Steam Greenlight: Valve on controversy and its community


The launch of Steam’s crowdsourced Greenlight service didn’t quite go to plan. When it launched in August last year, it featured over 500 titles – unfortunately, some of those included Half Life 3 (sic) and Call Of Duty 9.

Valve has told us before that it is a strong believer in democratising the creation of videogames through Steam, but in Greenlight’s launch we saw that faith tested. Valve later had to ban Steam users who posted these fake projects, and, more controversially, introduced a $100 submission fee for independent developers looking to be listed on Greenlight. Plenty of heated discussion followed on forums and among the development community.

“There was certainly some surprise at how polarising some of the feedback was about the system,” Valve designer Alden Kroll recalls. “The more we talked about it internally, the more we realised that we are taking this process – which a lot of the time was not really very transparent – and we’re suddenly making it very public.”

“Everyone has games they’d want to see on Steam, but not every one of those is going to get on Steam. So there’s always some people are happy and some people are not happy, and that’s all happening in a very public way. I guess, as we talked about it more, the reaction actually makes a lot of sense.”

Valve designer Alden Kroll.

Kroll explains that Greenlight was initially envisaged as a solution to an approvals bottleneck. With eight to ten new game submissions per day, a queue of “months and months” long and limited internal resource to handle it all, Valve decided to throw the process open to its community.

“We didn’t have a very dedicated group internally to review those games – it was part of a lot of people’s jobs,” says Kroll. “And we weren’t confident in the data that we were getting from that group of people. We thought the community could do much better at giving us more data on what they’d like to see and play. There are millions of them, and maybe like 300 of us. So they are much faster at finding things than we are.”

Now that the controversy has died down a little, Kroll tells us that he’s happy with how the service is progressing. “They all look the kind of games that we’d be likely to ship and given enough time, a bunch of people here would probably have come to the same conclusion. We are trying to see all the situations where games are interesting and polished and not getting to the top – we’ve not seen a lot of that, so it actually seems to be working in the way that we hoped it would be working.”

We named Valve our top developer in the inaugural Edge Developer Awards. You can read about all 50 here.