Five years ago, in 2012, Valve announced Steam Greenlight — a new attempt to surface content on Steam and allow users to vote on which games should be featured. Unfortunately, Greenlight proved to be a disaster. There was far too little curation and the system was easily gamed, with developers offering free copies, upvoting each others’ content, and the entire system being generally buried in legions of trash.
Today, Valve announced that it would kill Steam Greenlight and implement a new program, Steam Direct. The company notes that Steam Greenlight did lead to over 100 games that made over one million dollars. But that’s nothing in comparison to the sheer number of titles that have flooded the service.
This chart from Steam Spy shows that nearly 40% of the games available on the service were released in 2016 alone. Valve’s press release announcing the creation of Steam Direct tacitly acknowledges this problem, saying: “Greenlight also exposed two key problems we still needed to address: improving the entire pipeline for bringing new content to Steam and finding more ways to connect customers with the types of content they wanted.”
The company intends to roll out this new program starting in the spring of 2017. Developers will be asked to complete some paperwork, verify their personal or company information, and supply tax documents similar to applying for a bank account. There will also be a per-application fee to cover Steam’s distribution costs. The size of this fee is still under discussion; the company has discussed something as low as $100 and as high as $5,000.
The question is, will any of this stop Steam from becoming a further dumping ground for poor games and shoddy work? The problem with Greenlight was that Steam could never devote enough resources to it (or chose not to) to effectively manage the program. Charging a steep distribution fee for titles would help crack down on shovelware, but it would also make Steam more of a walled garden. Then again, a little walled gardening can be welcome if the wall is genuinely used to promote quality control.
That’s going to be the most difficult aspect to any distribution system. Steam wants to put more games in front of people that want to play them, and it’s previously rolled out Discovery updates and algorithmic queues to improve discoverability. But the sheer flood of games pouring on to the platform makes it difficult for anyone to find signal in the noise — and if Steam Direct doesn’t address that issue squarely, it’ll only get worse from here.