Steam’s Greenlight: The Two Sided Echo Chamber.

With this whole 1 review a week deal thing I committed to at the start of the year I often find myself getting towards the end of a week without having a game fully completed for review. Most of the time its because a game will overrun the amount of available time I have to complete it (like Borderlands 2 did for this week) and then I’ll usually do a mad rush looking for a recent release that has a shorter game time in order to make deadline. Yesterday’s review of McPixel was one of these such occasions and whilst I’d like to say that I came across it due to it being the first ever project to be Greenlit onto Steam I instead found out about it due the hubbub it made on the various game sites I frequent.

Of course I found out about this afterwards when I went to post my review to the Steam community boards for McPixel. What surprised me though is unlike many of the other discussion boards which usually focus on issues, improvements and just generally talking about the game I found a thread¹ with over 100 comments wondering why this game was brought to steam in the first place. Whilst there was no shortage of people defending McPixel it certainly seemed to be an argument that split the community right down the middle. That seems rather strange as Greenlight is predicated on the fact that the community wants that game to come to the Steam platform and it raises some questions about how it will function going forward.

Steam Greenlight, for the uninitiated, is a crowd approval system developed by Valve in order to tap the collective desires of their customer base. Put simply it allows developers to put one of their games which is not currently available on Steam up on the Greenlight site and should it prove popular enough by votes from the larger Steam community it will find itself on the platform in short notice. For unproven and independent developers it’s a great way to use their community in order to leverage onto the biggest digital distribution platform around and I’m firmly with (I feel) the majority who believe its a good idea. McPixel’s addition to the Steam catalogue via this process seems to have set a fire underneath a part of the community, something which you wouldn’t expect given the nature of how it came onto the platform.

As with anything that attempts to tap into the wisdom of crowds not every decision that is born of that process will be unanimously accepted by said crowd. Thus it was inevitable that McPixel’s release would be met with some less than stellar sentiment. The thread I stumbled across then was a kind of two sided echo chamber with the supporters, who were likely involved in getting the game Greenlit in the first place, rallying against the other side who derided it for the confusing game play and seemingly crude production. Strangely enough Sos, the developer behind McPixel, cites these very characteristics as things that previously stopped McPixel from appearing on Steam in the first place when he tried to get it on there through the official channels.

What does this mean then for Greenlight as a service? I’m not entirely sure, if I’m honest as realistically it’s not an uncommon thing to encounter with Internet based communities. I think it’s probably telling of the wide range of gamers who are present on Steam and whilst Greenlit games will be a good indication of those who support that title it’ll be less obvious how the wider community will react to it. It’d be interesting to see the numbers of support vs not interested as that’s captured within Greenlight (although whether people actually click that button or simply ignore the game is another question entirely).

In all honesty the reaction shouldn’t have come as a surprise but I definitely wasn’t expecting it, especially for a game that was met with such universal approval everywhere else. Whilst the first game that was brought to Steam via the community might not have attracted an unanimous approval rating it certainly hasn’t been met with universal criticism so there is still a lot of value to be derived from Greenlight. It will be interesting to see if this dual echo chamber effect comes into play on other Greenlit titles as it certainly has the potential to do so.

¹At the time of writing I was unable to get into the Steam community boards in order to link to the thread directly.

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