Earlier this month, Steam transitioned from Greenlight to Direct, replacing their long-controversial voting-based system with a more streamlined and accessible fee-based submission platform. While Greenlight provides a revolutionary platform for independent developers, Steam found that the system was quickly abused by downvote brigading.
The difference is tangible and has provided a great improvement for developers and players across the board. Game submission is now financially accessible, giving creators more control over the entire process, and competition on the Steam marketplace has increased substantially.
That being said, however, this streamlining has considerably reduced follower interaction prior to launch. Ultimately, the primary trade-off is accessibility for competition, which is, as yet, proving to be a risk for only those developers who don’t adequately commit to their social and community presence.
Let’s take a quick look at the Pros and Cons of the new Steam Direct system.
The most obvious and under-praised benefit of the new Steam Direct is having independent control over your release schedule. This is the first time in Steam’s history when any developer can, with complete independence, launch their game in any time frame. The new system is so autonomous that, other than a brief review process of one or two days, you could theoretically complete development on Friday and have it for sale on Monday. That’s fast.
While there was a lot of early speculation regarding submission pricing, most developers were relieved to learn that Steam implemented a refundable $100 per-submission fee. If the submission earns at least $1000 during an initial time period, the fee is refunded. This, along with increasing competitiveness (see below), gives content creators significant incentive to ensure a strong community presence and launch day, rather than adopting a “just get it out there” mentality. It may be DIY, but they want you to have a strategy.
Unfortunately, if you’re an independent developer, you can expect to see far greater resistance on Steam now that the transition has been made. Although the $100 fee price point was implemented to limit spam and not to restrict submissions to “bigger” studios, it will now be even harder to stand out with the new system. You will need to seriously commit to gaining traction during development. So take note: dev blogs and strong social media presences will be crucial for independent developers aiming for a Steam-centric release.
While subtle, an important benefit of Steam Greenlight was the personal connection built between games and their fans. By voting on Greenlight submissions, users felt partially responsible for a game’s success (or failure). What’s more, users who shared Greenlight submissions they supported were far more likely to generate additional votes (and ultimately purchases), as it came off as more of a personal endorsement than general “this game looks good” social media posts.
Simply put, the best way to counteract user indifference is by offering your followers opportunities to contribute to the design and development process. Ask followers what they like, what they don’t like, and what they think the game needs. Even if none of their suggestions get implemented, a little acknowledgement goes a long way! Your users need to know you’re listening.
Over time we will certainly observe unforeseen qualities and side-effects of Steam Direct, which could eventually affect the “best” strategies for a successful launch. The best way to prepare for the future is to stay observant: notice trends and take advantage of opportunities.