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takomabibelot/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Valve asks developers to stop offering games for Steam Greenlight votes

Giveaways are endangering a unique online ecosystem.


Dennis Scimeca

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 11, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 1:41 pm CDT

Valve Software has asked developers who participate in the Steam Greenlight program to stop offering free copies of their games in exchange for upvotes from Steam community members.

“When you give away copies of your game in exchange for votes, you put us in a really uncomfortable position,” reads a statement by Valve published on the Greenlight Developers Group forum, as reported by Steam Database. “We do not think these votes accurately reflect customer interest and it makes our job harder in deciding which games customers would actually buy and play on Steam.”

The premise behind the Steam Greenlight program is that developers post to the community about a game in progress, usually accompanied by screenshots or other media, effectively as a sales pitch to Steam users who then vote on which games they would like to see fast-tracked for distribution on Steam, or “greenlit.” 

Steam Greenlight opens the door to promotional and community efforts that were previously unavailable to indie developers. But how does one tell whether a Steam user is voting for a game on Greenlight because they are interested in the game itself, or because their upvote earns them a copy of the game for free?

The recent debacle surrounding indie FPS game The Slaughtering Grounds, whose developers gave away free Steam keys in exchange for Greenlight votes and then took center ring in a three-ring circus of customer complaints, harsh critical reception, and abusive developer comments became a very public demonstration as to why this practice might need to be challenged.

“We understand that running contests or giving away copies of your game can be viewed as a form of marketing,” reads Valve’s statement. “But for the purposes of Greenlight. we don’t think that giving away copies of your game in exchange for votes accurately reflects genuine customer interest.”

The question of trading Steam keys for upvotes is part of a larger debate as to whether Valve is being too permissive with the games it allows on Steam. In January, popular YouTuber and Steam curator “Nerd Cubed” announced his intention to abandon Steam altogether, owing to his frustration with this perceived lack of quality control.

The Daily Dot asked Valve Software for comment on whether Valve following this announcement will be monitoring Greenlight projects for requests to trade keys for votes, but did not hear back in time for publication.

Photo by takomabibelot/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Feb 11, 2015, 7:42 pm CST