I’m not sure what to make of Steam anymore. For video games it is an excellent platform and being one of the few remaining curated platforms the quality was pretty high. A lot of small companies as well as large placed games there and could earn a considerable amount through it. In a changing gaming environment this was one of the few outlets remaining.
Then the Indie developers started to apply pressure for access. So Steam Greenlight was created. Unlike most I believe this was a PR stunt. It was used as a block to indies not to provide access. In the early days the votes needed could not really be obtained but it was a clever bit of flim flam and most fell for it. But there were a group of indie developers that constantly called bullshit and tried to actively force the doors open.
Greenlight could possibly have had a detrimental effect on small businesses. Now everyone, unless they already had a publishing deal in place with Steam, were forced into Greenlight. So some smaller companies that normally could have accessed Steam immediately through a publsihing deal could no longer do so. In certain cases the indie phenomenon, which includes a certian number of hobbyists making what are basically substandard games, can have quite a toxic effect that is unforeseen. Let’s get things straight. There have always been indie developers but the quality bar and entry requirements were quite high which meant very few games were made without quite a large investment by today’s standards. Even today a great deal of what goes on with the indie developers has a gold rush mentality, some of the more cynical that tried to cash in on the smartphone game development in one case that I know of was a group of industry professionals that were basically taking the piss.
So what changed? Well Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo pulled the rug out from under Steam by announcing lowering of entry requirements for their platforms. Indies can now get on these platforms with a lot more ease, so Steam were cornered and had to come up with a solution after repeated claims by Gabe Newell that he knew Greenlight did not work and they were looking at options. Nothing really changed until announcements made by Microsft et al last year. Then Steam started to let in large numbers of games stuck in Greenlight. Games can still go into Greenlight and start ratcheting up votes which strikes me as somewhat peculiar if one is trying to remove Greenlight and starting the process by allowing entry to every game in Greenlight currently which is what some pundits believed was going on. However, Greenlight can still be signed up for. Clearly things are changing but has Steam come up with a workable solution or are they slowly throwing the towel in and Steam will end up as another app store?
Not certain at this point.
Looking at other efforts to cope with the new online media onslaught that could show a way forward for Steam, Random House, the book publisher, seems to be trying out new boutique websites using the brand of well established authors Terry Pratchett seems to be the first out the gate in this case. Basically the idea seems to be to take advantage of the Terry Pratchett brand to sell new books. This seems a good idea to me. Whether it will work is another thing, I personally hope it does.
AS mentioned I believe this also suggests a way forward for a platform like Steam. It would take some time to build up but Steam could operate in a similar fashion. Keep the main storefront which is curated as it is now. Have an off-shoot indie area which operates similar to the app store i.e. limited controls on placing a game there. Then within this indie area utiltise fairly respected and well known game bloggers and youtubers to create storefronts using their brands. Have game reviewers (just as an example) able to sell games via their storefront and earn a percentage doing so. In theory to maintain a good reputation and get a decent following these smaller curated stores will create more visibility for quality games within the Steam platform whilst all the dross wallows in the general search dump.
With any luck Steam will have come up with a much better solution, but I’m not holding my breath in hope.