The $100 Steam Direct Fee is Bad for Steam, and Bad for Gamers

The $100 Steam Direct Fee is Bad for Steam, and Bad for Gamers

Valve set the Steam Direct fee today, and it's not nearly high enough.

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I don't know where I stand on this yet and while this article is an interesting viewpoint on it, I wouldn't say I'm entirely convinced yet. There's this one line that I'm really umming and ahhing over:

ffronw:
If the fee was $1,000, or even better $2,500, then it would force companies to make sure that their games were ready for the market.

The issue I see there is the word "companies". It seems to me to be figuring the only developers who should have the right to purchase store space on Steam are professional developers and that I think is against part of Steam's ethos. I worry that saying things like "oh, just put your games on itch.io or Humble and make money there" creates this attitude of Steam as an old boy's club where you haven't got the right to be there if you can't pony up a thousand or two dollars.

There is a lot of shit on Steam - I am absolutely not denying that. I also agree that $100 is too low for Steam Direct though even that low figure will, I think, dissuade some (if not enough) hacks from shitting up random crap onto the store front - and make no mistake, I do think it will have some effect. It's easy to say that Greenlight was $100 and that didn't stop anything but Direct is $100 a pop which, if you're an asset flipper or dev who just flings game after game onto the storefront, suddenly you're racking up some major fees and you might well be unlikely to be recouping those losses.

Steam Direct, like Greenlight, is not aimed at established developers; it's aimed at people who are developing and require a community behind them to give their game a boost. By setting the entry fee very high and by saying to potential developers, "go sell your games somewhere else before you can prove you can come onto here", all you accomplish is moving the problem devs to a different storefront and the potentially great developers away from the biggest online storefront. By putting a too-high price barrier up, Steam pushes itself away from the indie market and that would be madness from a business sense. While the $100 barrier is too low, the $1000+ sounds way too high to me, particularly as I suspect you wouldn't have to go much higher than a few hundred bucks per game submission before you seriously start to weed out the asset flippers but a more serious developer who is confident their game could recoup say, $350 per submission or $500 or whatever could still have an avenue open to them.

ffronw:
First, the company could invest in hiring some actual people whose job it is to curate the games going onto Steam. Obviously, they cannot be expected to play through every game that goes up, and you could exempt known good actors from this process, but it would reduce the number of unplayable games that make it to retail.

I do agree there should be testing on these submissions before they hit the market though I also can't see Valve bothering with that themselves; I guess they could make it a community-led thing which sounds more up Valve's laissez-faire street though it's hardly ideal (nor that professional).

ffronw:
Quality would immediately get higher, because developers wouldn't be willing to take the chance that a buggy game wouldn't recoup the money they invested to get it on the store in the first place.

This is just a grumpy aside but if only they could somehow apply that mindset to the buggy AAA releases and shit PC ports slopped onto Steam by bigger devs.

Valve was apparently working closely with certain people (Like TotalBiscuit) to make sure Steam Direct was properly put together and better than before. Now it sounds like they didn't learn a fucking thing

I don't have a problem with this. Mainly for three reasons:
1. Steam is a store;
2. I want everyone to get a chance to release their games;
3. I am not incompetent.

EscapeGoat:

ffronw:
First, the company could invest in hiring some actual people whose job it is to curate the games going onto Steam. Obviously, they cannot be expected to play through every game that goes up, and you could exempt known good actors from this process, but it would reduce the number of unplayable games that make it to retail.

I do agree there should be testing on these submissions before they hit the market though I also can't see Valve bothering with that themselves; I guess they could make it a community-led thing which sounds more up Valve's laissez-faire street though it's hardly ideal (nor that professional).

Well, there is already a community led thing - the Steam curators.

As for hiring people to sort things out...I can already see how people can criticise it: it's going to be biased. Doesn't matter if it's going to work or not and how much effort Valve put into it, the first reaction many would have is "Why bother doing this - they are obviously going to fail because it's not impartial". And if you don't believe me, look no further than this article itself - the news that the publishing fee is set to $100 is IMMEDIATELY followed by this which argues how it's bad for everybody involved - the store and the gamers.

