While Code Avarice has grievances with Valve’s Project Greenlight, Sean Knight thinks they could have gone about airing them in a better way
Is there a right way and a wrong way to get your game out there? Surely, just getting it released at all is achievement enough, isn’t it? Maybe not. For more and more developers in the PC space, getting accepted on to Steam is a make-or-break moment.
Imagine then the despair felt by indie dev Code Avarice when its title Paranautical Activity got rejected by the digital platform’s parent company Valve over the game’s earlier Greenlight campaign.
Maybe you read about it.
The team launched a campaign on the site’s community-selection pages in August 2012, hoping to win favor for its roguelike FPS. Soon after, Code Avarice was approached by publisher Adult Swim, who offered to help the two-man team get the game published on Steam. Valve, however, had other ideas. Developer Mike Maulbeck said he was told that the platform holder “didn’t want to send the message that indies can seek out publishers to bypass Steam Greenlight.”
So, it appears that the game’s only route on to Steam lies through its long-forgotten Greenlight page.
As the story unfolded, Valve’s vice president of marketing Doug Lombardi spoke to Gamasutra,, “We review Greenlight votes, reviews, and a variety of factors in the Greenlight process. However our message to indies regarding publishers is do it for your own reasons, but do not split your royalties with a publisher expecting an automatic ‘Yes’ on Greenlight.”
It’s a sad state of affairs for both sides that won’t do anyone any good. Valve has the right to refuse to publish a game and, in this case, it seems to be a legitimate and justified one, since Avarice went through Greenlight first before deciding to get help from a publisher.
Code Avarice made a costly mistake and I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they didn’t understand, or properly read Project Greenlight’s terms and conditions. Or maybe the T&C didn’t make it clear. I don’t know because Valve are very secretive about these things. What I do know is that this team’s reaction to their predicament isn’t helping their cause.
Because the way they have handled this so far is a perfect example to other indie devs on what not to do.
In an interview with YouTube user Green9090 both Maulbeck and his fellow developer Travis Pfenning talked about their situation. Maulbeck said, “Now we’re just dead in the water. We’ve got a Greenlight campaign that we haven’t touched in months, and we have to resurrect it from the ashes because that’s our only option at this point.”
Anger and frustration is normal for a situation such as theirs and when both developers were asked why it was so important to have their game on Steam, Pfenning immediately replied, “You can’t be successful without it, I don’t think.”
Maulbeck added, “No matter where we get that’s not Steam, like our own website, Desura, GamersGate, GOG.com; no matter how many of those places we are on, it’s all going to be pocket change compared to what we can make on Steam.
“I can’t imagine Paranautical Activity being a really financially successful game without Steam.”
Let’s ignore the fact that there have been games, such as Minecraft, that have become successful without Steam. Maulbeck and Pfenning have shown how important it is to them that their game be published on Steam, yet at the same time show they are not confident that their own product will be successful unless they get it on that platform.
Despite how important this is to them Travis went on to lambast Steam, saying, “If you support indie games, technically, Steam is really not your friend…
“The indie community is being ignored. Even in the PC area over here because Steam has such a hold on it. All these other distributors are good for indies, most of the time, but they can’t even do a drop in the bucket to compare to this monstrosity.”
Strong words to say about a publisher whose platform they are still trying to get on.
Throughout the interview, they showed a disdain not only for Steam but fellow indie developers as well. Maulbecker said, “You look at all of the titles that have been Greenlit…the only thing that they were doing is ‘Vote for our Greenlight, Vote for our Greenlight, don’t buy the game, don’t back us on Kickstarter. Go to Greenlight and hit that little thumbs-up button.’ It’s not about having a good game, it’s about knowing how to trick people and convince people to go and click that little button.
“And you can see that by some of the really, no offense to the developers of some of the games, but some really poor stuff that’s not Steam quality that has been getting onto Steam.”
Pfenning took it even further and said, “There are some totally shit games on Steam. Period. Shit games. How many simulators do we need?” Hmm, or FPSs come to think of it?
Throughout the interview, Maulbeck and Pfenning talked as if their game was great, with Pfenning insulting potential consumers who didn’t seem to like their game, “It’s not so much these little 14-year-olds who get on here and downvote you because your artwork looks like Minecraft. Because their brains aren’t developed enough to determine there is a difference between mechanics and aesthetics.”
All through this, though, not once did Code Avarice ever admit that they might be in the wrong for not having the foresight to prevent such a situation from occurring, In fact, where is Adult Swim in all of this? Adult Swim, according to Maulbeck, isn’t going to help them with their Greenlight campaign and there is no signed deal between them.
Adult Swim, though is still offering to help advertise the game, according to Maulbeck, who said, “We haven’t officially decided whether or not we want to go with them. But the fact we have to get onto Steam on our own two feet is a real bummer. The only reason I even gave them the time of day was we need to be on Steam.”
This brings up the final issue I have with Code Avarice and this entire situation. They kept looking to other people to advertise and market their game for them. Not wanting to market their own game yet insulting fellow indie developers on Greenlight who are able to successfully get people to vote for their projects is rather petty.
However, Greenlight is a flawed system. A fact that Gabe Newell himself has said on occasion. Yet it is a better option than when Valve was going through it all themselves and indie games were barely trickling out. Of course, Valve’s silence on the matter, aside from what Lombardi said, isn’t helping them at all. If anything, Valve needs to further clarify their stance on the situation or risk losing indie developers and watch as Project Greenlight starts to lose whatever momentum it has gained with the indie market.
Even then, there are other options for Code Avarice. Maulbeck admitted, “Right now we are making enough money to survive on what we are getting from BMT Micro and Desura.”
There are also GOG.com and Gamersgate, while Origin is looking at indie developers and Amazon is making a huge push for the same. Despite all these options Code Avarice seems to be hoping to get rich quick by getting its game on Steam. But at the same time, the developers insult and curse at Valve, Steam, and Project Greenlight.
This situation should teach other indie developers to plan ahead and look at their options. They can go look for a publisher, get funding on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or take their game to Project Greenlight. But they need to remember that they are responsible for selling and pitching their game.
Code Avarice is a clear example of how indie developers should not behave when faced with such a situation. Not if they want to convince consumers to buy their product on the merits of their game rather than foisting off responsibility to someone else or vilifying someone to be their scapegoat.