Valve Announces $100 Steam Direct Publishing Fee, Changes For Curators

Valve announced earlier this year that it would replace Greenlight, the program that allowed independent developers to sell their wares on Steam if they received enough support from the service's users, with a new program called Steam Direct. When it made the announcement, Valve said devs would have to pay a then-undetermined publishing fee. Now we know how much it will cost to launch a game via Steam Direct: $100.

That's on the low end of the range Valve threw out with its original announcement. The company said at the time that developers were open to paying between $100 and $5,000 to publish their games on Steam. Many studios could probably handle that $5,000--but indie devs might not be able to bear that financial burden. Given the control Steam exerts over game publishing--many people only purchase games through the service--the choice then became paying a high licensing fee with the hope of recouping it via sales or simply avoiding Steam altogether.

The decision kicked up plenty of discussion. Moving from a free platform (Greenlight) to a paid one (Steam Direct) was always going to be controversial. Adding in the possibility of charging $5,000 to launch a game on Steam all but guaranteed the internet would be lit ablaze with heated discussions. (Or whatever metaphor works for a bunch of people communicating via social platforms.) Valve appears to have taken all those conversations to heart. Here's what the company said about its decision to go with the low end of that price range for Steam Direct:

Since then, we've seen a bunch of great conversations discussing the various pros and cons of whether there should be an amount, what that amount should be, ways that recouping could work, which developers would be helped or hurt, predictions for how the store would be affected, and many other facets to the decision. There were rational & convincing arguments made for both ends of the $100-$5000 spectrum we mentioned. Our internal thinking beforehand had us hovering around the $500 mark, but the community conversation really challenged us to justify why the fee wasn't as low as possible, and to think about what we could do to make a low fee work.

The company also said that it will be changing how Steam works to make it easier to find quality games. That was the whole point of switching to Steam Direct--the marketplace had become so cluttered with games that it could be hard to find something worth playing. Charging a fee is a good way to stop low effort games (or even broken titles using stolen assets to scam people into spending a few bucks) from distracting from worthwhile titles. Valve doesn't want to completely stop the flow of games to Steam, though, so the introduction of Steam Direct isn't  enough.

That's where humans come in. Valve said that it's "going to look for specific places where human eyes can be injected into the Store algorithm, to ensure that it is working as intended, and to ensure it doesn't miss something interesting." This is similar to the approach Apple takes with Apple Music. Instead of trusting algorithms to identify music you might like, the company has living, breathing humans create playlists or run internet radio stations. Some tracks are still recommended via algorithm, but the idea is that humans currently have better taste than computers.

Or, as Valve put it:

We believe that if we inject human thinking into the Store algorithm, while at the same time increasing the transparency of its output, we'll have created a public process that will incrementally drive the Store to better serve everyone using it.

And not all of those humans will come from Valve. The company introduced "curators" as part of the Discovery Update, and those people or publications are able to recommend games to their followers. But the system is limited; curators can't share videos next to their picks, for example, or curate specific lists of games. Valve is going to address both of those problems: Curators will soon be able to show content from other platforms next to their recommendations and "create personal lists of games" so their picks can be a little more useful.

This would allow curators to, for example, share their review of a game from YouTube and include their recommendation in a list of worthwhile items from a sale. Both should make finding games on Steam much easier. Now you'll have binary feedback (was this game recommended or not?) next to content with more information (YouTube reviews, written analysis, etc.) inside lists with meaning ("Here's what's worth buying in the Steam Summer Sale!") instead of a vague list of recommendations.

Valve said it will also make it easier to give curators early access to games:

Another big request came from both Curators and developers, who want an easier way to help Curators get pre-release access to upcoming games. It's often hard for Curators to get the attention of developers who build the specific kinds of games that a Curator covers, and it can be similarly hard for a smaller developer to find the Curators who would be interested. So we're building a system that will make that a painless process for everyone involved, which means that you should see more useful curations coming out of the Curators who like to explore newer titles.

These changes are part of Valve's continued efforts to improve Steam. The company has also been more transparent about what happens on Steam over the last few months by publishing customer support analytics, making the store explain why it's recommending a certain game, and explaining its thinking in series of blog posts. Those are important developments, because Steam is central to many PC gamers' ability to enjoy their hobby. There are other places to buy games, sure, but for many "Steam" is synonymous with "games marketplace."

Valve said it will offer more information about when these changes--and Steam Direct--will debut in a future blog post.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • darkguy2
    I think this is a good step forward and the $100 seems fair. $100 may not be a small amount, but if you put a lot of effort into your game then it is well worth it to sell it on Steam. I remember the days before greenlight when you could find a game you wanted to play with little trouble. I thought greenlight was a good idea, but people took advantage of it and spammed low effort ripoffs that flooded the steam store and made it next to impossible to find a good indie game to play that may not be well known. I am glad that steam is taking this issue seriously and modifying their solution based on community feedback.
  • coolitic
    If you can't afford to even pay $100 then what the hell are you doing trying to publish a game? Personally I think $100 is a bit too low, but $5000 would definitely be too high.
  • cryoburner
    They should have charged more, as this will do absolutely nothing to keep the mountains shovelware off Steam. In fact, it could even be worse now. Even if the Greenlight voting system was easily gamed and not very effective at filtering what got onto Steam, it at least slowed the process down a bit. With this, "developers" can easily release piles of tech demos thrown together from pre-built assets, or rough ports of mediocre smartphone games, and easily make that tiny submission fee back just by tossing them into third-rate bundles. Even if they make just 10 cents per copy sold in a bundle, they've already broken even on the submission fee once the bundle has moved 1000 copies. They don't actually have to sell any copies through Steam itself to profit from the shovelware.

    Even as it is, Steam will apparently reimburse the $100 fee once a developer has hit $1000 in sales through their store, so why not make the fee a bit higher? Valve mentioned in their blog post that they were initially planning for the fee to be around $500, and that would have been much better. They could have simply not collected their usual 30% cut of sales until that amount is paid back. So for a $10 game, a developer would break even with just 50 copies sold, and would have completely recouped the initial fee after selling just 167 copies. If a developer isn't expecting at least $500 in sales through Steam, then that's probably a good sign that their game might not be something people want on the platform. Even just $300 would have been better, while retaining the current $1000 in sales to fully recoup that fee.

    The problem with letting anything on Steam with next to no barrier to entry, is that the store gets cluttered with games people don't actually want to play, and it becomes harder for people to find the lesser-known titles that are actually good, and that have had actual effort put into their development. Perhaps the improvements to curator features and suggestion algorithms might help a bit, but I have doubts that things will actually improve much with such a minimal fee for Steam Direct.