Adam Jensen:
I don't have a problem with this. Mainly for three reasons:
1. Steam is a store;
2. I want everyone to get a chance to release their games;
3. I am not incompetent.

I'm with you. I get that having a lot of games in one place makes it harder to find stuff but...I'd really much rather have lots of potential trash, than let a potentially good game not be on Steam. Yeah, some developers are bad people and produce shit games but wasn't that the case at all times anyway? I do remember the times before Steam and I do remember having some awful games in existence. You know what I also remember? Not being able to get good games even when I knew they existed. The store analogy in the article doesn't hold up for me because I do recall how long it took me to finally get a copy of Vampire the Masquerade - Bloodlines. I heard about it in 2003 and I was really excited, it was released in 2004 but I didn't get to play it until 2007. It just wasn't anywhere around me. Now it's my favourite game of all time.

So, if we were to use the store analogy, let's say you walk in and have all perfectly functioning games and they are all good. But you can't find stuff that you will also like because it's never going to be stocked. And indeed, that's how things were for me back in the day - if I wanted some big release, say, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 or something, I'd easily be able to find a copy, but some smaller stuff would be nigh impossible to track down. That's assuming I even knew it existed.

In this day and age, finding information about games is trivial. Heck, it takes me less than a minute looking at just the Steam store page for a game to determine whether a game looks bad or not. That's before even looking at the reviews that are right there. If it doesn't, I can spare another minute to look up more information, like the aforementioned reviews. So, let's say it takes 5 minutes to find if a game is going to be worth my time. Heck, let's double up - let's say it takes 10. Is that really that bad?

There is probably an argument to be made about game searching and recommendations. I feel that the tag system of Steam is a neat idea but a lot of things are hanging on it, which it cannot really support. Still, though, I'd class a better tag/search/recommendation system (or something new) a "nice to have" not a "must".

Valve already has people paid to check the games that get on greenlight. Valve made a point to show them to Jim Sterling and Totalbiscuit during that consulting session a while back. The problem is they're insufficient for the goal Valve is aiming for. That's exactly why Valve wants to try options that will make any fake games that still get through fade into nothing before making money.

Also, I'm genuinely confused about what the article is referring to about the store problems. The only time I've seen any of the games of the sort Jim Sterling is known for covering is while browsing games under $5, and even then they're generally preceded by more popular games and re-releases of dos games.

As it is, most of the games I've played that really annoyed me were games that were well reviewed by actual reviewers. I don't think curating will solve the problem of too many games, because even the wholly legitimate side of the games industry has gotten too big for that.

I disagree with the article whole cloth. If you actually sort through all the new games being released on Steam each week, the number that are the low-value asset-flip type games people moan about are actually a tiny percent of the games released.

I spend a bit of time searching for smaller titles, and it really isn't that hard to find many more good looking hidden indies than anyone could ever play. And I honestly can't even remember the last time I came across an asset-flip through the normal Discovery channels. I'd only see them if I went through the complete list of new games for the week.

The focus should continue to be on improving Discovery, Curators, and making sure people know how to use it properly. Not on keeping legitimate games off Steam by increasing the barrier to entry.

I feel like people like Ron have bought too much into the idea that Steam has been inundated by asset-flips and non-games, an idea perhaps popularised by folks like J. Sterling (who rightly does point out games that probably shouldn't be there). But the perceived scope of the problem doesn't at all line up with the facts if you go and look at what is being released.

And the "too many games" stance I think is a non-issue. It seems to suggest that there should only be as many good games as you have time to play. If you like a reasonable range of games, you can easily find, on Steam, more than enough to take up all your time. That is a good market for a consumer to find themselves in.

I've basically abandoned Steam at this point.
DRM is still DRM.

GOG or console is basically how I play my games now.

Adam Jensen:
I don't have a problem with this. Mainly for three reasons:
1. Steam is a store;
2. I want everyone to get a chance to release their games;
3. I am not incompetent.

This. I don't want inherently biased people making decisions on what is or isn't fit for public consumption. That sort of approach is just asking for trouble.

Giving increased flexibility to curators on the other hand is a good option, as this will give customers more ways to find what they're looking for.

