The gaming world was abuzz recently with the news that Steam would be killing its controversial Greenlight program in favor of Steam Direct, where developers would pay a one-time fee to just get their app on Greenlight. But that fee has been discussed as being up for debate – and it could be as high as $5,000. This is horrifying to me, as it has the potential to scare away a lot of developers who have more talent than resources. And crazily, I've seen people say that they want a similar system on the App Store to help with the problems that come with shovelware plaguing the stores. But I don't think shovelware is quite the crisis other people say that it is, and I fear any move to curtail it by making it harder to access stores will have negative consequences. Plus, I think there's a moral objection to the idea of being an even stricter gatekeeper.

First off, I am skeptical that making it more expensive to submit apps/games will help quality at all. It's not like every scammer is a broke jerk. Seriously, you're telling me that there's not some rich jerk kids out there who are producing bad games or copyright scams? Or people with more money than ethics or sense? Maybe higher fees for submission, or a per-app submission fee will catch a few more bad actors, but do not assume that access to funds and quality products are directly correlated.

Second, higher prices will have the unintended consequence of chasing out independent creators who aren't making a lot of money. There are developers on the App Store who make decent apps that sometimes don't make the $100 per year back. Their work deserves to be on the App Store, they're not low-effort junk. Increasing the developer fee or introducing draconian submission fees would chase out more people who would just simply say that it's not worth it to even try and break the lowest threshold for what could at some point be considered breaking even. Raising per-app submission fees would hurt prolific creators of smaller apps and games. Steam and Google could at least use the excuse that they're not the only distribution option on their platforms. Apple would have no excuse, it would just be an incredibly toxic move.

Third, is low-effort shovelware really that bad of a problem? Yeah, all the digital distribution stores are full of it. You know what they're also full of? Fun, high-quality games that were not feasible to make when tools and distribution were harder to come by. And with the major distribution stores having easier refund policies, all that a bad game could cost is just some time. And with the wealth of coverage and YouTube footage for games, it's far easier to tell what looks unacceptable and what doesn't than in days of old, where there were fewer games and information on them was more tightly controlled. Yeah, there's a lot of shovelware out there, but the costs to players are often just a few wasted minutes instead of being stuck with a bad game on a cartridge that you can't return.

Fourth, this is some no-good exclusionary crap. I'm fine with nominal fees to get onto marketplaces, if only as an idiot tax. There are some people who shouldn't have unfettered access to the App Store or Google Play. I'm fine for very baseline gateways because I may be idealistic, but I'm not an idiot. And if Steam Direct isn't too expensive for developers, especially if smaller ones get access to the store, then that's an acceptable set of circumstances. There are bad actors out there and a simple screen door like a nominal fee helps out a lot. But if these fees increase to even greater amounts, then what happens is that more and more legitimate developers will get caught in the net.

Yeah, there's people that are putting up low-effort content. But are you willing to trade off shutting out some of these low-effort titles in exchange for all the genuine content that you're shutting out from creators that might struggle to pay more than the current fees? Students can make quality games, and if there's anything you should know about students, it's that they don't generally have a lot of money. Even just as a PR move, if submission fees get to be prohibitively expensive, then it's going to look terrible when some low-effort garbage gets through and a genuine quality game from a developer living paycheck to paycheck just trying to pursue their dream can't get on to the major stores in the first place. I have a severe moral objection to the idea that we should make it more expensive to distribute games on the platforms that people are using. Open digital distribution is a very, very good thing.

What is really the issue with access to current distribution models, anyway? Greenlight's complaints seem rooted in 2012's problems, when it was tough to get through Greenlight. But that was as much a byproduct of the early rush onto the Steam marketplace. Considering the current batch of games you see on Steam, I think And honestly, if a developer can't scrounge the votes together for Greenlight, then the number one reason to be on that store in the first place, finances, kind of disappears. At least PC gaming has platforms like itch.io and self-distribution so nobody's truly shut out. Google Play's limited approvals means that unless your app is undercutting Google's business model, such as ad blockers, then pretty much any developer can get on. For better or for worse. And some developers prefer Google Play to iOS because of the platform's greater freedoms.

Yeah, discovery sucks right now, but it also seems like an impossible problem when quality can be so subjective and there's so much to recommend, too. And considering that we live in an era where part-time creators can make games and apps that belong on these stores, I don't know if it's getting better. It's tough out there if you're trying to make a living in any form of media when you have thousands of worthy competitors.

