Steam Greenlight’s always been a compromise, at best. The system, which allowed users to vote on which indie games should be on Steam, marked the beginning of a transition from “Valve as Curator” to “Valve as Hands-Off Storefront.” And with the new Steam Direct, that transition appears complete. From the announcement:
“Over Steam’s 13-year history, we have gradually moved from a tightly curated store to a more direct distribution model. In the coming months, we are planning to take the next step in this process by removing the largest remaining obstacle to having a direct path, Greenlight. Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path and ultimately connect gamers with even more great content.”
Set to release sometime this spring, Steam Direct asks developers to fill out some paperwork, pay a publishing fee, and that’s it. No panhandling for votes or having to know somebody over at Valve. In the announcement, the process is likened to “applying for a bank account.”
The fee is still in flux, with Valve saying, “We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.”
Suffice it to say $5,000 would cut down heavily on the number of indie games hitting Steam, severely impacting many smaller developers. On the other hand, $100 likely isn’t sufficient to stem the tide of shovelware cluttering the store lately. There’s got to be a balance, though I don’t know what exactly that number is and I’m sure no matter how low there will be some developers who’re affected negatively. Enough of them, and we could see itch.io and other indie hubs surge in importance.
It’s also worth noting, though, that Valve terms this a “recoupable fee.” Hard to tell at the moment whether the money is returned to you automatically, or only after making a certain amount of money in sales, or whether it’s at Valve’s discretion. We’ll see.
In any case, Direct seems a world better than Greenlight already. Sure, there are concerns about the fee and its effects on the ecosystem, but I’d take anything at this point over Greenlight’s gimmicky, spam-prone voting system. We’ll update you with more, whenever Valve sees fit to break its silence again.