I think that one thing that could probably help fix Steam would be a decent blacklist system tied alongside the different tags.

For instance, let's say I'm a really squeamish person and I can't stand blood. I can blacklist the "Gore" tag, and now every single game with that tag essentially no longer exists as far as I can see on Steam.

Yeah, that seems standard, and is probably already a feature that I just haven't been bothered to look for. But I think it should be taken further. I'd love to be able to blacklist specific games and especially developers.

If I see an asset-flip game, I'm currently not interested, and I know that I will never be interested in the future, I blacklist that particular game. It never shows up on any list, whether it's on sale or not. If I not only find an asset-flip game, but I notice that those are the only things that the developer makes, I blacklist the developer entirely, and I never see another game by that developer ever again.

The only way that I would see blacklisted games would be if I were to use the search bar. If I were to specifically type in the name of a game that I want to find, even if it's from a developer that I blacklisted, I should be able to find it because I'm looking for it specifically.

I doubt that asset-flip developers would do well on Steam if everybody could just click a button and those asset-flip games essentially no longer exist.

I've watched both Jim's and TB's vids on their trip to Valve and iirc they've mentioned Steam Direct is going to have a reduced fee. If memory serves, the idea is to reduce barrier of entry for devs while putting new systems in place, that allow for enhanced curation - for example instead of the current curator system, they supposedly have something called "Steam Explorers" or somesuch lined up, where community members could sign up to try new, potentially weird or buggy, games. They'd have to buy them, but they'd have some improved refundability (one game refunded per month, no questions asked for example - I'm guessing that only applies to explorers games bought on that month, again, iirc) and the program would include some rewards, possibly up to and including the ability to get an explorers game of choice for free every now and again for enough "points". I think they might've mentioned some other stuff too, but that in particular grabbed my attention. Either way, while I can't really say if it'll work out or not, incentivizing the playerbase to create a wide network of low-cost curators so as to develop more reliable scoring seems like a solid idea. Reduced fees are apparently just the first step in a bigger overhaul and while in and of themselves, they'd likely end up detrimental, they're just a part of the bigger picture and I for one am curious to see what it looks like in its entirety.

Tanis:
I've basically abandoned Steam at this point.
DRM is still DRM.

GOG or console is basically how I play my games now.

Consoles/games requiring an Always On connection is DRM. Games requiring a Day 1 download (Fallout 4 for example) is DRM. Console games have DRM, it's just a horse of a different colour.

Gee, why just $2,500? Why not $25,000? Or $2.5 million? Let's make it so that only established AAA companies can get their games on Steam! That'll ensure that only quality games ever make it there!

Apart from *cough* "Youtube Influencers" *cough* complaining about shovelware, I honestly don't see why this is a relevant problem that affects a lot of us gamers.

Or there is a guy who puts a gun to your head and forces you to buy them, but I'm yet to encounter him maybe?

No, $100 is too low- though there isn't a reasonable number that won't cut off too much healthy competition (though to be frank, I seriously question how good your indie game must be if you are so young or so hard out of luck that you don't have a budget of even $100).
The problem is that asset flipping, and making fake games, is a very profitable method of making games off the Steam Store - not for selling as products. These games sell in the thousands for sometimes just a few dozen Rubles because the cards they generate can be turned into gems.
Any other work Valve does to help eliminate fake games will be infinitely more helpful in eliminating the source of the problem.

Perhaps my earlier post was a bit too much of a textwall, so allow me to reiterate in a more concise fashion:

a) Financial barriers of entry do not ensure quality. OTOH they do create an extra hurdle for budding devs who may have interesting creative ideas.

b) Steam is building a new system with Steam Direct, and we already know they're looking to build a community-based review system, a bit like curators, but more incentivized, more social and ideally, far more reliable and relevant.

c) assuming b) works, it will make the approach in a) obsolete. Thus, low barrier of entry on the marketplace makes perfect sense.

Steam is by its very nature a secondary DRM system and its market share, while no longer technically a monopoly, is still too big for it to be entirely healthy. There are good reasons to be wary of the service, but making sensible decisions in response to community input ain't it.

