Steam Greenlight to become the new Kickstarter ?

[In which I muse about Steam Greenlight & a game that's been in development for 10 years ]

A few days ago I received a mail from the friendly bunch behind the recently released Inquisitor, an old school RPG with a lot of heart & depth, but dated visuals & usability. I promised them that I was going to have a look at it, and if I liked it, do what little I can to help them spread the word about their Steam Greenlight campaign. For those who live on a different planet, Steam Greenlight is Valve’s recently released platform where users can vote if a game is worthy of being sold on Steam.

Does it look old school ? Yes it looks old school. Do I like old school ? Yes I like old school.

Other than Inquisitor looking like a neat RPG, there’s two interesting things that picqued my interest about this and got me writing: Inquisitor has been in development for more than 10 years , and it’s one of the first games in its genre to compete in the newly installed survival of the fittest competitition going on the world’s biggest digital platform for PC games.

At the time of writing this, Inquisitor is at 4% of the amount of votes it needs to be featured on Steam, which is better than the 1% yesterday, but still  far off from the goal they need to reach to be published on Steam.You can vote for them by clicking here (and you actually should)

I still didn’t get round to playing Inquisitor myself, but David, one of Larian’s enigmatic producers did, and his verdict was that it played like it looked – it takes a getting used to, but then it feels as familiar as any of the great RPGs of old. He told me this after only a couple of hours in, but I felt that was sufficient to convince me that here was a RPG worth an old-school RPG player’s attention. I already liked the setting of the game as well as the art style, and from what David told me, it seems the depth is certainly there. ( David’s profession by his own definition is to whine, so if he endorses something, in general it means it’s ok, at least if you like the games David does ;) )

At the moment, there’s almost 800 games on Steam Greenlight, and my first thought at seeing the wide variety and quality of the games on display was – wow, I pity the poor guys at Steam who had to try select the good from the bad pre-Greenlight . There really are some junky things in there that will never see the light of day, and the clutter they cause makes it hard to spot the gems. If you just spend two hours with each game, you’re already well on your way to spend two months of work, and I guess there’s plenty more  coming.

But then I thought, probably they did the same thing I did and decided at first glance what to investigate further and what not. This obviously isn’t 100% fair but it is very human, so I expect most players involving themselves in  Greenlight will do the same. It’s often easy to tell if there’s a significant effort behind something, and whether or not the game has any chance of ever being fun, just by staring at a single screenshot.

I tried to figure out how many votes were necessary, but it turns out there’s no absolute number because they don’t know yet how popular the service is going to be, yet. That makes sense and what really made a lot of sense was the following statement in their FAQ– “We are most interested in finding games that people want, not requiring them to always hit a specific number of votes”. That reassured me tbh.

Given the quantity of games already on here, and the wide spectrum in genre and quality, it’s understandable that a platform like Steam would be interested in finding innovative ways of selecting titles they promote on their platform, but it’s not because one game is enormously upvoted because it did some clever publishing, that another might not deserve it’s place in the sun.

Browsing through the catalogue made me reflect on Inquisitor not really belonging in the same category as Graveyard Baby Hospital(GBH) which to be honest, tickled my interest, proving that titles still matter. The biggest difference is that Inquisitor is a finished game and GBH is an unfinished game, so for that reason alone, I think Inquisitor merits being in a different category.

At first I wondered why you would even want to list games that aren’t finished, because right now the only thing they do is obfuscate the scene and make it harder to find the good stuff. And chances are that many of these games that are still “in development” will never see the light of day – there’s a big difference in league between guys who start making a game and guys that finish it.

But then it dawned on me that if you get “games in development” on Steam Greenlight, you are creating an opportunity to eventualy launch a Kickstarter like service on Steam to help fund unfinished games. That could be good news for developers I think, especially if in an act of enormous goodwill towards the game developer community, Steam and Kickstarter link up.

Imagine that a to be developed game is both featured on Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, with the funding of each channel contributing to the development of the game, and the services working together to promote the game to their communities. It would be a very significant boost for game development. Through the Steam account you could even come up with a kind of micro-investment scheme in which players get to invest money, and actually get their investment back once the game ships and sells on Steam (with perhaps a small margin). That might lead to even bigger budgets becoming available through crowd funding.

