Waiting for the Greenlight From Valve

Developer David Gallant shares the trials and tribulations of getting a game through Steam's new submission process.

Late last year, I came into contact with independent game designer David Gallant, who was working on a project called I Get This Call Every Day. His game replicates the no-win experience of working in a call center, which just happens to be Gallant's day job. At the end of December 2012, Gallant submitted the game for Steam Greenlight approval. The Greenlight program allows Steam users to vote for the games that most appeal to them based on information, screenshots, and video provided by the developer. I asked Gallant to document the process. What follows is one designer's journey through Greenlight, in his own words.

01/03/2013: Day 5 of Greenlight, starting journal to document the process.

I made enough money from I Get This Call Every Day's direct sales to afford the Greenlight fee. I had honestly disregarded Greenlight up until this point. I know Steam can be a big contributor to a financially successful game, but I didn't think I had anything worth submitting to Greenlight. I felt, based on comments I'd seen on other Greenlight projects, that the community of voters was very caustic and hypercritical. It wasn't something I was keen to subject myself to for any of my current games.

However, I Get This Call Every Day was received better than I ever could have imagined. Aside from some reddit detractors, the game's reception had been overwhelmingly positive (though I later realized that, aside from reddit, there were few venues for detractors to express themselves). With some Twitter followers encouraging me, I decided to reverse my earlier decision and give Greenlight a try.

The first five days surprised the hell out of me. There were bad comments, sure, but there were also really positive ones.

Now, Greenlight doesn't provide a lot of useful feedback about precisely how many votes your game has received or how well you are doing compared to other games. There is this seven-day graph; it has grey bars showing the average votes received by the top 100 most-voted games on Greenlight. That's a very relative metric, since you are given no actual number for these votes. The green bar represents how many votes your game received on that day. As you can see, the green bar got significantly higher than the grey bar, which had me pretty stoked.

And it remained high. After two days on Greenlight, the game had received 4% of the votes necessary to be included in the top 100 games. While this seems like an achievable goal, I recognize it for the bullshit that it really is. There have been three Greenlightings since the service opened; in October, they took the top ten games. In November, they took the top twenty. In December they took some of the top-rated games and also some "fast risers" that hadn't made it to the top yet. Valve's selection criteria is fluid and entirely at their discretion, so a blue bar inching incrementally towards 100% is a meaningless indicator of success. I know this, and I try to pepper my perception of success with this hard reality.

Here's where it's at today, day five. You can see the voter decline around the New Year's holiday and a slight upswing, but I doubt it'll ever hit that Friday level again.

When some folks were knocking the game on reddit, I reacted badly--I responded to them, I referred to them as "trolls" on Twitter, and I started to get depressed. I eventually got over it, with some help. It was something I needed to get over. Of course, the Greenlight page became a hotbed of negative comments. There's an option to delete comments that I have yet to use; it would seem somehow petty to silence dissenting voices. However, I cannot directly respond to commenters other than sending them private messages through Steam (and I'm not about to do that either). The inability to respond publicly has helped. I have this inclination to "correct" people, like "actually the game took me nearly a month to complete" or "no, it's not a joke; did you see the link to the Kotaku coverage?" Engaging in these discussions would be fruitless; if it was a discussion they wanted, they would have asked a question rather than make judgmental statements. As a coping mechanism, I've begun sharing these comments on Twitter under the hashtag #greenlightcomments. By sharing them, and allowing supporters to express humour or outrage at them, I feel like I am somehow deflecting their emotional impact. They still hurt (especially when being told that my games have no right to exist, that my art is an insult, or that I should not be making games at all), but they hurt far less for some reason.

01/06/2013: Day 8 of Greenlight, some ups and downs

Votes had been in decline ever since day 1, which is to be expected. However, it was day 6 where the decline seemed the sharpest. Felt like the bubble was bursting, as I always knew it would. Comments were getting worse, too (or at least they felt that way, with fewer positive responses). I was worried that things might have been influenced by some new videos I had added to the page. See, I've only got the one trailer for the game, which is very much a pre-release trailer. I've been reluctant to do another one because 1) a trailer is a ton of work, and 2) I have zero clue what to do for a trailer. However, I've been finding some Let's Plays and livestream recordings of I Get This Call Every Day on YouTube. One in particular is lengthy and basically exposes the entire game, but it's played by a group who end up laughing at quite a bit of the writing. Their laughter is infectious, and I thought it might show the game in a good light (despite spoiling the whole thing). However, the decline in votes coincided with the video being added to the page, and I still wonder if it may be responsible for the decline in votes.

