Greenlight, the fast way

David Stark / Zarkonnen
27 Aug 2014, 3:12 p.m.

A concrete demonstration of the kind of madness that is Greenlight just came past. I am going to describe it without naming names, because while I am kind of mad at the developer, this isn't about attacking them, it's about showing the perverse incentives this thing now operates under.

A few days ago, a game got released on Steam, freshly greenlit. It got a large chunk of its Greenlight votes via a bundle offer, which promised to Greenlight upvoters that they would get a copy upon the game's release. Now the game is on Steam and marked as early access. The developers insist that this means it has not yet been released, and they aren't going to give out keys to the bundle buyers yet. A lot of people, gathering angrily on the forums, say that the game is on Steam now, and they would like to see the developer uphold their end of the deal.

At this point, the developer tweets (again, anonymising here a bit):

Should I explain to Bundle X users that handing them 3000 keys bought at about ten cents each would be very bad for our Early Access launch?

Yes! Yes, it would be! That's what I meant when I wrote that these kind of deals will cannibalize your sales! You made a deal with the bundle customers: they would propel your game into the Steam store, a very lucrative opportunity for your game, and you would give them copies of the game practically for free. And now you don't even want to pay for your fast-track deal.

Later they tweet:

FYI: as soon as you hand out keys to Bundle X buyers, Steam sales freeze.

Yep. Your sales got cannibalized.

The horrible thing about Greenlight is that it's a competition. I do not begrudge the developer their Steam access, and I actually quite like what I've seen of their game. But there is another game out there on Greenlight that did not make it into Steam because this one zoomed past it on the rankings on votes from this bundle. And what's more, because games are entering Greenlight faster than they are getting picked up, there may be some other game that will never get through Greenlight because this one extra artificial raising of the bar means its trajectory is going to fall just short. It may even be mine, and that is why I sound so angry.