. Off-hand, I would not expect much of a conversion rate from what is essentially a website without direct purchase ability.

    Thirdly – I agree with your final comment; but would you have felt that it was worth it if you had spent $100 for the same results?

    Genuinely curious. Good luck on Greenlight btw (I voted you up).

  • SniperHF said,


    “I imagine people could see the Steam selection process as a filter. “Not on Steam? If you weren’t good enough for the Steam users there’s no reason you’d be good enough for me.”

    It’s already that way for a lot of people regarding mainstream games.