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t group of finished and unfinished games in separate categories though, and as it stands, I think that’s sorely lacking (perhaps it’s there and I just missed the filter button – I’m very impatient when checking something out ;) )

I also think they shouldn’t mix all genres together, because I can imagine that a FPS might get a lot more votes than an adventure. If that adventure has more votes than any other adventure however, it’d probably merit being published on Steam, because there’s still a market for people who like adventure games. I hope that’s what they mean with “We are most interested in finding games that people want, not requiring them to always hit a specific number of votes”.

Coming back to the difference between Graveyard Baby Hospital and Inquisitor, just looking at them also gives you the feeling that you’re dealing with two completely different development budgets. Where I can imagine that the guys who’re making GBH might be ok if they make say 100KUS$ through other channels than Steam, for sure the Inquisitor guys won’t be ok if they just earn back a 100KUS$.

For most PC games, Steam represents above 80% of their digital market, so if you’re not listed there, it becomes quite hard to earn your investment back and for that reason alone, I think the Inquisitor team should get their chance to sell their game on Steam. If teams that put so much clearly visible love and patience in a game(10 years!!!) don’t get a chance to earn back their money on the biggest PC digital platform because the selection crew at Steam is overwhelmed with work, then we run the risk that these types of games won’t be made anymore, and we can look forward to a decade of GBH’s style games, which for all its originality in terms of coming up with a title, is not my idea of gaming nirvana.

I obviously don’t know what the team selecting the games thinks, but I do hope that they make considerations like these, and so we’ll see Inquisitor rapidly appear on Steam, even if the Greenlight thing doesn’t work out, and even if it turns out the game isn’t all that great – I’m sure there’s worse available on Steam already. Now of course I haven’t played Inquisitor yet, so I might be promoting a horrible game here without knowing it;)

Anyway, having seen the amount of games already available, I understand why the guys at Steam came up with Greenlight, and thinking further down the line it’s clear that in a year or so there’ll be thousands of games on there and nobody will be able to find anything back, so they’ll have their work cut out coming up with clever filters and selection criteria, and yes, publishers will have another area where they can show their talents.

For that reason alone (the clutter), having a special category for finished games that at least look like full featured finished affairs wouldn’t be a bad addition to the service, especially if games could only be in that category for a limited time. Such games don’t belong on the same shelf as the nth Pong clone. Call it a shortcut route for the larger games like Inquisitor and for gamers with little time.

Oh, I almost forgot – there’s one last thing I want to say:

Well done guys ! Persevering for 10 years is no easy thing. I know many a people who gave up way before that, so you deserve a medal just for not giving up! I hope it’ll be worth it for you!

  • Arne

    They got my vote, and I wish them good luck. I’ll look back at this game later. I’m not familiar with GreenLight, just recently heard of it. Care to explain why this game is not for sale on Steam, but to be voted for sale? I did’nt manage to get that from this post.

    • Gorath

      Easy to explain. Steam is not an open platform. You *need* Valve’s permission to sell your game there. As you can guess they get totally overwhelmed with game submissions, so getting onto Steam pre-greenlight involved quite a bit of luck. Especially indies and small European devs & publishers had serious difficulties convincing Steam that doing business with them is worth the effort.

  • stateyb

    Playing Inquisitor now, lots of fun. Lots of dialogue, very little hand-holding, and pretty steep difficulty. Definitely some more polish could have been done, but well worth the money and time. Extremely refreshing after the immense disappointment that was Diablo III.

  • AlexF

    I understand why a developer would want their game on steam. However as a consumer I’m happy that the game has already launched on gog.com. For me it’s much better digital distribution platform. It’s DRM free, it doesn’t require you to install any external programs like steam and origin do and they usually offer a lot of nice extras. For inquisitor they have soundtrack, artwork, artbooks, even a novel. I hope when Original Sin and Dragon Commander launch you’ll consider a gog.com release as well.

  • ericb

    I’m a bit surprised this game was not put for sale as any standard game on Steam… been playing it for the last week and had more fun than any other RPG that I played for a while. Interface does get a bit of time to get used to, but once past that, it’s clear that a lot of work and attention was put in the game.