Day 7 (the Saturday) saw votes rise a little, but the average votes for the top 100 are also sky-high. What the fuck happened here? Without any metrics (like what new game led to this spike) there is no real way to put this upsurge into context.

Tweeting out the #greenlightcomments has been a generally positive experience and has actually inspired some to leave more encouraging comments. Also, the Greenlight page seems to have started driving some sales. I have no real stats for where sales are coming from, but I had a $20 sale from someone who emailed me after the purchase to tell me she had found the game through Greenlight. So I guess the investment has 20% paid for itself?

01/13/2013: Day 15 of Greenlight, nuka comments

One-fifth of the way to the top 100! This is one-fifth of the way to an arbitrary ranking which may or may not result in the game being Greenlit, so it's a far less impressive milestone. It'll be interesting to see if votes trend high on Monday and Tuesday this week, as they have in the past two weeks; as you can see, votes dip significantly every other day.

The game's Greenlight page got a one-line mention in Patrick Klepek's weekly Worth Reading back on Dec 11. Also, the GameSpot feature from Carolyn Petit brought a lot of attention to the game and led to my first big sales spike since launch. These two things could be the reason for the slight rise in Greenlight votes on Friday and Saturday, but clearly that kind of coverage isn't immensely effective for this sort of thing.

While this journal focuses on Greenlight, I should probably mention that I have applied to sell I Get This Call Every Day through Desura and Indievania as well. Quite a different process on both sites; half the work for Desura was already done because I had already set up an indieDB page, and there was a "publish on Desura" there to easily send it up for approval. I was missing a key art asset required for the storefront; I supplied it four days ago, and haven't heard anything since.

Indievania took a bit more work; I got a little weirded out when their system handed me a login to their Amazon S3 server to upload my game, which also exposed the files of every other game on the service; I'm not sure if there is any actual security concern there, but it certainly did not look comforting. Their process promised a response within four days as well, and that response has yet to arrive. Though neither service required a setup fee, I think I appreciate the Greenlight process a little more: Greenlight gives you all this feedback and forces you to engage with your potential customers to get onto the service. I've heard so many stories how Desura and Indievania rarely make a fraction of what a game can make on Steam, and I will honestly be surprised if I make any sales at all on those fronts. The game will have to be sold for a fixed price, but my pay-what-you-want sales are getting to the point where a majority of people are buying the game for the $2 minimum anyways.

Now, a bit about Greenlight's comments: when logged in as the developer account linked to the game, every comment on the game's Greenlight page has a delete option. It would be so easy to purge a Greenlight page of any and all negative comments, but I refuse to do so. It wouldn't be fair, and I have no desire to live in an echo chamber of praise. However, I have used the function three times. Once was by accident: I was trying to highlight a comment from my phone so I could post it to Twitter as a #greenlightcomment, and my fat finger tapped "Delete" by mistake. There's no confirmation step to that process; touch "Delete" once and the comment is gone. I don't even think the user is notified, just as no user is notified of any replies to their comments. The system lacks any real social features, so there are no comment thread conversations as one might see on other websites.

The second time, I deleted a comment that was simply a death threat against another commenter. The third time, it was because the commenter said the game was made by someone with Down syndrome. This really got under my skin, not because I perceived it as a personal insult--it was not--but because of the implication that someone with Down syndrome is somehow limited to being able to create only ugly, terrible things. It was an insult to anyone afflicted with Down syndrome and an ignorant, insensitive statement to make. I deleted that comment, and then discovered the offending Steam user allows any other users to post comments on his profile. I posted there to notify him of his comment's deletion and the reason why I found the comment offensive. Within an hour, he had deleted my response from his profile.

I have determined to focus less on the Greenlight process going forward, so that I can devote more energy and focus to a new project. I still have no clue what that new project will be, but I feel like I have to move on.

01/20/2013: Day 21 of Greenlight. Stalled.

