View Full Version : Opinion: The $100 application fee for Greenlight is unfair

Drunken Savior
09-07-2012, 06:13 PM
You Shouldn’t Have To Be Middle Class or Rich To Make Video Games
Patricia Hernandez

Steam Greenlight, the voter-determined submission system created by Valve, isn't free anymore. The point was to decrease the number of illegitimate submissions, which was neccesary after the insane influx of games that Greenlight saw just days after release. Some weren't happy with Valve's decision, given that other methods could have solved the submission problem without requiring such a high fee.

Many developers have sounded off on this in the last few days. The voice that I've seen that best encapsulates everything wrong with the $100 fee has to be from Jonas Kyratzes. Jonas is a developer veteran that's been making games for the last decade. His most recent creation is The Sea Will Claim Everything, an adventure game with a ton of heart. Over at his blog, he's posted something that walks us through the problem as he sees it.

At first, the way Greenlight was initially set up didn't seem right:

My first thought after I filled out the Greenlight submission form for The Sea Will Claim Everything and clicked "publish" was wait, there's no approval queue? That struck me as very peculiar. This is the internet. Any submissions system is likely to be abused within seconds. It's entirely normal for blogs to keep comments for moderator approval to make sure they're legit. Why was Greenlight allowing any submission to go through?

Moderation might've helped, but Greenlight didn't have it. Nor did it make sense to have downvotes, since they didn't really serve a purpose—isn't the question "how many people DO want to buy this game?"

But nevermind the voting aspect, just about everything about Greenlight wasn't set up very well. It was a nightmare to try to find a game, especially when Greenlight would repeat games you'd already looked at, and the sorting options weren't very good either.

Then came the fee, which seems like the worst way to try to mitigate the problems Greenlight was seeing.

The $100 fee does not cut out the nonsense (at least judging from our experience with other platforms), but it does exclude many of us indies who come from economic backgrounds that simply do not allow them to spend $100 on the mere possibility of being judged by a subset of the Steam community that is generally not very friendly to indie games.

$100 may not seem like much money to some. That's great, those for who $100 isn't a big deal are fortunate. But the sad reality is that the indie game scene spans beyond what most major gaming websites cover. Most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $100 dollars is a month's worth of food. And maybe they have a game that could catch the public's attention, but they don't have the money to be considered for that chance. Steam can be a curator for content if it wants, and nobody is entitled to its virtual shelf space. But everyone deserves the chance to at least be considered, no?

But in the last few days, some of the responses from people have been highly classist. I've watched critics and developers alike on Twitter making it clear that they couldn't even fathom how it was possible that people couldn't have the money, or find a way to come up with it. It was common to read something along the lines of "maybe you shouldn't be making games if you can't even raise $100 for the submission fee."

A disappointingly large number of developers and journalists could not even imagine that some people don't have this amount of money. I found this genuinely shocking. It's not that they hadn't experienced it themselves, but that they could not even conceive of it. That's a disconnection from reality so fundamental that it is quite frightening. Ever wonder why there aren't more political games? This is why. Not only are the majority of developers (those who have a voice, anyway) white heterosexual middle-class males from the US or the UK, but a scary amount of them have absolutely no understanding of the existence of anything outside their own experience, and are in fact offended by the very suggestion that anything else exists.

Some of us are poor, Jonas goes on to say. But maybe for most of us, that's not something we have to see or deal with most of the time. Gaming is not a cheap hobby, and it's a luxury to have the money to participate in it. And when the developers you hear about tend to be the high profile ones, I'm afraid that cognizance or care about the lower class in this space doesn't exist.

So maybe a game is good enough to sell enough on its own to raise the money. But that money then needs to go to actual living costs. The fact that people can be so snide about this is cause for concern, especially with the current state of the economy.

The crux of this issue, in a way, doesn't lie with Greenlight—not exactly. It's with who we allow to be legible within a series of gatekeepers who tend to favor a very specific type of developer. One in the right socioeconomic bracket who would be able to afford costs like licenses, development kids and submission fees. Some might go as far as to suggest that it also favors those who make specific types of games (how many puzzle platformers will the indie scene most of us know spew?)

For now, Valve says that Greenlight will continue to evolve. Fantastic. But it's not just Greenlight that needs to change. So, too, does the attitude surrounding who should be making games. Some people do it for the love, and so yes, they're going to keep going at it even though they might not make much of any money. So to tell a developer that they might want to reconsider their passion just because they're not rolling in cash is heartbreaking. They deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, and there's no shortage of things trying to keep them out.

Thoughts? I've searched through Greenlight a little and I did find it poorly organized. It was hard trying to find what I might find interesting and, ultimately, I found myself just clicking on fancy covers or hovering over to see their genre to see if I was interested. But then again, people were posting a lot of joke submissions (e.g. The game "Tits" that was just a pair of tits) that made searching through the selection even more tedious.

