Code Avarice

What happens when your publisher promises Steam, but Valve says no? Trouble

What happens when your publisher promises Steam, but Valve says no? Trouble

It’s important for games to be on Steam. The digital distribution service owns the majority of the market in PC games, and many players only buy their games via Steam. If you’re not on that service, with few exceptions, it’s very hard to turn a profit on your game. That’s why Paranautical Activity created a Steam Greenlight page while the game was in development; they wanted to make sure they were set to begin the Greenlight process to get their game on Steam early in the game's life.

Then Adult Swim decided they wanted to publish the game, and told the developers of the game that they would be able to get the title on Steam. This was great news! Valve had other plans however, and stated that since the game already had a Greenlight page, it wouldn’t allow the game onto Steam, so as not to send the message that publishers can help you leapfrog the system.

Suddenly Paranautical Activity is in the worst situation possible.

Moving forward

So now what? The relationship with Adult Swim was based on a promise that can't be fulfilled, there is a Greenlight page that was all but dormant, and there is now no simple path for getting onto Steam.

“Well, now we're in full on Greenlight mode. Because that's how Greenlight works unfortunately. It has to be your one and only priority because if not someone else will out-whore you and get more votes,” Paranautical Activity's Michael Maulbeck said. “You’re basically forced to compete against other devs where it's less about quality and more about spamming for votes. The system is a hair's breadth away from a reality TV show.”

Valve has their own take on the situation. “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,” the company told the Penny Arcade Report.

Plan B

So now they’re promoting the game for Greenlight votes, and sending free copies of the game to the press and Youtube personalities. They’re thinking about a Kickstarter, or offering free copies of the game in exchange for people referring friends to vote for it. They need to start pushing the game to get votes through Greenlight, and they need to do it fast.

The deal with Adult Swim seems to have soured as well. “Most of the reason I even considered giving them a chunk of our profits was because I knew we needed to be on Steam to succeed financially, and I knew how hard Greenlight would be,” Maulbeck explained. “I talked to them last night and told them if we have to get onto steam on our own two feet it's just not financially viable to give them a chunk of our profits for what they're offering. Adult Swim tells us that valve is ‘watching them very closely,’ and that they can't come out publicly and support our greenlight for fear of Valve backlash.”

Adult Swim did offer to reach out to the press to help spread the word, but that’s hardly worth 40 percent of the game’s revenue. “They also mentioned they have been in talks with some other companies, even some consoles, but nothing enough to persuade me to take the deal seriously at this point,” Maulbeck said.

He doesn’t have hard feelings for Adult Swim, who claimed both companies got screwed by this deal. “They had put time and effort into this, and they had set up plans based on Valve approving all the games they pitched in their meeting with Valve,” Maulbeck said. “We weren't the only with this fate, there was another game, which Adult Swim didn't mention by name that also got the shaft for being on Greenlight.”

This is a cautionary tale: Make sure your publisher can provide what they promise, and get it in writing. Don't start a Greenlight page unless you're 100 percent sure you're in a position to push for votes. Also remember: There are few sure things in this business.

If you'd like to vote for the game to appear on Steam, you can do so on their page.