In terms of "progress", the graph says it all. Votes have slowed to a crawl compared to the top 100, the game advanced a whole 3% in a week (and I'm wondering if it is possible to make negative progress against that number--mathematically speaking, it could happen), and all this despite having renewed coverage. I'll be very surprised if the game ever makes it to 25%. This is how I predict things will remain for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this week, Valve Greenlit ten more games. No indication if they were the top ten, or what methods they used to come to their decision--expectedly inscrutable. The removal of ten games from voting had no perceivable impact on anyone's standings.

There was a brief glitch on Monday, the day before the Greenlighting, when everyone was showing as 100% in the blue bar. It made me feel the faintest pangs of hope, that maybe the game stood out to someone higher up, that perhaps it had been Greenlit and I had yet to be notified. A fleeting fantasy if ever there was one.

I Get This Call Every Day is up for sale on Indievania, and has resulted in two more sales. It is set to go on Desura (in the North American region only, thanks to some oddities in their minimum pricing guidelines) and is awaiting a final approval. Sales occasionally trickle in from my website, the first and primary place the game is being sold. Yesterday was my first day without a single sale, and today is my second.

I always knew I had created a game with limited appeal. It wasn't intentional, but I knew that reaching a wider audience would mean compromising aspects of the game that gave it meaning. Thus, I always knew it would come to this. I am very fortunate not to be in the position I have seen some of colleagues in: having "taken the plunge" and "gone full indie," the act of getting onto Steam becomes a salvation they desperately require. The exposure granted by merely being available on Steam is unlike any other form of promotion, and it can go a long way towards securing financial success. My finances are not yet dependent on the sales of my game, so I Get This Call Every Day's current performance on Greenlight is thankfully inconsequential. I have known others with more at stake to be in similar situations, and their lack of success with Steam was more damaging.

I have learned from this that while Steam can be a key to success, it had zero guarantees. Also, I became successful to myself the moment I made my first dollar from my own creation. That happened without Steam, and I know I can do it again on my own.

Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

114 comments
robfield
robfield

It's weird to hear that Greenlight has a delete comment button. As a community based webpage I figured Valve would at most allow a developer to report a comment, but deleting comments is a dangerous power to have.

I imagine a company like EA would not use that power wisely.

FakeKisser
FakeKisser

Great article, so enlightening. I read this article, because I have interest in the game and want to play through it. It just keeps slipping my mind. I support the Greenlight process, but I'll likely just go ahead and buy the game through Desura. I am amassing quite a collection there of great indies.

Kayim
Kayim

Firewater - Green Light (in Stereo)

jhonel83
jhonel83

you pretty much made a game that't 5 minutes longer then the trailer. Are you amazed people don't want to pay for it? It comes down to principle really a) I want to pay 2 bucks to support an indie developer in the hope he's make something else. b) I would never pay a dime for a game that doesn't live up to my standards.  That's how it goes for me at least

logicalfrank
logicalfrank

Very interesting story. I wonder if a game like this might do better if packaged w/ a few like-minded titles in a bundle. It seems like for very small developers some pooling of resources could be beneficial in terms of trying to attract notice.

ampiva
ampiva

Greenlight is a terrible system. It's a shame that Steam has such a monopoly that you have to be almost forced to use it.

SaurabhAV
SaurabhAV

Mr Gallant, 

It is clear you care about the products you release. I think you are on to something with the game you designed. Sometimes it just takes repackaging to really sell! Just a long shot here.. perhaps you can team up with some developers considering you are getting a lot of exposure thanks to Gamespot and release a sequel to your game with more polished graphical design and overall production value. Best of luck! (ps: I would love your game on a mobile platform)

Snowx1
Snowx1

Good article. The article definitely gives a decent insight on being an independent person trying to setup a way to get your game to the masses. It can be pretty rough. A lot of these green-light games however really don't deserve to be on there.

Alpr1010
Alpr1010

I find all these greenlight games pretty lame, but hey, go for it.

