It was my understanding that anyone could release on Steam until greenlight came out.
Definitely not! I'd hate that. There's enough junk apps in the appstores as it is. Steam is a cultivated collection of games. Games they think are actually semi-decent, they add. Some junk gets through, but not much.
The problem is, Steam is so popular that everyone tries to get on it, and they get swamped by submissions, and can't handle it all, so good games that should
be on Steam are overlooked. This is what Greenlight is attempting to solve (or at least reduce).
All these years I was tricked into thinking how cool and awesome Steam was, and yet it's nothing I thought it was.
You weren't tricked into it. Steam is cool and awesome, but maybe not for the reasons you thought.
Valve is a really well known game developer who creates really well known games (Half Life, Team Fortress, Portal, CounterStrike, Left 4 Dead). They creates a system that allows them to auto-patch and update their games more frequently to improve their games. Then they expanded it to sell their own games directly to the user, cutting out Publishers (1/3rd of the cost) and becoming their own Store (1/3rd of the cost). It just makes more sense, financially.
Then, other game developers came to them and said, "Wow, that's pretty cool. Could you sell our games too?", and they said 'Sure!' and charged less than publishers and stores did, giving a larger share of the profits to the developers directly. Also, they frequently sell the games for less money than other places do, have almost constant sales going on at really steep discounts... to the benefit of themselves, the developers, and the consumers. Everybody is happy with it.
Some (most!) of the games they have are from other large game developers. Some are from large publishers who still take a cut, some from indie developers.
But Valve, while crazily supporting Indie developers in a number of huge ways*, isn't an indie studio (although they are 'independent' from publishers, in the original use of the term 'indie developer', they aren't 'indie' in the more recent (past 5 years) meaning of the word, which just means 'micro game studio'). Also while Valve definitely permits, encourages, and works directly with indie games on their digital store, Steam isn't "For" indie games. It was originally for patching Valve's own games, an then it was for selling and distributing Valve's own games, and later other games whether large or small.
*Like using indie games to help launch their own commercial triple-A game, Portal 2, bringing huge amount of attention and sales to the indies they involved. Portal 2 didn't need the attention from the indie games, it already was guaranteed to be a huge success; but by using the indie games to help lead up to the launch of Portal 2, it helped bring mainstream attention to those smaller games.
Valve helped grow digital distribution into more mainstream audiences. They support indie, but aren't indie (and don't claim to be). They help indie developers and sell indie games, but also sell mainstream games - infact, they sell more mainstream games then indie games.
Back in 2006, when I first wanted to play Half life 2, I was told by a friend I knew online that Steam charges a monthly fee for the Steam service, even after purchasing the game you want to play. I hated that, so I didn't play Halflife 2 until mid-2007 when I found out that the monthly fee was completely entirely false. I was tricked. But not by Valve.
Valve isn't running some kind of mis-information campaign - They aren't trying to capitalize off the "Indie" hype, they're one of the primary reasons why indies are being hyped.
They also aren't trying to pretend they are selling (primarily) indie games - They have huge rront-page banners saying: "Skyrim! Assassin's Creed 3! Dues Ex: Human Revolution!" and every other mainstream game.
They also aren't trying to pretend that they are indie themselves - They created some of the most well-known triple-A games of the past decade, from their first game in 1997 (Halflife - Game of the Year, and bajillion awards) to the longest-running and still most-popular multiplayer FPS of all time (Counterstrike), to their wildly successful recent hits (Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2).
They are first a large, popular, successful game studio - and second a large, popular, successful digital store. They aren't publishers. But they are developers, and they are distributors.
Apparently it charges about 30-40% for each sale too which is pretty steep for a company that I hear is built by indies for indies and innovation.
It's a digital store: Ofcourse it takes a share of each sale that it earned you that you otherwise wouldn't have made. 70% of something is better than 100% of nothing. And unlike alot of other companies, Steam does not request, badger, require, or attempt to purchase exclusivity.
Why do they need to charge? greatness in a pool of garbage will rise to the top by votes from users.
