Valve initiating change

Nick Scheuer

Valve, the video game developer and publisher behind the “Half Life” series, “Team Fortress 2,” and the two phenomenal “Portal” games, along with its hugely popular digital distribution service, Steam, has always been a friend to independent game developers.

This relationship has only improved with the launch of the Steam Greenlight service on Aug. 30. Greenlight aims to do two things: increase the amount of indie games available on Steam and release only the games that Steam customers want. Both objectives are met by allowing Steam users to vote on which developers move on to direct publishing negotiations with Valve.

As of writing this piece, 10 games have begun negotiations with Valve and none have been published through Greenlight, which is to be expected since the program is less than a month old.

Earlier this month, to deter pranksters from spamming Greenlight with fake games or noncommittal developers, Valve instituted a $100 fee for submissions. All the fee money is then donated to the Child’s Play charity as an act of good faith.

Those donations drive home exactly what Valve’s goal is with Greenlight and why indie developers publish their games on Steam in the first place. The publisher wants, above all else, to increase the amount of independent games being sold on Steam. If Valve wanted to directly make money off Greenlight, the company would have kept a percentage of the fee, if not the entire thing. Coupled with the constant discounts on the popular games on Steam, it is obvious Valve is not fueled by greed.

The other large video game publishers could learn a thing or two from Valve, especially Electronic Arts. EA launched its own version of Steam, called Origin, last year and from the get go, EA has been fueled by greed and the desire to put Steam out of business.

When Origin launched, EA pulled “Crysis 2” from Steam, even though it remained available on other distribution services. Though the game was again made available on Steam last May — nearly a year later — EA has continued in the same thread. The publisher’s more popular games, like “Battlefield 3” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” among others, are still not available on Steam, as reported by Joystiq.

EA pulling its games from Steam isn’t just a jerk move, but also bad business sense. For a company to intentionally limit its consumer base just by which digital distribution service they use will bite into the company’s profits while barely denting Valve’s, due to Valve’s massive consumer base.

That huge consumer base comes from the nearly unlimited amount of goodwill Valve’s customers have towards Steam and Valve. Valve perpetuates the goodwill towards Steam by repeatedly instituting deep discounts and sales on the games the service sells. In fact, for two weeks every summer, Steam has its annual Steam Summer Sale, where everything for sale is at most half its original price.

These constant sales provide a large influx of money towards indie developers. For example, in an interview for, Runic Games CEO Max Schaefer stated that Steam sales continue to provide Runic Games with a reliable income from their 2009 game, “Torchlight.”

Those kinds of discounts seem to be unique to Steam, as few of Origin’s games drops below $10, and those that do seem to consist solely of outdated sports games and add-ons to full-fledged games. Such reluctance to discount the prices of the video games on Origin could very well be a leading factor in the dearth of indie games on Origin, especially when compared with Steam. I had trouble finding even five independent games on Origin, while I was practically wading through them on Steam.

To be fair, EA did release an indie bundle with five independent games back in May, though that seems to be one of very few nods toward that entire section of the video game industry.

Valve knows what it’s doing when it comes to selling video games, and with the launching of Greenlight, the publisher has let it be known that independent games are the creative future of the video game industry.


Nick can be reached at: [email protected]