FuriousHamst3r
FuriousHamst3r

Thanks you for the article Kevin, I will go have a look at the game and see if Mr. Gallant's game persuades me enough to buy  a copy! Thanks a bunch !

wavelength121
wavelength121

How about getting back to work on AAA titles like an actual game company instead of diddling around other people's work? I am a gamer for life and 99% of this "greenlighted" silliness fails to pique my interest. I want a Valve game, not some kid's school project. It's like the airline industry; if they aren't competent enough to stand on their own, let them fall.

Sauvent
Sauvent

Great time to post this, Kevin. I was just considering using Greenlight to publish my first game in the future (my goal is to finish it by the end of the year, but I doubt it).

I'm making it in C++, I started it a month ago, but I practiced the last six months creating small games and man, its a painfully long and tiresome process, it's ridiculous! I deeply respect anyone who actually finished a game, even if the game looks awful to everyone else.

Sadly, it's hard to find motivation to continue with the creation of any project knowing that the gaming community in general is extremely hard to please. Just go to the Greenlight forums and read all the negativity: it's extremely demotivating reading people that say that "the game sucks", "the graphics sucks", "the game is not worth 10 bucks", stuff like that, and don't get me started on games that charge whatever the buyer wants to pay and they pay the minimum or just pirate the game anyway.

I'm not demotivated by the comments per sé (I think most developers can handle criticism), I'm demotivated by the lack of maturity and empathy of the community in general, and every day that I start writing code, I say to myself: "is it worth it?", without having a clear answer.


Either way, thanks for posting this.

ootiiGames
ootiiGames

Wow. Thanks Kevin for posting this story.

As a game maker in the same struggling position as Mr. Gallant it is pretty eye-opening to hear the perspective about Steam's Greenlight from someone in a more average Joe position. It reveals a lot of flaws that I hadn't considered before. For our studio's next project we had considered using Steam, but hearing this story and knowing we are in the similar situation I wonder if we will just be repeating Mr. Gallant's history. It sounds very similar to our Kickstarter campaign in terms of how much info and how much support you actually get if you don't bring a lot to the table yourself immediately.

SsangyongKYRON
SsangyongKYRON

It's terrible how some ignorant people comment on these games. You'll never imagine how hard and tiresome to program and design even an indie game. I've learned some programming so I know how hard these amazing developers can do with their effort. Thank you to all of you indie developers out there, keep your great games coming, we love them and we appreciate your time creating such great experiences.

Sakuban
Sakuban

Only reason i love Gamespot is the articles of the editors. They're quite a read. Last week, i adored an article about Interactive Fiction and the tool "Twine". You can find game reviews and previews on anywhere but not these articles. It's sad actually there's not an archive for the articles in the web site. I wish there's a menu item for articles which you can examine by the author. I could dig such thing whole day.

jmmijo
jmmijo

I wish this developer luck with this and any other projects they are working on, but frankly I play games to get away from these kinds of customers and not to remind myself of the pain I feel each and every work day.

I too work in a customer service job and I have to deal with folks like this all the time, I keep it professional and courteous and after my shift I let loose on games.

I can see where some would find this a great way to release the tensions of the work day but I will pass.

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

I don't think anybody would be terribly surprised if this game doesn't get greenlit, including the developer.  It looks cool, and I like the concept, but it's not an extremely marketable game, just like working in a call center is not an extremely desirable job.  That's what he meant when he said "I knew that reaching a wider audience would mean compromising aspects of the game that gave it meaning."  So the outcome isn't necessarily surprising, but still it was interesting to see an inside perspective on how PGL functions.  Knowing Valve, a lot of what the users and developers see and vote on is probably fairly inconsequential in deciding which games are greenlit.  That's not to say the users and devs are ignored, I just think Valve observes all of those things and makes their own assessment in the end of which games they want to pick, based on their own set of criteria.  If anything, they should make the process a bit more transparent for the devs. 

deth420
deth420

Nice article! 

...way to put yourself out there, hope it works out!!

dark_lord_anuar
dark_lord_anuar

This was an amazing read, very interesting and informative. Thanks 4 sharing

Rattlesnake_8
Rattlesnake_8

So basically to sum it up all services offered to indie devs suck and they are better off doing it the Minecraft way.. make a website and market it yourself.

Jazztickets
Jazztickets

Ya know what Kevin is pretty cute. Ya know i'm a guy and think we're all here mature enough to know what is it to do.

