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.