Greenlight, Red light


As game developer Valve change the rules of its new service, Greenlight, Rory Crean looks at the resulting fallout


There’s little mystery as to why Valve is so beloved among the gaming community. They have churned out gem after gem with Portal, Half-Life and Team Fortress having a place on virtually every gamer’s top ten. But even if you ignore their considerable contribution to the software side, Valve still has an impeccable reputation. This is thanks, in part, to their playful work ethic that has become synonymous with the likes of Google and Facebook, but also to their dedication in providing updates, add-ons and complete game titles, all for nothing in return. Valve constantly projects itself as a company that cares about the gamer, and all evidence thus far seems to support that fact.

It is the alleged betrayal of that reputation, then, that has caused such outcry in forums web-wide. Valve introduced a tariff on its developer-focused soapbox, Greenlight. Designed as a platform where new and indie game developers could formerly put their product on a world stage, the service sought to put these games into the focus group of gamers who would then vote on the games they thought deserved a place in another of Valve’s brainchild – Steam, an online marketplace.

The application fee, considered by some to be an unfair financial barrier, is designed to “cut down the noise in the system”, Valve said in a statement earlier this month. The issue being that within hours of the software going live, many of the entries were jokes, blatant rip offs or half baked ideas. This tariff then is designed to weed out the joke entries, and prompt those unfinished projects to reconsider their application.

Undermining what would have been the first complaint, i.e. Valve becoming greedy, they went on to say that the company itself had “no interest in making money from this”. Instead, they’ve opted to donate all proceeds to the Child’s Play charity – an organisation founded by Penny Arcade authors Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins which puts on toy drives for hospitalized children.

So if this is a non-profit move by Valve, and the goal is to create a better medium filled with higher quality products for the consumer, where is the outcry coming from? Well the developers, mostly. Not that indie game designers have become unreasonable in their complaints, almost every grievance is tempered with the acknowledgement that noise in the system was a real issue, and that the cost is going to a good cause. With those concessions being made though, the consensus still seems to be that the tariff is directly contrary to what the original ideal of Greenlight was.

Indie developers are just that, and $100 will only get you onto Greenlight for the consumers’ consideration, but not necessarily their custom. This, on top of other start up costs like software, hardware and licensing has lead to a general feeling among developers, potential and fully-fledged, that it may be a gamble that simply isn’t worth taking. The result of this means possible masterpieces could be left on developers’ desktops in the years to come.

Overall, however, it seems that Valve are going to stick with their decision in the interest of creating a more streamlined service that can seamlessly integrate with Steam. The sidelined developers who simply don’t have the capital to start up will have to come up with more creative means of putting out their product. In the meantime, we the consumers have the first set of titles to have come through Greenlight to look forward to, and who knows maybe one of them will find their way into your top ten.