Anamon
Anamon

@robfield I think it's a good thing, too much nonsense is posted to not be moderated. I'm not worried that it's being abused to delete polite and valid criticism for two reasons. One, I don't think the people who are capable of making a game good enough to get greenlighted, are the same kind of people who would abuse the system like that. Two, if they did, people would notice and just start a shitstorm somewhere else. They must be aware of that—the Internet is not exactly a new thing anymore.

Developers and publishers who have a game released on Steam also get moderator access to the respective game forums, which is pretty much the same thing.

FakeKisser
FakeKisser

@jhonel83 Do you feel the same way about Thirty Flights of Loving? That took me 15 minutes to play through, and I paid about $5 for it, but I found it worth my money. So, I think you're just speaking personally, and that's fine, but I do think that these shortform game experiences can have an audience. Maybe it's similar to people that pay rather high ticket prices to see short films at film festivals?

davidsgallant
davidsgallant

@jhonel83 I'm amazed people WANT to pay for it. The game has actually sold far better than I ever expected. I think you maybe didn't really read the article.

Sakuban
Sakuban

@ampiva Monopoly? There are tons of places to get digital copies of the games. And if you are mentioning the indie scene with that "monopoly." Ever heard of "Desura"? I bet not. It's because you are not really interested in the subject at all. You just comment for the sake of commenting.

aterdux_ent
aterdux_ent

@ampiva I have to disagree. In the past the process for developers was even harder - you submit your game and then you might receive a "no" without any further explanations. The Greenlight while it gives no guarantee, at least it gives some feedback - if a game has flaws, players will surely tell us what's wrong with it. It's way better than just receive a rejection with no reason why. 

HecHocceH
HecHocceH

@aterdux_ent И после этого удивляются, почему русских в западном интернете не любят. Вы ж, блин, нормальные разработчики, могли бы вести себя приличнее. Но вы не только спамите ссылочки на свою игру, но ещё и занижаете рейтинг конкурента? 

And I thought Russian developers have some sense. Shame on you(

rilpas
rilpas

@aterdux_ent so you log on just to advertisse your game and you the only game you rated in your account happens to be the game in this article jsut so you can give it a 1 out of 10?

Screw you, I actually voted "yes" for you guys, but for that crap alone I'm changing back to a "no"

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@wavelength121 Valve, the business, does not impact Valve, the developer, in the way you are dreaming it does. The ability for the business side of Valve to bring projects like this to the table allows them to make money--money then used to make games. Your skewed imagination of how this works is like saying that LucasFilm's involvement with audio design delayed Star Wars films, or that CBS's production on new CSI episodes won't begin because the CBS games people (that is, GameSpot) are busy writing reviews. (We are owned by CBS, of course.) The people making games are not suddenly asked to go handle business concerns. The art team is not told, "hey guys, sorry, but we don't want you making art today, because we need you to handle Greenlight marketing concerns today." I'm not told, "hey, you are busy writing and all, but can you do some Olympic ice dancing commentary for CBS Sports?"

"Let them fall?" There is incredible talent out there, and Valve is one of very few publishers in a position to nurture talent and expose it. And thank God for that. Talent Valve nurtures now could be talent that later brings us a game beyond our wildest imagination--the kind that Valve makes. (You realize, I would hope, that Valve has a long history of bringing in independent talent; they discovered great teams, then brought them in to bring us games like Dota 2, Counter-Strike Source, and Portal. If Valve thought the way you do, we wouldn't have those wonderful games.) Valve understands--as you do not--that giving developers a way to bring their creative efforts to a bigger audience is only a good thing. If you are indeed a "gamer for life," then you should appreciate the diversity in games; you may not be interested in any given game, but many other people probably are. If the industry worked the way you think it should, we'd have nothing but Call of Duty clones, Dance games, and Mario, because there would be no one to support new, creative ideas the way Valve and other companies do now.

