Nearly five years after Steam GreenlightÂ was first announced, Valve said today it is doing away with the controversial system that let users vote on which games they thought should be sold on the popular PC digital distribution service. The service will be replaced with something called Steam Direct, providing developers with more straightforward access to the platform for an unknown fee. Direct will launch in the spring.
Greenlight was Valve’s first attempt to significantly open the Steam store beyond its original tightly curated list of games selected by a small group of Valve staffers. Valve says it considers that effort a qualified success, which has led to over 100 Greenlight games that have grossed at least $1 million on the platform. “Many of those would likely not have been published in the old, heavily curated Steam store,” the company notes in its press release.
That said, Valve now sees Greenlight as “the largest remaining obstacle” to developers having a direct path to the Steam audience. “Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path and ultimately connect gamers with even more great content.”
To that end, the upcoming Steam Direct system will simply require new developers to provide some company paperwork and tax details (“similar to the process of applying for a bank account”) before distributing games on Steam. Each title submitted through Direct will require “a recoupable application fee… which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline.” Valve says it hasn’t settled on a precise amount for that application fee and that developer responses have suggested anywhere from $100 to $5,000 might be plausible.
While Steam Greenlight originally launched as freely available to any game developer, Valve quickly rolled out a $100-per-developer fee to “cut down the noise in the system.” That required payment was controversial at the time, with some likening the system to paying for a lottery ticket that only offered a chance at ever being listed on Steam.
At the same time, Steam has faced what some see as problems with overcrowding in the post-Greenlight era (thanks in part to the 2013 introduction of Steam Early Access for games still in active development). As time went on, it seemingly became easier and easier for Greenlight games to get approved for sale on Steam.Â Over 4,000 new titles showed up on the platform in 2016, compared to just 379 in 2012. While you could once assume that being on Steam meant a game met a certain quality benchmark, now the service more closely resembles an iOS-style free-for-all where finding quality titles can be much tougher.
Valve has rolled out a number of tools to help users cut through all this noise, such as a massive Discovery update in 2014 that introduced tags, user-curated lists, and algorithmic discovery queues on top of the already existing user reviews (which were themselves overhauled in 2016). Valve also started honoring refund requests for games that had been played less than two hours in under two weeks, helping users be less wary of taking a chance on an unknown game.
Valve says these changes have been effective at helping users pick through Steam’s huge selection, as “the average time customers spend playing games on Steam has steadily increased since the first Discovery Update. Over the same time period, the average number of titles purchased on Steam by individual customers has doubled.”
Still, Greenlight provided at least a small filter that prevented some of the least appealing candidate games from even showing up on the main Steam digital storefront. Under the coming Steam Direct system, the only significant barrier to putting a game on the service will be a bit of paperwork and a small fee. In other words, be ready for Steam to be less selective and more crowded than ever in the coming months.