So how will this prevent Repack Devs from flooding Steam?

008Zulu:
So how will this prevent Repack Devs from flooding Steam?

The idea is, apparently, that asset flip devs thrive on a fairly small community that takes advantage of the card system for some gains I don't fully understand. IIRC (I hadn't watched the vids lately, go check them out if you'd like more info, and closer to the source) the idea is to nerf the trading card exploitability while basing visibility in the Steam Store largely on the Steam Explorers program scores. This would, in theory, starve the asset flippers who maintain a playerbase by gaming the system rather than creating valuable content while only exposing to shitty games the people who agree to that and keeping the average user's storefront nice and clean of shovelware while still letting people discover creative, inventive indie games. In theory. Also, there's more to that, like a rework of the tag system, reprioritizing what gets put in your discovery queue and so on and so forth.

As for links to the aforementioned vids, here they are

Edit: Also, a little food for thought: this company started out as a small indie studio in Belarus, sometimes called Europe's last dictatorship and generally not regarded as a happy place, or for that matter a wealthy one. While upping financial barriers of entry for Steam games might help solve the issue of asset flips, especially coupled with other steps to undermine the flippers' business model, doing so would not only also create a significant hurdle for the first world western indie devs, it could also effectively lock small companies from developing countries out of Steam, diminishing creative input necessary for gaming as a medium to grow. The company I've used as an example has had its fair share of criticism, but it has also helped expand the market in new directions. If we're going to have a small indie studio with as much potential budding in a developing country three or five years from now, I don't want them to one day open up Steam, find out releasing the game would cost them half their yearly budget and back down because, while they may have a revolutionary idea that would sell tens or hundreds of millions of copies, they're too scared of the financial risk that could cripple their families' budgets.

Of course WG made do without Steam in its early days, but those with catchy ideas may not necessarily have the business acumen - or simply luck - to make it to big leagues without something that would boost their visibility and accessibility like Steam does.

b) Steam is building a new system with Steam Direct, and we already know they're looking to build a community-based review system, a bit like curators, but more incentivized, more social and ideally, far more reliable and relevant.

and what's to stop this system being abused? I would have to look into it but I am sure that their was a Steam group that given the right incentives would on mass help Greenlight crap. So what's to stop someone setting up a similar group the dev gives the members a bunch of free keys and then they turn up on mass to give the game a series of great reviews and in turn this bumps to the front page or trending page or whatever POS new system Valve is putting in place.

When Valve announced they were getting rid of Greenlight and replacing it with something else they really had an opportunity to finally wipe away the shit stain left by Greenlight and shock horror Valve have done what Valve does best, let someone else do the work for them (the community in this case, well in every case when it comes to anything to do with valve) while they sit back and take the money.

What Valve should have done is bumped the application amount to 1 maybe 2 thousand dollars. The game then gets submitted to valve directly who then use the cash to employee someone (like they fucking need the cash to do that) to QA the game. If the game is an assest flip or bugged or just isn't of a standard then Valve issues a report back to the developer with hints and tips on what could be done to improve the game. Part of the deal is that the developer can resubmit the game as many times as they wish provided they are making actual positive changes to it.

Firstly the entry price stops the quick draw assest flippers, second Valve are taking pride in their store front by not letting any old shite on to it and third it immediately shows which developers are willing to back up their work as the geniune ones will go away and come back with an improved game. Of course the whole thing hinges on Valve actually wanting to do some fucking work on improving things.

Oh well positive at least, Jim Sterlings not going to loose any potential new content with this change.

Adam Jensen:
I don't have a problem with this. Mainly for three reasons:
1. Steam is a store;
2. I want everyone to get a chance to release their games;
3. I am not incompetent.

Right? I don't see what the big deal is with there being a lot of games on Steam. I know what games are being released and I know what I'm interested in. I can't imagine there are that many people who go on Steam and just browse with no aim or direction only to get lost in the morass of visual novels.

