How Open is “Open”?

So the “Steam Dev Days” conference is a thing that is happening, and a lot of people are excitedly mentioning to me “Hey, Gabe said greenlight will be vanishing eventually!”

I’m not feeling it though, maybe I was a little optimistic back when Gabe Newell said the same thing in February last year, but there hasn’t been anything said about it since. so I’m going to assume Valve are sticking to the same tune of “Greenlight isn’t perfect, but it’s getting better!”

And it’s true that a lot more games are making it through the system than did when I first began to criticise it. But better is not good, and the system remains deeply flawed and harmful for developers.

But the optimism of many developers that somehow, behind the scenes, Valve are working tirelessly to do the right thing is an thing that won’t go away. “Well they are good guys, and they said they would do it… it’ll happen in ‘valve time’!”

Let’s say I believe that (I don’t), just what exactly is it that are we getting excited about again? The prospect of steam being more ‘open‘ to developers, right?


…how open though?

An opening door is going to stop opening at some point, just how wide will the gap be?

The optimism takes hold of so many developers; “open enough for me!” – open enough that you can get your game on there, but it will keep out all those other games that aren’t as “good”. We’re all competing for shelf-space after all! a more crowded store means less sales for those that ‘deserve’ to be there, right? If there is a flood of games, the quality of the storefront will drop and it’s bad for everyone!

Except that’s not the case, because get this; How open a store is, and how much bullshit is on the store front are entirely different things.


Sure, if a distributor has a limited selection of content to offer then it’s going to have both the time and space to feature every game on it’s store – people are going to get used to the idea that access to the store is the same thing as access to all the store’s visitors.

But that only applies to a store that curates at the back door – the content it lets into the store is hand-picked and that means there is a human limit of how much can get in. A limit that gives the store time to feature a game before the next game comes in.

Steam opened the back door a little with greenlight (around a hundred games each month are getting greenlit), the games are coming in at a rate that makes it unreasonable to feature everything. Even if it was possible to feature it all, the window to highlight every game is very slim – regular steam users won’t see the majority of the games getting featured.


Access to sell on a store is not the same thing as being entitled to the store giving you exposure. Don’t expect it, don’t hope for it, it’s just not possible for any store that is even remotely ‘open’ because there are many more games than yours.

But that doesn’t mean that quality games won’t get exposure, that the store can’t curate, that users will be forced to wade through the proverbial “flood of crap”. A store can swing the back doors wide open and let every game in, and still not show a single game to it’s customers without choosing to do so first.

Rather than curate and gate-keep at the same time, simply let everyone in and pull the content you want to feature from what does come in. All those “connections”, “publisher relationships” and “trusted developers” that get features? They will still get you your game featured if you have those privileges.


What developers need right now is access, not exposure. Because exposure we have a chance at doing ourselves. But access? – that’s a rigged game and not in developers’ favour.

If we want exposure it’s not easy, but there are hundreds of channels open to us, all of them desperately looking for new games to share and talk about.

If we want store access so we actually have a place to sell our games then we are *much* more limited, though our options are getting better all the time (have you seen yet? this is a store that LOVES developers – I’ll write about it separately some time) but let’s be honest; there are a lot of gamers who are just going to refuse to buy your game if it’s not going to appear in their Steam library.

So, we’re back to the question, if steam is opening up, how open is it going to be? Just how accessible will it be for developers?

It could be entirely open, and I think it should be, but is that the way Steam is likely to go?


Hell no.

Valve avoids being open at every opportunity. Wven at the Steam Dev Days event, half of the tweets about the conference I saw were “Am I allowed to talk about what’s happening here?”

When Valve first planned greenlight they did it behind closed doors. And I expect them to continue operating that way too. It works for them when it comes to games development, so why not the store too? It’s not like developers and stores should be working together or anything…


My expectation of how open steam will be? “Open enough” – but it will be open enough for Valve, and not for developers like you or me… Of course there’s no way to know for sure what (if any) changes will come because Valve isn’t saying, they don’t have to. All Gabe Newell has to do is once a year say “we’ll be phasing out greenlight” and developers let their optimism fill in all the gaps.


(I would like to point out, that Steam is pretty much the dinosaur in the room at this point, I’ve reached out to talk to Valve about some of this several times before and never heard back, whereas everyone else is all ears, so mad props to, indiegamestand, humble, gameolith and even sony for realising that developers and digital distributors should be working this out together and not in isolation.

I would also like to point out that comments are going to stay disabled on this post because any criticism of steam results in more bile than I care to deal with right now.)