Earlier this week, I wrote a feature about Steam’s Greenlight service, the democratized portal for indie developers to get a shot at being inducted into Steam’s online store without publisher support. I wasn’t very researched in what the service did, but it seemed odd to me that the same indie developers it was designed to help were railing against the service. Greenlight isn’t drawing enough traffic to their indie games; Greenlight isn’t transparent about its selection process; Greenlight isn’t picking out enough games; etc. After we ran the story, Alexander Dergay of Minsk, Belarus-based developer Aterdux, whose medieval RPG is currently #8 on the Greenlight chart, contacted me to explain that the service is still a “Holy Grail” for developers. At its worst, Greenlight is a sometimes frustrating, but valuable lesson on how to sell a game.
“We are probably in the minority of devs because we don’t hate Greenlight,” Dergay says, “as a matter of fact, despite of us not being greenlit yet and with our chances being slim as we get just a few of votes (usually less 100 a day) we still think Greenlight is great.” Having worked on their game, Legends of Eisenwald, for two years, Aterdux brought it to Kickstarter last April where the game bested its $50,000 goal with an $86,000 haul. By December, Dergay pitched the game on Steam’s Greenlight service in hopes of one day getting on the standards-setting game store. Five months later, the game still isn’t Greenlit, but Dergay remains optimistic: his game reached the critical Top 100 list within a week and still floats near the top of the pile.
Reaching the top 100 on the service (of which there are nearly 1300 indie games listed at this moment) doesn’t guarantee Greenlit status, but it’s a great starting point. But how does an indie developer reach such heights when they’re operating alone with a small operation?
…being in top 10 or anywhere is the result of two things – one is having a good game (which I believe we do), two is having a good promotion (which I believe we don’t). Many games on Greenlight look pretty, well, not professional. And for others – tastes differ. Old-school RPG like ours is probably not everyone’s thing but not many people know about it as so far no big sites wrote about our game. The situation is similar to when we were at Kickstarter; it was a very tough battle for us that is probably because we are not well known and from a strange place like Belarus.
Valve’s process of Greenlighting games is also a clandestine operation that developers are critical of, but as Dergay explains it, the selection almost makes sense. He watched as the fantastic Papers, Please debuted on Greenlight in the past few weeks and shot up the ranks quickly. It was no surprise then when it was included in the most recent batch of Greenlit titles. Even if you’re floating near the top of the charts, it’s up to you to put forth the extra effort to truly make your game shine in Valve’s eyes. After nearly six months on Greenlight, Dergay explained his plan to (hopefully) seal the deal:
If I were responsible selecting games on Greenlight, I wouldn’t necessarily select ours until there are “signs of life” again, meaning some publications or large increase in daily votes. I was basing our strategy before on Steam selecting games in larger batches and didn’t pay much attention to promotion focusing mostly on production, but now I have to change again and promote our game more. Well, Greenlight keeps us fluid and we remain cautiously optimistic. If we are not accepted though in the next couple of months, I would do more and even consider spending money on advertising.
Then, more specifically:
Asking for votes is way easier than asking for money. Also, now I have more experience (Kickstarter did a lot for us) and I know a bit more how things work. And like Kickstarter (and like our game sometimes) this has been trial and error. For example, we were under impression that press is eager to look at early builds of the game. But it turns out – not so much. What is called beta these days is pretty much finished game. That is a tough lesson. We have defined goals, yes. One is making a combat video, a sophisticated one, another is maybe putting our first game, Discord Times on Greenlight too – many of our Russian fans ask quite a bit about Steam version for that game and it could point more attention to our company. Also, once LoE is more ready I will contact some of the youtube reviewers and offer them to take a look at our game. If TotalBiscuit does that for example, Greenlight is pretty much guaranteed :) If we get financial resources, we could finalize our cinematic trailer, that we have in a draft form, that would also do good things for us. At the same time I am not willing to do everything because some things need to be saved for the promotion at release.
So while it sounds like the onus is on the developer to produce a good game worthy of attention, then learn the ropes on how to sell it – both incredibly valuable components to any production – Valve’s still not off the hook for what many developers see as problems with the service. For example, what about Steam not giving the service much attention?
I wish Steam/Valve would do more promoting games. But I only have “selfish” ideas at the moment, just for benefit of our game. Publishing top 10, 20 or 100 lists would definitely give us more votes but it will disadvantage other games, so I am pretty sure they won’t do it. Also, that would put too much pressure on them when people would start asking – why didn’t you select game on spot #3 etc. I guess that’s how they maintain their flexibility to decide what they want to take. But otherwise – let’s face it, Steam is more a store and it’s responsibility of devs themselves to do a certain kind of promotion. Some people say it would be good to change their interface and it will be helpful but noone is offering any specifics.