Laughing Man:

and what's to stop this system being abused? (...) So what's to stop someone setting up a similar group the dev gives the members a bunch of free keys and then they turn up on mass to give the game a series of great reviews and in turn this bumps to the front page

Good question, but that depends on how the system is implemented. I'm hoping SE will have a fairly large user base, meaning it would take a substantial number of crooked members to prop up a sham game, and I imagine this sort of collusion might have serious consequences for both sides if it comes to light. Then there's the fact that if that particular dev's games are shite, their own keys would hold little value and other devs' keys would cost them a pretty penny anyway. Granted, we don't know HOW exactly the whole thing is going to be put in place, but Valve apparently admitted that Greenlight is a trainwreck, which shows a measure of awareness that hopefully might result in some safeguards. There's also the issue WHY games like that sell in the first place. It's not like people who were somehow misled into thinking they're good couldn't return them or leave reviews that'd quickly overwhelm any fake good ones. It seems exploitable trading cards are the root issue and low barriers of entry at most facilitate it. As such, hampering or removing exploitation of the trading card system would mean we don't just have to rely on Explorers to fix the situation.

Laughing Man:

What Valve should have done is bumped the application amount to 1 maybe 2 thousand dollars. The game then gets submitted to valve directly who then use the cash to employee someone (like they fucking need the cash to do that) to QA the game. If the game is an assest flip or bugged or just isn't of a standard then Valve issues a report back to the developer with hints and tips on what could be done to improve the game. Part of the deal is that the developer can resubmit the game as many times as they wish provided they are making actual positive changes to it.

A couple issues with that idea:
- it hurts small devs, especially from developing countries. For example that sort of fee is more or less equal to average yearly income of a person in India. That's not the sort of money you want to gamble on a game that might not sell and it's by far not the poorest country out there either.
- It's still prone to bribery or influence through personal connections - in a way even moreso, as a smaller number of people has a greater effect on a game's ability to get published.
- A group of in-house employees more or less subjectively gauging the quality of games sounds suspiciously like focus groups and we already know those don't work well. Even if you do away with the "just isn't of a standard" criterion, deciding what constitutes a bannable asset flip could also be a contentious issue, seeing as even legitimate works often reuse assets.

All in all, I'm not saying Valve is about to cure cancer or something, but they seem aware of the issues with the current model and they appear to have a well-intentioned idea on where to go with it. It may very well all end up in a bust - I'm sure they weren't planning on Greenlight turning out the way it has - but given that it's all still in planning stage, recognizing existing issues and ideas on how to correct them without creating new ones are the best we could hope for and analysis of the elements of the new system they announce shouldn't be done without consideration of what is known of the rest of the system. High financial barrier of entry would offer some utility in keeping low production value games out, but it comes with downsides of its own, so Valve is looking into alternative solutions that more explicitly target asset flippers and creators of unplayable games. IF these systems don't work out, it would be prudent to try and replace them, but as it is we cannot assume they'll fail before they're even given a try. Not to mention, I'm somewhat puzzled why the article discusses the fee without such context, but whatever :d.

I've never bought any asset flips on steam. What's your problem?

SecondPrize:
I've never bought any asset flips on steam. What's your problem?

I think it has less to do with actually buying asset flips than with the fact they apparently show up a lot on Steam for some people, and since they're rubbish, they're bringing the overall user experience down by just getting all up in people's faces. And then there's the fact discovery queue is a neat idea in and of itself, but it can display these sorts of games and its current algorithm (subject to rework if abovementioned vids are to be believed) generally isn't really up to par.

Ugh. Kinda proof that games jarnalism basically just involves parroting without thought. And can we please just drop the whole curation shit right now. You know the problem with curarating entertainment products. They're fucking entertainment product. That's basically what larger publishers do and we've noticed how that turns out.

They declare whole genres dead because ;reasons' then they mindlessly ape others because 'profit'. This is why we wen't through a period where survival horror and classic JRPG's vanished more or less and every game was a coverbased shooter. We've seen how that road turns out. We've all wondered why a store doesn't have a certain game you're looking for because the owner had some objection with it. That's curation. Curation is basically giving someone else the power to decide what you should have the ability to purchase.

