Steam Direct Will Unleash a Flood of Unplayable Drek

You think Steam is overcrowded with bad games now? Just you wait until the floodgates open with Steam Direct...

When it comes to PC gaming, there's no question that Steam is the go-to platform. As much as I love GOG and those handfuls of other smaller platforms trying to get their piece of the pie, there's no arguing that at this particular point in time, PC gaming = Steam. When the physical editions of huge games like Fallout 4 literally just have a Steam code in the box, it's clear who wears the crown.

That dominance is a double-edged sword, however. Having the biggest selection of titles means you also have the most games that aren't worth playing. Steam Greenlight acted as a sort of gate to that, ensuring only games that people really wanted to play managed to make it onto our hallowed PC platform.

Greenlight: The Snoozing Guard

Some really unique entries in the gaming world arrived on our PCs because of Greenlight, from the dystopian Papers, Please to the unique slow-motion shooter Super Hot to the genre-bending RPG Evoland and even the occasional novelty game with questionable replay value like Who's Your Daddy.

Greenlight was started with an admirable goal -- letting the community decide what it wanted on the Steam platform, rather than a handful of Valve employees whose tastes may not match yours or mine.

Of course, it wasn't always a vigilant gatekeeper. There's already a multitude of unplayable nonsense on Steam:

  • Half-baked RPG Maker titles that are unfinished or stopped working halfway through
  • "Early Access" games that will never see full release and are just a source of continual income from the gullible who lay down $50 for an unfinished demo
  • A horde of visual novels that are barely games at all and range in quality from pretty good to "are you actually kidding me right now?"

That problem is about to get a lot, lot worse. In a surprise move, Steam Greenlight has now officially been disbanded.

No new games can be added to the program and voting is suspended. The couple of thousand games that were in the program will be decided on by Valve directly in the coming months.

In its place, we'll get the new Steam Direct program, launching on June 13. The goal with Direct is to make it more transparent as to how games get on the platform and to address problems like developers releasing bare-bones games in order to farm trading cards for profit. 

 What a weird world we live in where THESE create financial incentives

Steam Direct Opens The Floodgates

Unfortunately, it seems like this "solution" is going to create an issue that's even worse. While Greenlight at least kept some bad games from getting through, the new program will ensure nearly anyone can release nearly anything via Steam.

Here's how the statement from Valve describes the new program:

The goal with Steam Direct is to provide an understandable and predictable path for developers from anywhere in the world to bring their games to Steam. With that in mind, we're making the process as easy and streamlined as possible.

A new developer will simply need to fill out some digital paperwork, including entering bank and tax information, and going [sic] through a quick identity verification process.

After completing the paperwork, the developer will be asked to pay a $100 recoupable fee for each game they wish to release on Steam. This fee is returned in the payment period after the game has sold $1,000.

In other words, anybody with a Benjamin can now release a game via Steam. No more community gateway. No more having to get votes through the strength of your game's concept. Want to release Super Slow Motion Grapefruit Simulator? Cool, just hand over that hundo.

 Yes, this is the face you should be making about Steam Direct

So long as it launches and doesn't install malware, any game at all is now in. We are about to see a storm of low quality, buggy, unfinished games from both unscrupulous developers looking to make a quick buck and kids who just picked up a book on programming.

Now, there is a slight catch there -- developers who have never released anything through Steam before will have to wait 30 days while their game and history is checked out, which means at the very least, there will be a delay before every RPG Maker project in history is suddenly available for purchase.

During that 30 days, Steam will "review the developer's information and confirm that we know who we're doing business with." Based on the description in the full press release here, it's unclear under what circumstances, if any, that a game would be denied during that review process, however.

Why Is This A Bad Thing?

"Well, so what?" you may ask -- why shouldn't every budding indie dev get to have their games on Steam? Two immediate problems come to mind.

First, there's the Steam sales issue. The Steam summer and winter sales are huge events where thousands of games have their prices slashed. Do you really want Stick Shift taking up one of those sales slots that could go to an actual game that you'll enjoy playing?

Next, we've got to think of signal to noise ratio. How many buggy games not worth a single dollar are already clogging up your recommendations or have to be scrolled through when browsing by genre? 

The problem here with game oversaturation is discoverability: there are already more games on Steam than one person could ever possibly beat in their entire natural lifespan.

 Good luck finding something worth playing in there!

Further muddying the waters doesn't help gamers find what they want, and it doesn't help developers make money when there are fewer and fewer ways to get noticed in an unending sea of games.

Completely removing any sort of quality gate is a phenomenally bad idea all around -- it's bad for Steam since it will undoubtedly increase refunds, bad for gamers who want to find games worth playing, and bad for developers who actually put work into their games and don't get noticed.

What do you think of Steam Greenlight getting replaced with Steam Direct? Are you looking forward to checking out more indie titles, or do you think it will result in more low-quality titles not worth playing mucking up your searches?

Published Jun. 8th 2017

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