Steam's Greenlight, and its issues

Steam's Greenlight has some big issues, but is there an easy solution?

Steam is a good place for indie developers to get their games seen, discussed, and (possibly) bought. Getting your game Greenlit isn't a big problem anymore, but perhaps it really needs to be.

The Problems

A few months ago, Steam gave full refunds for anyone who purchased the small indie game Journey of the Lightwhich was – as many believed – an outright scam. It was advertised as being 'impossible to solve' and boasted 7 different levels which you could play through. The only problem was, it was so impossible to solve that no one could get past the first level. Some quick file checking revealed that, except for the first level, the rest of the levels weren't even in the game.

As far as scams go this is pretty ingenious, but at the same time extremely stupid. Lord Kres, developer of the game, said that he'd accidentally deleted most of the files after he added a bug fix. But since then he has called in sick and hasn't come back to us yet. Surprise, surprise.

Countless games are uploaded on Steam for a quick buck, and most of them are getting Greenlit despite being broken, unfinished, and even outright scams. Cat Simulator, a first person 'cat game' with one level, and physics more broken than a 1930's bank account, is just another example of a broken game that really shouldn't have been Greenlit. And this isn't even the worst of it.

There have been 'Black Screen Simulators', outright racist games, and not to mention the asset flip debacle, where carbon copies of one type of game can be found all over the damned site.

Digital Homicide, a 'game developing company', has become pretty infamous on Steam for putting up utter crap on the site, their most famous being The Slaughtering Grounds. After they were chased out, they made a new company called ECC games, and they continued to get terrible and broken games Greenlit.

Why is this an issue?

Apart from people wasting money on broken games, this practice is steadily making players lose faith in developers. People are getting tired of getting ripped off, and this in turn is hurting sales; to the point where you can actually see the steady drop in indie game popularity.

Because anyone and their illegally imported baboon can make a game, it's reached the point where more crap is being shit out than corn. This, in turn, hurts real indie developers -- you know, those teams who put actual effort into their games? And it's getting harder for them make a name for themselves. 

The other issue is that the developers of these 'games' will block and outright attack people who dare say anything against their 'baby'. This has the added benefit of reviewers being undermined in their fight to get the word out about a bad game, and, of course, hurting these reviewers' revenue. YouTube personality TotalBiscuit had a run-in with the developers of The Day One Garry's Incident for just such a reason. And this is still happening.

But why isn't Steam doing anything?

Steam is supposed have an open door policy -- they are supposed to give anyone the chance to get their game out there and maybe make a name for themselves. For a small scale indie developer, it's a godsend. For the smart scammer, it's a goldmine.

But, to an extent, Steam is doing something. Currently, they are reaching out to players asking them to let them know about bad games, scams, and copyright issues. This does seem to work, but it still allows people like Lord Kres to take advantage of naive gamers, and make us even more wary about buying a game in the future, thus hurting sales.

It's a win-lose situation.

So how do we fix it?

Steam has already offered refunds for bad games, which is a big step in the right direction. But short of shutting the whole thing down, there really is no simple solution. To fix it, there really needs to be firmer and less forgiving policies. This will have an effect on the 'open door' policy Steam prides itself on, but will at least filter out some of the worst games.

Steam's effort to give anyone the chance to sell their game is admirable when you think about it. It really does give smaller companies a decent chance in promoting their products. And let's be honest -- through the worst of it, we have gotten some pretty amazing games.

There will always be more crap than corn in the perpetual shitstorm of game development -- we can only hope the corn won't taste any worse for it.

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Published Aug. 11th 2021

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