Developers are speaking out against Steam Direct, which Valve plans to launch later this spring as its new game submission system. After the company announced that the replacement for Steam Greenlight will likely come with higher developer fees than its predecessor, many of indie gaming’s most notable faces took to Twitter to criticize the upcoming program.
Unlike Steam Greenlight, which required developers to pay a one-time fee to submit as many games as they wanted, Steam Direct requires developers to pay up every time they apply to the program. Although Valve has yet to specify how much the (recoupable) cost will be, it said developers could pay upward of $5,000 for each game it wants to launch on Steam.
“My experience with [Xbox Live Indie Games] says $5K per title is too much,” Daniel Steger of Steger Games (Mount Your Friends) wrote on Twitter. “Hopeful devs will bankrupt themselves with no profit.”
“Uhhh a $5000 fee per game would basically shut out students / small devs / experimental people from Steam forever?” designer and academic Robert Yang wrote. He added that Valve’s “compromise” of paying back the application fee to developers whose projects make it onto Steam was still “a big ask for vulnerable devs this would be for.”
“One reading of ‘recoupable fee’ would mean a temporary deposit that Valve holds,” he wrote in a follow-up blog post. “Another reading of ‘recoupable’ would mean you are supposed to kickstart your fee somehow, or it comes out of your games sales, or something. Either interpretation places a big undue financial burden on the vulnerable creators who will actually use Steam Direct.”
Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail joined the chorus of designers who decried Steam Direct’s potentially pricey pay gate. But Ismail, who’s one of the indie development scene’s most outspoken members, actually prophesied the death of Steam Greenlight back in 2014, during an interview with Gamekings.tv ahead of that year’s Steam Dev Days conference.
“[Valve has] been clearing 100 games every month,” Ismail said of the poll-based system, where users had to vote on games they were interested in to get them on the Steam platform. “You don't do that because there are 100 good games on Greenlight every month. You do that because you want to get rid of everything that isn't greenlit before you kill it, so you don't upset developers.”
Steam Direct forgoes this core element, just as Ismail predicted. Instead, it will essentially open up the platform to any game that passes Valve’s approval process. The financial barrier likely won’t stop the shovelware from arriving, argue some in the know. Instead, we may see an increase in the number of titles sold on Steam, which is already flooded with thousands of new games annually.
The issue of volume pales in comparison to that of finances, however. But not everyone is in agreement that the fee — or dumping Steam Greenlight — is such a bad thing.
“Of all the barriers to entry on all the meaningful gaming platforms, Greenlight was by far the stupidest,” Dave Lang of Iron Galaxy tweeted. “Unpopular Opinion: If you don't have money (be it $200 or $5000 or $Whatever) the odds of your game being a financial success is almost 0%.”
Steam Direct arrives in the spring, giving Valve time to tweak the system if need be. Steam Greenlight will continue to be in place in the meantime.