This Crazy Goddamn Industry

Adam Predicts: The Future Of Steam

I mentioned in this article about our Greenlight success with Fatal Theory that it was weird (and yet not that weird at all) that we were Greenlit at only 75% to the top 100.

It's hard to get hard numbers on this stuff, but over the New Year period it looks like around 500 games were Greenlit, and it looks like many more have been Greenlit since. The reason?

Steam is changing.

I won't say rapidly, but for something of its size it is moving faster than I expected. There were hints last year that Valve would want to do away with the Greenlight process. Around this time there was also a lot of panicked articles from developers about the "Indie Bubble bursting," if you we're wired into the twittersphere at the time you wouldn't have been able to miss it. This was largely panic from developers who were getting a good ride on Steam based on its reach, visibility, and relatively low number of titles due to fierce staff curation. With Greenlight, and more so the announcement that Greenlight would be abolished, the word oversaturation was thrown around, discoverability, and so on. It was a kneejerk reaction for those already eating that sweet Steam pie to the fact that Valve was gradually, and rather transparently, lowering it's guard and opening the gates to more and more games, more games than it could ever hope to "make" by splashing them across the front page of the store. Games would no longer succeed by virtue of being on Steam alone. It was becoming a very different beast.

Since then, we've seen community curators implemented. We've seen user reviews go up on games, we've seen a user-based tagging system come into play. We've seen our front pages transform from new releases to "Recommended for you." Valve is automating the curation and discoverability process. They're building a system whereby users - YOU -  are propagating searchable content and facilitating the discovery process. And honestly? It's not bad. The recomendations could be improved, the algorithm there is not that accurate (at least for me), but I expect it to improve wth time.

Now Steam is letting huge batches of games through Greenlight. Doing the math, I'd say their systems have succeeded on the metrics they have been testing them on at lower quantities, and now they want to test them with a larger quantity of data, arriving at a faster pace. A stress-test of sorts. I expect that they'll do this repeatedly while fine-tuning the systems, and then abolish Greenlight altogether.

What Does this Mean for Developers? Is Steam Still A Worthwhile Prospect for Sales?

Short answer: yes, absolutely.

One of the main principles that drives the Steam store and that Gabe Newell clearly believes very strongly in is convenience. Now, this is an extremely powerful concept. For Steam, it manifests in two key user experiences: convenience of market and convenience in the way your products are stored and displayed, i.e. the library. Valve has honed their market to be one of the most convenient on the net: it takes only three clicks to buy any game on the Steam service, and download begins immediately. That simple.

And storing all those impulse buys in one super convenient list that spans across all your machines is nothing to shake a stick at either. It’s gotten to the point where users don’t feel like they own a game until they can see it in their Steam library. A lot of players got hold of Fatal Theory through bundles and the like, and those who reached out to us all asked the same question: “can I get a Steam key when this is Greenlit?” I mean, these people already OWNED the game, but they still needed to see it in that library. Slaves to convenience.

Of course there’s a lot of other factors too: achievements, the social nature of Steam, the thriving community forums. But long story short, while Steam may not be the maker and breaker of games it has been in the past, it is still the most refined market out there, with the largest user base. Regardless of the number of games they put up there, or the quality of those games in question, that’s not going to change. It’s still an asset. 

Final Word

As Steam tends away from trying to curate for mass market appeal, it moves towards better serving underserved niches and supporting gaming communities around them. There will still be major hit titles from out of nowhere, but I think the success of the individual is beginning to rely less on striking gold and more on engaging audiences, building communities, and doing all that marketing jazz. But with access to Steam? Man, the audience is right there, just three clicks away.

What are your thoughts? am I on the money, off by a long shot? Tell us in the comments below! 

- Adam Carr @2HitAdam

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