So let's at least look at it from a question of shovelware. The answer might be for multibillion dollar corporations to start putting more effort into curation and approvals. Curation can be tough: working with knowledgeable influencers and media can be helpful. You, as a reader, should try to support the influencers, media, and curators that you trust in whatever way you can, whether that be us, a YouTuber, streamer, whoever. But as far as quality policing goes, there's part of me that empathizes with the difficulty of sorting out the terrible from the at least acceptable. I could see where, especially on the App Store, it can be a difficult problem to figure out what's acceptable and what isn't. But when I see preventable mistakes get through with shovelware, and I see Apple's not exactly a struggling startup, nor is Google, nor Valve. They have the resources to figure things out in order to improve consumer confidence, possibly drive more business, and make their stores better. And if you think I'm wrong on Valve and Steam, I'm not the only one saying they have the resources to fix Steam: John Walker of Rock Paper Shotgun makes this point.

I get that it's not easy, but I think there are methods to get rid of some of the absolutely unacceptable titles: the copyright infringement, the offensive beyond being worthy of being even on the fringes of public discourse, and the extremely low-effort titles. There have to be ways to do all this without raising the barrier to entry for game developers. Lowering them created a world where we have countless great games. Niche genres and fresh takes on existing ones appear on a regular basis. We cannot harm that part of the gaming world.

I know the status quo for games and discovery feels suboptimal. But maybe it's the best we have right now. Every form of media is dealing with the issue of having colossal amounts of content, especially on the music and television sides of the industry to go along with games.

  • Bliquid

    Excellent piece, Carter.
    Can't do nothing but agree with what you say.

  • Michal Hochmajer

    Bravo Carter. I made similar post about this under Vigil RPG, looks like it was considered as spam (I am evidently famous amongst TA spam filter muhaha).

  • MintCity

    I LOVED reading this. I have been pondering a lot about the content of this piece for quite a while. I couldn't agree more with you Carter. Cheers!

  • dancj

    I've never agreed with you more.

  • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

    Scams exist BECAUSE they are profitable. Shovelers may have deeper pockets than creative one-person hobby operations that can deliver real gems.

    • Stormourner of the Nature

      scammers don't deserves money, I would rather pay a ported game from the original developers

  • rod-

    Technically I agree but practically I don't. If my options are between curated content posted by developers with resources and spending a decade unable to even FIND a game that fits my desires even though they surely exist, I choose the former.

    I know I am presenting a false choice and so are you. There are multitudes of discovery options that simply are not being delivered by the distributors. I mean, how difficult would it be for steam to give me a toggle switch that hides DLC for games I don't own??? Every time I look through the new releases section I am buried in DLC that I don't care about, to the point that I can't be assured that I am aware of new releases even in very specific tags (which are all I care about...).

    The App Store is of course twenty times worse. I can't go onto the App Store searching for a new game that I might like. I have to rely on Touch Arcade for that. The problem with that is my tastes don't actually overlap with touch arcade very well. The games I like to play don't ever get reviews and I doubt they have even a 40% chance of being on the 'new games' threads when they're released. But discovering 40% of the games is the best I can get. And that annoys me, and I'm sure it annoys the developers as well, as they can't make money if they can't find me!

    • InTheAir

      It looks like tou have more of a problem with targeted curation tools digital storefronts provide. On Steam, the front page has games targeted to what you have on your Steam account. On the App Store, every country's store is the same. If Apple were to start automatically curating it's apps, then it's my belief that the system used to put your game on the App Store could stay.

  • YankeeBlue000

    Ooh lawd!? Please lets not make it more scarier than it already is for these Devs to make a game and put it out there. It would be over for decent premium iOS gaming I agree with this article 200%. Preach brother!!

  • dancingcrane

    Agree with article. My kids 22 and 17, want to make games, and they are busting a gut learning how to do it right. Even their parents (us) couldn't foot a $5000 fee for their attempts. There has to be a way in for the genius creative starving students, too

  • InTheAir

    A point that was brought up in the Steam Direct video you linked. Since you need some baseline paperwork to get up on Steam Direct, wouldn't it be harder on students who don't have an established buisness?

  • Walton Nuedorff

    I hope the Apple doesn't do this.
    It would kill the iOS indie gaming almost entirely.

  • fabell

    Strangely, the same people who are complaining about there being too much content are also the same kind of people who will get shut out with the fee-based system of Steam Direct: smaller, no-name developers who release games that generally only receive a cult-like community. But I do have an icky feeling that the big AAA studios are tired of having to compete with RPG Maker games, and that while they wouldn't necessarily say they wanted to restrict smaller developers from the pie, a 5k fee would be a welcome chance if it meant more people playing their games and less people spending their hours on lower-priced "shovelware".