09-07-2012, 06:51 PM
Starving artist is right. Get your game on Kickstarter, raise a couple thousand dollars. Then submit it. I'm not an expert. But judging from the money some developing houses get from these charity programs $100 isn't too much. I mean, you're looking at getting Steam to showcase your work. Valve probably doesn't want to be known as "that game company". Playing politics, kissing babies just to get attention. They want to be a serious developing house that has a cloud gaming service.

This way the whole idea doesn't turn into a game show of contestants whirling their ideas. Or some programmer gloating how his new trendy title made money on Steam.

You can already guess that indie devs probably don't make a lot. And their chance of success is through powerhouses like Steam. GOG.com has had a lot of indie-foreign based titles. But they don't have nearly as much traffic nor system set up like Steam does.

09-07-2012, 07:01 PM
I think the $100 is fine, and unfortunately because of human nature it became necessary, as all those joke submissions proved when they drowned out the legitimate titles. Many things that happen in the Industry today are necessary evils.

Greenlight should not be an Indie game's first stop, is what people seem to not realise when complaining about this entrance fee. A game should already have a following, already be known, etc. before moving to Greenlight, and the community that exists will Greenlight your game, that's the entire point. It'll be a rare game which gets by on Greenlight without any prior community existing, they'd need a lucky mention on a news site to even have a chance, and if your fans can't 'Kickstart' you $100 then what chance do you honestly have on Greenlight, or even on Steam? Steam =/= Instant success.

Greenlight does need to evolve and improve but hey, what software releases without problems? Steam first released as an un-useable mess but has grown into one of the best software choices for gaming today, and Greenlight will likely do the same. I look forward to seeing it and the Steam library grow. :thumb-up:

Drunken Savior
09-07-2012, 07:11 PM
$100 may not seem like much money to some. That's great, those for who $100 isn't a big deal are fortunate. But the sad reality is that the indie game scene spans beyond what most major gaming websites cover. Most indie developers I know are starving artists for who $100 dollars is a month's worth of food.

Maybe it's the cynical bastard in me but I really don't like 'starving artists.' My opinion is that if you are in a lifestyle where you are scraping together $100 to buy a month's worth of food, your time is better spent trying to get out of that situation than programing games. This probably stems from my view that the vast majority of starving artists are never going to make a living on their art alone. Greenlight should not be their 'hail mary' at making a suitable monthly income.

09-07-2012, 07:19 PM
I agree entirely. I love games and I can empathise with them that they're so passionate about it they want to do it no matter what, but if I was struggling to make a living out of it and scrape together a measly $100 for the chance to make a lot of money on the world's most popular digital distribution platform for games then I'd probably try something new. Hell, you could get a part-time job at minimum wage and make $100 in a week or so, it's not like it's an absurd amount of money. Making games doesn't have to be your day job 7 days a week, especially if it's not paying the bills.

Stuff like this always gets the initial backlash before people sit down and actually think it through, and realise it's not all that bad. Steam's very generous for offering a platform that gives tiny Indie games and huge, multi-million dollar titles the exact same space and chance as eachother, not like retail stores. I hope Indies aren't starting to take this for granted.

09-09-2012, 10:49 AM
Most of the time the very definition of starving artist is"lazy bastard" because they think that they don't have to work. If you truly love making your art you should concentrate on supporting yourself first then your hobby.

In the end that's all it is, a hobby.
Every year or so we have a starving artist convention for people who paint, sculpt, and many other talents. One can find some very original art there but out of nearly everyone there only one guy in the whole showcase didn't have a means of supporting himself other than his work, and this was out of nearly 200 artists!

09-09-2012, 10:57 AM
Honestly if you can't afford a $100 fee chances are you should be in a different line of work at least for the time being.

09-09-2012, 03:04 PM
I got a better idea, don't use greenlight. Save your 100 dollars and make a website and put up a demo of your game if you have anything and put ads on the steam forums and other video game websites........ DONE!

Dj Jimmi Zero
09-09-2012, 09:17 PM
I'm a starving artist too, but I ain't lazy, I'm single so supporting myself is fairly easy, I can work 40 hours a week at some cheap ass job or work 2 jobs and still can find a way to make time for play. $100 is nothing, it comes and goes, $2000 however, is a completely different story, and I think that the $100 fee is more generous than anything else, it makes trolls think twice before they sink their money into something stupid for one, and it makes the person submitting their game an incentive to actually make what they're working on much better.

09-09-2012, 11:41 PM
I'm with you on this, KoS and DS. Greenlight has many problems like the lack of moderation and organization, but the fee isn't one of them. If you can't afford a reasonable business fee, then why should Steam do business with you? They're not a charity.