Steam Greenlight was announced last night, detailing a project that will give PC gamers the power to dictate what ends up on Valve's massively successful digital distribution platform. Just over 12 hours later, Valve business development director, Jason Holtman took to the stage at Develop to talk about the roots of the idea. It all started with Team Fortress 2.
Holtman acknowledged that TF2 is "a hat manufacturing game. And that's awesome," but the systems surrounding the hat economy, and Valve's internal development attitudes all contributed to the inception of Steam Greenlight, a practical demonstration of Valve's motto: "anyone can ship anything."
Jason referenced the official TF2 blog as an example of the company's internal attitudes towards creating entertainment. He suggested that the key to its success wasn’t in polished press releases created by marketing men. It was in the freedom for all Valve employees to create all kinds of content for the projects they’re working on. "If the content team hadn't been involved in this activity, including things such as blogposts, it would have sucked," said Jason.
Then Valve opened that involvement up to the community, and the snowball started rolling. “We had customer involvement too. Hey: why don’t you make propaganda posters. That would be fun. People went crazy. They created all this content that started to get consumed as part of the war update.”
“It was the first inkling of what we’re thinking about now,” said Jason, referring to last night’s announcement. “Getting customers involved in the business.”
The popularity Mann-conomy update, which gave players the chance to buy new items with real money, was an important step. Cash incentives for item creators and general enthusiasm for TF2 resulted in a storm of interest among fans. Valve launched the Steam Workshop, to make it even easier to submit items for the game, and were overwhelmed with the response. “Make this hat, make that hat make my grandma’s hat. The amount of stuff we had coming in looked like the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Holtman said.
“We hardly make anything anymore. Not that we’re lazy, There are people who are far better at working out what the engineer should have, what the Demoman should have."
Valve had a similar problem with Steam. There were more indie developers applying for Steam spots than Valve's team of ten could handle. "We had a problem of how do we filter the large number of new indie games out there and put the best ones on Steam," Holtman said. "We also didn't have the ability to encourage people during development."
Greenlight will let players and developers rate projects, crowdsourcing Steam's quality control function and giving indie developers a fair, equal shot at a vaunted Steam spot. Holtman is certain it will succeed: "It provides fans and creates fandom. People will want to do this."
We'll have to wait until August to see how big Greenlight will be, but it's a tremendously exciting prospect for upcoming indie developers.