Steam Greenlight: The Slush Pile of Video Games

In a blog that I’d like to be a fortress of positivity, this is a hard post to write. Steam Greenlight launched yesterday, a service that allows the Steam community to vote up or down on whether any submitted game or game concept should be released for digital distribution. Since Greenlight is in its infancy, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that most early kinks will be worked out—like the fact that no one knows whether a thumbs down is a “neutral” vote or subtracts someone else’s thumbs up, the lack of a neutral vote if the thumbs down isn’t one, the inability to sort games by title, the joke game submissions, the potential for abuse from game developers being able to delete any comment, the already-in-effect abuse from troll commenters, and the randomized order of presenting games to vote on. (Regarding the randomization, you could move through three pages of games and see the same one pop up three times because they’re unsorted.) After all of that gets necessary improvements and revisions, we’re left with the core idea: check out hundreds of games and decide whether they’re worth your time.

Click for full size, but you get the gist.

I’ve rated 190 games so far. Just 403 to go. Just… 403… to go…

In college, I had a brief stint as an editor on the university’s literary magazine, where we all sifted through submitted fiction and non-fiction stories to accept or reject them for publication. Paid positions for the role aren’t terribly common in the world, but it’s the perfect place for a sadist to try to land a job since it revolves around crushing the dream of a good 95% of people who get in touch. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” asks the reader not to judge a written story by a promotional picture and that’s fine; the saying “don’t judge a book by its first page,” if it existed, would be laughed at by almost any editor. Out of a misplaced sense of obligation, I read each story that I received in full and I can say that 2 out of every 175 stories that started off poorly-written got better further in. It’s all too often possible to judge a work of fiction by its first paragraph or even its first sentence. Just ask this guy.

Steam Greenlight is a perfect analogy to that process of digging through rough to find diamond. It’s a fine heap of garbage much like the ones cobbled together by Sho Minamimoto in The World Ends With You, but without the hilarious over-the-top mathematical ranting. If the idea behind the OUYA can be considered a demonstration of the highest potential of “the indies”—the opportunity to bring not only games into the market, but full systems—then Steam Greenlight is a reality check about how so many can’t put together anything that rubs up against “passable.” With Greenlight still in its new car smell phase, I rated almost 200 games out of sheer tenacity and to say that 15% of them came across as worthwhile for fans of their genre would be an overstatement.

The kid in The Sixth Sense saw dead people. I see dead games. They’re the mediocrity littering Greenlight, created by people who lack either the pride or the courage to make better experiences. They’re the programmers who can’t draw but don’t bother to find artists, the designers who can barely code but don’t bother to find programmers, and the artists who can’t structure a game’s progression but don’t bother to find designers. They’re the developers who defend their games on the basis of hard work instead of high quality. They’re the developers who try to do everything themselves when they don’t have the all-around talent of guys like Pixel (Cave Story) or ZUN (Touhou), yet also won’t reach out to others who can provide the talent, time, or money to take their game to the next level.

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