This is a post about Greenlight

Jonas Kyratzes is a serious game developer, and a good one.

He has the right to criticize Valve for charging a $100 submission fee for Steam’s Greenlight program. Valve has the right to ignore him. Valve has the right to charge whatever they like for their service, and developers have the right to partake or not, criticize or praise.

Fellow developers and spectators have the right to assert Jonas is not a serious game developer because he does not have — through profits from prior art, or otherwise — $100 to spend on a game’s budget. They are wrong, but they can assert whatever opinion they like.

Regarding Valve’s decision, many people have asserted all sorts of things, called each other all sorts of names. At a glance it seems petty, and mean, and fiercely personal. This issue has stoked flames of personal identity. But moreover, it has caused contention about group identity, reminding us the latter will often be argued over with greater fervency than the former.


Greenlight is a selection process. Steam users can vote and comment on submitted indie games, and the reactions are tracked to highlight the games generating the most interest.

The name is derived from a term most often heard of in the film industry these days — a group of studio executives typically “greenlights” a project before it begins production. The video game industry follows a similar model, where a group of select people at a publisher decide what does or doesn’t get to market.

Greenlight has been heralded because that process is no longer necessary. Information is disseminated easily, and quickly. Digital distribution is not only viable but preferred. Delegating the decision of what a publisher brings to market to a dozen or so gatekeepers behind closed doors is pedantic, and an inferior way of determining what will be most profitable. The democratization of entertainment media works for the benefit of everyone.

Capitalism is inherently democratic. People choose the preferred product, and the most popular product sells more than the less popular products, typically such that a few popular products continue, and the others do not. With tools available to quickly gather data on what people find appealing, it’s arrogant and risky to continue gambling on the sense of a few arbiters at a publisher.

The Greenlight concept is good. Its execution has been clumsy. It launched without any kind of moderation process, allowing the kinds of submission that caused pause and concern.

Users submitted fake games, intentionally offensive projects as poor attempts at humor, and even sequels to popular game franchises, treating the service as a request queue aimed at Valve. The options for sorting and viewing the submissions were also unwieldy.

The intent of Greenlight was to make it easier for users to find games they might like, games perhaps otherwise unknown or overlooked. The combination of the aforementioned missteps worked against that goal. Attempting to combat these problems, Valve imposed a $100 submission fee.


On Tuesday, September 7th, Valve announced that they would charge a $100 submission fee to developers. The money from said fees would be donated to a well known charity called Child’s Play that donates games, toys, and books to hospitalized children. Valve states that the fee is to discourage submissions of fake, or intentionally offensive projects. They’ve stated they don’t intend to profit from the fees:

“we have no interest in making money from this, but we do need to cut down the noise in the system.”

Talking to Gamasutra, Alden Krull, a UI designer working on Greenlight, said, “The sheer volume of submissions was the biggest challenge, both from legitimate submissions as well as junk.” He also stressed that Greenlight is not done changing: “We have a huge list of suggestions from customers and the lessons we’ve learned from shipping, so Greenlight will definitely continue to evolve over the next weeks and months.”

This is about Greenlight

On Twitter, Joel Goodwin, writer of Electron Dance tweeted:

“It’s just not about Greenlight any more. I think this is the indie vs real indie thing that’s been brewing for a while.”

And Jonas Kyratzes responded:

“It was never really about Greenlight at all.”

This is wrong. Joel and Jonas are wrong — startlingly wrong. This is absolutely about Greenlight. This is about a service, about its parameters, about the proprietor’s right to impose whatever parameters it wishes, to its own detriment if that’s the case.

Whatever feelings it stirs up in Jonas or Rob Fearon about hardship, inequality, elitism — those are emotions elicited because a portion of he indie community (a community they valued), didn’t agree with them. The disagreement, however intricate with however many nuances and social implications, is still about Valve deciding to charge a $100 fee for a service they own. People have reacted to it, and made both Jonas, Rob and others the unfair recipients of insults, and assertions that assail their passion and work ethic.

But the reaction in favor of Valve’s decision — and against those who oppose it — is an emotional one as well, in tangent with the emotions of those consider the move a mistake. I won’t begrudge anyone their right to react in whatever way they please, but as a writer, I implore myself to strip away this emotion and look at the facts.

Valve has made a decision to charge a fee for their service. Jonas, Rob and others reacted in opposition. Jonas in particular asserted the issue could have been more readily remedied if the indie gaming scene unified behind the idea that the charge is a form of classism. Instead some in the community opposed him, and arguments splintered off into debates about classism, capitalism, privilege and other digressions — some insightful, others petty.

But all that is the reaction to the issue. The issue is still Valve’s decision to charge a $100 fee for submission. That is the issue.


This isn’t just about Jonas. Rob Fearon posted a riveting piece on the issue, demonstrating the unexpected hardships that make something like a $100 fee a considerable obstacle. Michael Brough, Anna Anthropy, and others have spoken out. But it was Jonas’s tweets that most consistently brought this to my attention. It’s his voice that has been most persistent, most poignant. Jonas and others feel like this puts indie developers without $100 to spend at a disadvantage because of the potential exposure they lose out on from not being on Valve’s Greenlight. Jonas makes the point that he’s speaking out because there are others with less of a platform than his. Perhaps he’s right.

But I believe (I believe it fiercely, I tell you; my bones shake, I believe it so fiercely) that because of this Jonas, Rob, and others like them will do what smart, persistent people do when faced with obstacles — they will innovate, adapt, survive, and ultimately thrive.

I’m sure they could do without the obstacle (they’ve far too many already), make the argument their being able to rise above it doesn’t justify its existence, but the anger won’t stop them from rising, rising, rising… like bold new sunrises lighting dimmer pasts of yesterday’s missteps.

Posted on September 10, 2012

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2 responses to “This is a post about Greenlight”

  1. […] I just wrote a piece about Steam’s Greenlight service you can read now. I intend to write shorter pieces, hopefully more often. As always I’d like […]

  2. Jordan Rivas says:

    Jonas has written a compelling piece on his blog, talking specifically about the classism he senses in the indie developer community.

    We disagree about the core issue is here, but I certainly see there are some issues of class, and unfortunately some ignorant people that have exacerbated the problem.

    I think I’m making one point, about one thing, and Jonas is making another point about another thing; the complication is how closely they’re related, one being triggered by the other. I include the link because I think people should be aware of both.

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