Valve Blocks Indie Game Paranautical Activity on Steam

Valve vetoes indie game Paranautical Activity from being published on Steam because it bypassed Greenlight by finding a publisher instead.

Indie game studio, Code Avarice, was all set to publish its game Paranautical Activity on Steam. That is, until Valve blocked them. The reason? Code Avarice had posted their game on Steam’s Greenlight feature back in September.

Steam Greenlight is a service offered by Valve to indie game developers. It allows them to publish their content on Steam once it has gone through the approval process (which is really little more than a popularity contest). It has been occasionally touted as a failed experiment for the indie community, and Code Avarice’s bitter experience isn't helping clear its name.

Code Avarice, a two man team of Mike Maulbeck and Travis Pfenning, had initially posted Paranautical Activity on Greenlight and then abandoned the campaign once they were approached by publisher Adult Swim with an offer to get the game onto Steam without undergoing the hassle of Greenlight. They were ecstatic and accepted the offer.

But things went downhill when an Adult Swim rep went to meet with Valve about publishing the game. Valve rejected the deal, saying they “didn't want to send the message that indies can seek out publishers to bypass Steam Greenlight.”

When asked about how an indie developer should decide between Greenlight and seeking a publisher backing, Valve’s Doug Lombardi told PCGamesN, 

“We review Greenlight votes, reviews, and a variety of factors in the Greenlight process. However our message to indies regarding publishers is do it for your own reasons, but do not split your royalties with a publisher expecting an automatic ‘Yes’ on Greenlight.”

Now Code Avarice is attempting to revive its Greenlight campaign after a long few months of neglect. To make matters worse, Adult Swim has shown considerably less enthusiasm about backing them.

“They hit me back and they were like, 'well we don't really want to get public with this yet because we don't want any backlash from Steam,’ so they're not even going to help us with the Greenlight campaign at this point,"  Maulbeck of Code Avarice said in a video interview with Youtuber Green9090.

The experience has soured both Maulbeck and Pfenning toward Steam. And yet they know they have no choice. They know that in the PC gaming community, a game’s success depends on Steam sales, whether it be indie or publisher-backed. And for an indie developer, it’s debatable whether Greenlight is a curse or a blessing.

Both members of Code Avarice believe the former to be true. "It's not about having a good game, it's about knowing how to trick people and convince people to click that little button," said Maulbeck.  He pointed out that many poorly made games had been okayed by Greenlight’s voting system.

Pfenning believes that the indie community is being neglected because of Steam’s almost monopolistic power.

"I feel like it's one of those things, whose dick do I have to suck to get on to this f***ing platform? And I really don't think that that's fair."

Valve doesn't want to take chances on not making money on a game, he adds, and so they want to ensure they will sell a certain (huge) number of copies once they publish it.

Maulbeck acknowledged Steam isn't the only distributor out there, but said that it was really the only one that mattered to indies. "No matter how many of those [other] places we're on,” he said, “it's all gonna be pocket change compared to what we can make on Steam." Other distributors, Pfenning points out, are no competition to Steam.

Not all is downhill for Code Avarice. The controversy with Valve has generated publicity and they've received more than a few upvotes on Greenlight. Adult Swim hasn't completely abandoned them either, and is offering the team advertising and attendance to game expos and conventions.

At this time, however, Code Avarice is still little more than one in a million indie developers waiting hopefully in line at Greenlight.

To vote for the game and support these developers, check out Paranautical Activity’s Greenlight page.

 What do you think about Greenlight? Is it useful or just a hindrance to indie developers? Let us know in the comments.


Girl, Canadian, caffeine worshipper, currently in school for book publishing. I like to write about games and complain about the lack of a good zombie RPG. You'll find me lurking on various game forums in various guises.

Published Jun. 4th 2013
  • thatguy2331

  • Big Chief 1
    Featured Correspondent
    Hmmm... Not sure how to feel about that one.
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Honestly? This is a little bit of a 'made your own bed' situation for me.

    Sure, being an indie developer is a tough go as far as this industry is concerned, but I would only consider this unfair if some indie developers were being favored over others in the Greenlight process. They're not being favored, they're just having to make a choice.

    Essentially, it seems like Code Avarice tried to buy their way through Greenlight with the backing of a publisher. Not every indie developer has a publisher, and honestly, for them to try and buy their way on to Steam is shitty in and of itself--and Valve is right. Had they been approved, that would have caused an uproar for every other developer on Greenlight.

    Maybe it's a crappy service/system, but Greenlight applies to every indie, and that makes it fair. There is no favoritism. He doesn't have to suck anyone's dick to get on Steam, though he certainly did try by promising Adult Swim 40% of the game's revenue. In fact, he should have been sucking the dicks of the people he's selling to.

    Welcome to marketing and sales, dude. Basic economics is all about dick sucking.
  • Kristin Silver
    I feel like I agree with what you've said Katy, it is a 'made your own bed' situation. They took a risk, and it didn't work out. But you're right, that is marketing and sales. You're making a product that you are trying to get people to like, subscribe to/buy etc....if they don't like it enough to vote and whatnot, what makes you think it will be a success?
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Right? Unfortunately, planet Earth happens to be a popularity contest. If you've made a good product, it'll naturally be popular. This is generally true in most things.
  • Wokendreamer
    Featured Columnist
    I can definitely appreciate their desire to get a guaranteed way onto Steam, but I feel this is more an issue of Adult Swim having assumed they could get games onto Steam just by being a bigger publisher.

    I do have some sympathy for Code Avarice. I do not think Valve made the wrong choice, but I do think they were mislead about the certainty of the publishing deal.
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    Steam has published Adult Swim games before. That's why AS believed that they could bypass Greenlight.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    I don't see why getting a publisher just to have a better chance at getting your game onto Steam is such a bad idea. =p
  • Katy Hollingsworth
    Former Staff Editor
    It's not a bad idea--when you're not on Greenlight. Valve is trying to force indie developers into making this decision so that there is a defined path for these developers.

    You go with one or the other, but Valve will not let you be both on Greenlight AND with a publisher pushing Valve for approval. You have to either present to Valve with a publisher OR be on Greenlight.

    You can have a publisher while on Greenlight, but that publisher can only help you advertise, from what it seems. Publishers cannot present games to Valve when those games are on Greenlight.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    Oh I gotcha. I think it makes sense that he just wasn't satisfied to be on Greenlight alone tho if he had the opportunity to get a publisher.

    I think it's a sad situation. The game actually looks like it could be decent.

    I like Greenlight, it's not perfect but I doubt I'd hear much about most of these games if it wasn't for Greenlight.

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