In other words, your comment is really short-sighted, rejects why Valve has been able to make (and afford to make) great games in the first place, and shows a dramatic misunderstanding of how business and development work. Good job!

davidsgallant
davidsgallant

@Sauvent I never really wrote this journal intending for all of GameSpot to read it; if I had, I would have ended on a more general note: don't make a game to please a bunch of people. Make the game you want to make. Make the game you want to play. Nuts to anyone who tells you otherwise.

emandanijeldax
emandanijeldax

@Sauvent One should never give up! In the end, it will be worth it. Keep up with the game!

highlanderjimd
highlanderjimd

@SsangyongKYRON well said, the amout of trolls and idiots these hard working devs have to put up with is getting silly these days, so many CODtards shouting that the graffixxxx aint shit man! Shame GOG or someone couldent get involved, the greenlight thing on steam is probably preventing a lot of gems from being made.

Rippletonz
Rippletonz

@Rattlesnake_8 You may very well be right about that.  But I still appreciate Valve for making an effort to empower indie developers, and creative people in general.  They may not have hit the nail on the head with Greenlight, but maybe they will listen to feedback and improve upon the process.  

jhonel83
jhonel83

@davidsgallant , I DID read the article, and I was left with the idea you were dissapointed with Valve's  GreenLight system and with sales in general. What you did with this game would be cool as included into another bigger game -like in go to your boss's office after beeing fired and confront him. Drive your car home after that (include driving sequence) and do something else there. Or spend the money you earned at your workplace for something. It's already been done in The Sims, more or less, but this could have been more indepth.

I don't know if you understand my point. I'm not saying what you have done is bad. I would pay to encourage you to develop that game further, but I woulnd't pay for it as a finished product. I'm sorry if I somewhat insulted you, that wasn't my purpose, and good luck in the future.

And gamespot, maybe notify us when someone replies to our comment? I had to find the article again and check my post. I remember you used to do it in the past, but atm your social mechanics are pretty strange.

davidsgallant
davidsgallant

@Sakuban @ampiva Steam is definitely the place with the most customers, the most "eyeballs" as it were. But I've gotten plenty of sales direct from my own website, and it's doing well on Desura too. It's also on IndieVania, but hasn't made much of a splash there.

Still, point is that no developer is "forced" to use it. It's a great place to be, but no monopoly.

aterdux_ent
aterdux_ent

@HecHocceH @aterdux_entЧто в вашем понятии означает приличнее? Почему мы не можем высказать свое мнение? И где я занижаю рейтинг "конкурента", который вообще не конкурент в принципе, это совершенно другой жанр? И перевести на английский не помешало бы все...

Russian developers have sense. What's wrong with my post here? There is no shame in expressing an opinion, and there is no shame to show that experiences of people on Greenlight differ. Maybe putting a link to our game was a bit much, but I saw links in this thread below... It's a pity there is no "dislike" button here... If my post got too many dislikes, I would delete it. Write here, if you think I should. Let's say 5 votes against (short message with "-" would be enough) and no likes, and I will delete my posting... I still think there is value in discussion... 

aterdux_ent
aterdux_ent

Believe it or not, but we have to do everything we can to promote our game. I don't advertise it here but express my opinion on the topic. And bear in mind, we achieved it without ANY major gaming sites. It's a pity you voted no but I respect your choice. We will be greenlit anyway, and yes, I love our game and yes I voted 10 for it, do you expect me to say it's terrible? 

Sakuban
Sakuban

@highlanderjimd @SsangyongKYRON I agree there's terrible comments floating in the community too. But nobody is preventing anything. This games are being made and distributed before and after the greenlight. They're giving developers a great chance to distribute it to the masses. And you are wrong, it's not the only place for indie games. "Desura" is a great place of indie games. I've even purchased many games in-development there.

aterdux_ent
aterdux_ent

OK, I saw a slider next to this game and it was on the left position, and since no one else from our company has access to this account but me then I guess it must have been me who accidently clicked the rating. I reset it, went back, it's still showed the rating, I reset again. Damn, for this I am really sorry. As I said, I don't vote for games I don't play and I thought I voted here for our game only but that's also untrue since it doesn't have a voting yet. 

aterdux_ent
aterdux_ent

I see what's the issue here! No, I didn't vote his game 1/10!!! Because I don't know it and I didn't play it... I vote only for things that I played... And I don't remember that I voted here at all! I have to go and check it now what's going on here. 

rilpas
rilpas

@aterdux_ent I expect you to not ride anyone's interview to advertise your game only to then to backslap the guy by voting his game a 1/10