Funnily enough steam does have a curation system. Where people can choose a curation group., but mention it and they always say: 'But they might not look at a game I'm interested in' Yet somehow these same sheeple think that Valve handled curation would be any different. So let's call a spade a spade. Thise whole thing is about a bunch of people who are frightened/overwhelmed by choices that they lack the appropriate level of self-awareness to make and thusly want the choices narrowed down, . But at the same time they don't want/like the idea of someone else having their hands on a game that their shortlist doesn't so they want their shortlist to apply to everyone else so they don't feel left out.

Look . You can't reasonavbly curate entertainment products because there's no telling what someone will find fun. I mean flappy bird has no right to be what it is, neither does fruit ninja but be damned if both games aren't fun to some. Same for angry birds. It goes for ever facet of entertainment, books, music, theatre, films, oh god especially films. Hell Manos hand of fate actually has a fanbase. That's all you need to know. So how do you curate a list of games in a way that doesn't involve telling the people who like those games that you deem un worthy that their kind aren't welcome in your hallowed storefront?

You simply can't.

There's a saying in writing: "There are no Great Books." If you comprehend the depth of that statement you understand twhythe call for curation is garbage.

Now that said, the new system is an actual improvement over greenlight(which failed btw because gamers are apparently cheaper to buy than the 50 year-old hooker behind Arby's). It has two differences. One there must actually be a game ready to download and playable. Not a frickin concept pitch for a game that you're developing or thinking about. Secondly. The cost per submission is $100. Which basically means shotgunning cheap asset flips becomes rather expensive. Thirdly. The recent changes to the way card droips work , more or less mean that they won't be able to tap that secondary revenue stream.

The only real downside is that this will make genuine free to play games rather rare. Also Valve started at the lowest settings. Let's consider. When you step on a treadmill for the first time. Do you crank everything up to max before starting it? No. When you're uusing speakers. Do you turnb the volume to max before turning them on? No. When doing these sorts of things you have to start at the lowest settings so as not to aversely impact the system. Any garnder will tell you that in most casses you'll kill a plant faster with over-watering than under-watering.

They have said that they can adjust it, whether by directly increasing the pricem, or by increasing the rate at which the cost grows. They' can't adjust things willy nilly though without some feedback data. They have to implement something, then observe the effect, moddy , observe, repeat until desired effect is reached.

I think this is much like when people were bawling about how the lack of daily and flash deals would ruin steam sales. Joke, sales actually improved. The average discount got higher across the board.

I disagree with this logic that a higher barrier to entry will prevent bad games... It reeks of a certain snobbery, and all it will prevent is crap games with a low budget.

I guess it depends on whether Steam is envisioned as a console-style platform (where games released on it are implied to go through some kind of testing by Valve), or more like a market (like the Google Play Store). Personally, I prefer the latter- opening up the store so the "common man" can now attempt to compete with the big companies can only be a good thing. And being a PC Gamer, I'm prepared for a certain amount of tinkering or teething problems.

And also, to use an analogy; Amazon, Ebay... All these stores sell huge amounts of crap. It doesn't mean I am forced to buy it. I never, ever buy a game for the sole reason it is available on Steam; just like any other store. It could be seen as slightly patronising to suggest people blindly buy games just because they are on Steam- I don't even do this with console games!

Now maybe there needs to be a testing phase... I quite like how Firefox flags whether an add-on is tested/approved or "experimental". And even then, how do you define quality? By how much it crashes the computer? By whether or not it even launches? If that's the case then a good number of big-name publishers should (rightfully) find their games pulled as well. It's only fair. Why should we accept poor quality just because the game is by Activision rather than Dave down the road?

Again, it all depends on the strategy Valve wants to take... Which seems rather directionless at the moment. If it's truly about ensuring quality, then there should be more of a commitment from publishers to fix bugs large numbers of people have (or face the game being pulled). Alternatively, if they go for more of a market feel, maybe a system similar to Ebay's may be better? (where reviews are actively encouraged and affect a seller's income). I don't actually have a problem with either... Maybe the best solution is even to separate it between Steam and a Steam Market? With Steam games having an implied QA element, whilst Steam Market games have a less restrictive approach? In that sense games with consistently high sales/reviews could still be "greenlighted" to the main store? And for us, as gamers, it can all be available through the same Steam interface?

 

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