  • http://wizodd.tumblr.com Wizard of Odyssey

    Carter, you are a good writer with an excellent grasp of all sides of the situation. I want to say something snarky but I respect you too much! Too bad about your face though. 😛

  • jin choung

    "Third, is low-effort shovelware really that bad of a problem?" -- YES. as a consumer, i want the bar to be higher. if you can't make back $5k from what you're peddling, i don't want you cluttering shelfspace.

    • dancingcrane

      There are too many gems out there which are labors of love for their creators, who may never clear $500, never mind $5000 from a particular game after all the time and money spent to create it. They deserve a chance to not be cut out of the competition by inflated entrance requirements that only benefit bigger businesses that can eat the cost. Consider that shovelware comes from some of the deeper pockets, too. EA, I'm looking at you.

      • jin choung

        what gems?? what gems are worthy of the name that can't make $5k???

      • YankeeBlue000

        If you pour all heart and money and time into your where would you get $5000 from especially if your a student or indie Dev trying to self publish

    • Chiller ONE

      This dude gets it.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Yeah sure, because money dictatorship will lead to best experience. Jeez.
      Shop can clean their shelves, from time to time, you know?
      Communities can talk about game they love.
      But last thing I want is big publisher producing below average games, occupying appstore...and nothing else.
      You are literally calling for that.
      Because Big companies past mobile decade showed us, how important gamers are (caugh Bioshock).

      • Chiller ONE

        I'm literally not calling for anything.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        reaction on: "jin choung"

  • lezrock

    Anybody remembers the coding learning app by Apple especially for kids? They released it not long ago. It wouldn't make any sense to empower the younger crowd to dig into learning how to code a game in the first place and then hinder them on publishing it in subsequence. Nope! At least I wouldn't do it.

  • curtisrshideler

    Sounds like it'll only encourage more indie developers to avoid Steam. And if it came to the App Store I'd fear we'd see less indies and even more big devs release crappier F2P stuff.

  • Chiller ONE

    I think everybody needs to calm down.

    We have no idea yet what the fees on Steam Direct will be.
    I've heard every number from $100 to $5000 but nothing's been confirmed yet.
    Valve also said the fee was recoupable but nobody seems to know how that works.

    Lets be honest here for a moment.
    How is a dev that can't even afford to pay the fee gonna make a successful game? Yes you can spend $0 on marketing and still make money but the chances of that are next to zero.

    No matter how this plays out, Greenlight has been an unmitigated disaster and I'm glad its gone.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      You're Not telling truth.
      If fee will be too low, let's say 100$ like on iOS, then nothing will be solved (AppStore).

      If fee will be too high, let's say 5000$, vast majority of small developers will pass (think carefuly and read articles about development of smaller projects...both successful or not).

      And there is nothing like compromise between. Sure high fee solves number of games in store, do not solve quality at all. Actually, do exact opposite (history of game industry)!

      Sure Valve can make program like, we are not cutting 30%, but first 5k$ income will be ours (then back to 30% cut). Doesn't solve flooded store.

      I've already made long post about potential balanced system good for everyone (under TA article: RPG Reload Feature - The Curious Case of Premium Spin-Offs of F2P Hits).

      • Chiller ONE

        I'm not really sure what you are saying but are you trying to tell me that marketing doesn't matter?

      • Michal Hochmajer

        Steam Direct is unnecessary obstacle, as long as it will ask for fee and will solve not that much.

      • iconoplast

        It isn't just the fee that's in question with Steam. They're having Valve employees evaluate the game (in essence, making sure that there is a game and it isn't an asset rip). The evaluators can also send a game back to the submitter with suggestions as to how to improve it.

        That said, the fee to get a listing on Greenlight was $100, so I would expect Valve knows that amount doesn't stop very much. I would bet they settle on some sort of sliding scale. Also, keep in mind that games with a publisher didn't have to use Greenlight, and I haven't seen anything saying that anyone is allowed out of the evaluation systems.

  • Michal Hochmajer

    Sorry I made long post trying to explain, why your point of view is wrong. But TA spam filter/moderator hate my long posts, so figure it by yourself.

    I don't like flooded store more then anyone else...

    • jin choung

      funny thing is i'm not wrong. you are.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        Nay, tried post my previous explanatory replay five times. Nevermind. Hope your point of view will never happen...

        Thanks TA I can't debate about topic which interests me.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        You have I bit narrow mind and even worse manners... 🙂
        Just joking.

        This topic is interesting and would be more than appreciated to hear oposite opinion. Valid arguments to be precise.
        Should We continue in forum (if i find my account)?
        Interested?