What the masses think will be great, and what actually turns out to be great, are not always equal. This is rule #1 of game design: The player knows what he has already liked, and he knows what he currently hates, but he thinks
(often incorrectly) he knows what what he will like in the future.
The reason for charging the $100 is because they were spammed by a bunch of people who didn't read any of the rules.
- Several hundred joke submissions (Medal of Honor: Warfighter 3, and get the Battlefield 4 Beta was one I personally saw)
- Several hundred submissions from people who thought it was a "Suggest a game for us to add" (plenty of Minecraft-request submission for instance)
- Several hundred submissions from people who are presenting an 'idea I just had for a game!' instead of an actual in-development game.
And they got a good 100 or so real submissions of real games actually completed or near completion actually submitted by the actual developers.
Charging a fee immediately cuts down on the spam, which makes it easier to find the real deal and get them properly voted on.
Donating the fee to charity underlines the fact that they aren't trying to eek out extra dollars from Greenlight, but that the fee is actually only there to combat spam.
That's how iphone/android work, and that's how kickstarter works.
Kickstarter only works that way because is isn't mainstream enough yet to really be spammed heavily, and because Kickstarter has to approve your campaign before it's public.
I think the overall issue I have with it is that when I spend money on something I want something in return. I'm paying 100 dollars for.....a tiny icon to click on greenlight in hopes that people will upvote and then after all the upvotes have second hopes that Steam will let me through? Pretty lame for 100 bucks.
iPhone and XBox Live Arcade are the same way though - both cost $100 for membership, with no guarantee you'll be approved.
iPhone just lets more junk (650,000+ apps) through the gates then Steam (1,500+ games) or XBox Live Arcade (500+ games).
I'd rather have the higher quality in the signal to noise.
But also, I'd rather not have to pay $100 to get considered. Luckily, I think the old submission process is still available - you could always skip the fee and submit to Valve directly. Greenlight is just to get higher recognition within Valve about your game by having the community tell Valve that they want the game even when Valve might not have allowed your game on their own, they may have second thoughts if the community shows your game enough approval. It's a secondary route to approval from Valve - if they first say, "Naw, I don't think your game is a good match for Steam" and the community backs it, they may say, "Well, the community wants it, so we'll reconsider it".
The pie chart shows a normal non-digital revenue distribution in the United States (And not that long ago, games were $50, not $60 - so even further reduced margins, though development costs were cheaper
The blue chunk that says 'publisher' (less than half), after covering the funding (paid by the publisher), and the marketing cost (paid by the publisher), then the rest gets divided (unevenly - the publisher gets a larger share) between the publisher and the actual developer. The actual developer gets very little, and often times has to continue being beholden to the publisher for game after game after game, because it is dependent on the publisher's funding for the next game to pay for the salaries of the developer's employees. The studio is caught in this cycle permanently, until A) Their game flops badly enough that the publisher won't fund their next game, and the studio collapses. or B) Their game succeeds so extremely that the studio's share actually allows the studio to self-fund their next game (but still depend on the publisher for distribution agreements), and if that self-funded game fails, it puts them back where they were previously in the cycle.
Some studios eventually (through a string of hits, or through one super-hit) break free completely. Most eventually collapse and the employees form new studios to take it's place. The rest never succeed so wildly to become self-funded, and never fail so badly to collapse, and just stay in the same publisher-beholden position for the entire studio lifespan. Sometimes the publisher might just purchase the studio and make it an 'in-house' studio.
Steam (and the other digital stores) offer another option: Since a studio cannot get distribution deals with stores like WalMart or GameStop themselves, and don't have CD-pressing facilities and trucks to ship the merchandise, they have to go through publishers. But digital stores like Steam are willing to work directly with developers, and CDs don't have to be produced and shipped. It puts studios in a slightly greater chance of becoming successful and independent (the original meaning of independent: A studio that finally becomes self-funded and so is independent from, though it may still work with, the publishers). It also puts studios in a slightly better bargaining position with publishers.
At least, that's my understanding of how things go. I never worked in the industry myself, and (being rather young - 22 yrs) only started really paying attention to these things around 2007 or so. Actual industry vets may have a different (more accurate) perspective.