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Why Steam Greenlight is a remarkably good failure

Steam Greenlight is a failure?
Attempting to automate a selection process that had showed some shortcomings, Valve decided to launch Greenlight in 2012. Greenlight is a mechanism that allows everyone to vote “yes” or “no” to support a game being published on Steam. Games must be inserted by their own developers.The titles with the highest number of votes are periodically “greenlit” by Valve and put up for sale on Steam. The following is my experience as a developer on Greenlight.

Mosaico on Greenlight

As soon as Valve decided to accept software submissions, in addition to games, the moment seemed perfect to put Mosaico’s popularity to the test on Greenlight. I paid the submission fee (90 euros) and started creating the product’s page. I wrote a description, uploaded some screenshots, filled some fields and everything was set. Mosaico’s page on Greenlight went live on December 27th 2012, getting 7 positive and 17 negative votes. The next day the visits were an impressive 101 with 31 positive votes. Initially I was a little bit worried about the 1/2 positive to negative ratio, but then I realized that only positive votes count and, after all, you can’t please everyone. Ultimately I had put Mosaico on Greenlight well aware that it was a long journey, and that the greatest benefit was to have users feedback and a great exposure. Unfortunately the number of voters didn’t raise anymore, on the contrary it started to fall from that moment on, through ups and downs.
Votes for Mosaico on Steam Greenlight
The only thing remaining stable was the 1/2 yes to no ratio. After a couple of terrible days (with 0 and 1 positive votes) I thought that something was necessary in order to shake things up. I spent a couple of hours between Camtasia and AudioJungle and came up with an half-decent catchy short video that I put on Mosaico’s Greenlight page. I started to receive comments from interested users, who liked Mosaico and who clearly understood its core features. I think that users feedback is the best thing a software developer could ask for. So I thought about a way to encourage user to drop as many comments as possible. Greenlight terms and conditions say that once your game/software is published on Steam you can generate as many keys as you want. So I managed to start a “Drop a comment, get a free Steam key” promotion. Each user that writes a comment now and buys Mosaico when it’s released on Steam, will receive an additional free key to gift a friend. The frequency of comments raised from about 1 per week to 4/5 a day. The number of daily voters seemed to be higher too, so maybe Greenlight shows to users a more active title more often. Things started to go well for Mosaico, as it raised in ranking by 10 positions and the yes to no ratio improved to 1/1 and better, after the new video and promotion.

What’s the problem with Greenlight

So, everything is perfect and we just have to wait for an higher and higher ranking until some day Mosaico will be selected for Steam, right? No.
The experience I had with Mosaico brings to light what, in my opinion, is a big shortcoming of Greenlight. Positive votes (hence the chance to be published on Steam) started to increase after I had inserted an engaging video and an interesting promotion. But the software itself didn’t change! In other words the current Greenlight mechanism rewarded my ability in communicating my work, but not the work itself. Every developer who has tried to sell his game/software knows how marketing is a difficult and time-consuming task. I, as a developer, saw in Greenlight the opportunity to be relieved from an hard duty. I saw the hope to focus on developing an excellent software, leaving to Greenlight the big chore of promoting to a vast audience. What I’ve found instead is a very well-built mechanism, which has the same difficulties of other “traditional” promotion means such as building a website or an ad campaign to drive web traffic. The promise of a place rewarding the quality of work, independently of developer’s communication skills, has not been honored. So, in this sense, I believe that Greenlight is a failure.

How to improve Greenlight in three simple steps

But is Greenlight scrap? I don’t think so. A lot of people remember the terrible opinions circulating in internet about the first versions of Steam itself.
Steam did not get much love
If today it is the best platform of videogame digital delivery, we can’t do anything else than trust Valve and their ability in improving their products. There are a lot of viewpoints on how to improve Greenlight. Some say that yes/no ratio should be considered instead of the total number of votes, some say that Steam should be open for all to sell in “stealth” mode, and then Valve could bring the best products to the storefront.
My proposal is maybe more revolutionary, but not without a reason. Basically: why not transform Greenlight in a subscription service, similar to Sony’s Playstation Plus?

  1. Steam users would pay a subscription to gain free access to each and every game/software on Greenlight
  2. Developers would still pay the initial submission fee and agree to provide their product for free until it is greenlit
  3. Valve would collect data on the actual products usage to determine which ones are suitable to be published on Steam
  4. Once the game/software is published on Steam it is removed from Greenlight, but subscribers can purchase it with a good discount.

This kind of mechanism would solve many of the most serious problems Greenlight has now. For example the rushed votes based on few seconds of a video, or the lack of interest by users in going through a dry list of titles.
It’s a win-win situation, here’s why:

  • Users would benefit from a huge selection of titles for a small subscription fee.
  • Developers could focus on development, knowing that the selection process will be based on actual usage and not on purchase intentions.
  • Valve would automate selection process relying on data more solid than a click on a button (and let’s not forget the revenue from subscriptions).

I’m not saying that this method is perfect, but I think that the outcome could be what Valve is trying to achieve from the beginning. A paid subscription may seem an obstacle, but on the other hand the developers submission fee greatly improved the quality of Greenlight titles.

Long live Greenlight!

Reading this, one may infer that my experience with Mosaico on Greenlight is negative. Not at all! First of all it allowed me to have a lot of precious feedback on Mosaico features, on how the users uses it, on pricing etc. It also allowed me to become part of the Steam developers community, incredibly rich in interesting people and ideas. On top of that the traffic towards www.soulidstudio.com increased considerably and Mosaico sales increased as well. All in all it’s an extremely positive experience, and I hope that Valve will improve it and change Greenlight into a tool of real videogaming democracy.

How I save a work hour a day using a tiling window manager

Tiling window manager: an overlooked tool

Being a software developer, I spent most of my work day with a monitor (well, two actually) in front of me. Very often I have several applications running simultaneously. And by “several” I mean “plenty of them”. There are, among them, a development environment, a command window, an FTP client, a couple of PDF documents, Process Explorer, at least four file explorers, a text editor, and a variable number of browser windows with around 40 tabs open.
Switching from a window to another when you have 4 or 5 running application can be tedious. Doing it when you have 15 or 20 of them can be a serious waste of time. In my job (and in everybody else’s, I suppose) keeping focus is fundamental to work out a problem. You can achieve way much more results in a half hour of perfectly focused work, than an entire day diluted in a sea of micro-distractions. An incoming phone call or just a word from a coworker make you lose concentration, and the task you were just about to complete, has to be reworked from scratch. Even who (like me) works with no phone and with silent colleagues, has his share of distractions. Clicking again and again the taskbar searching for the “right” explorer window, or wearing out ALT+TAB to come back to “that” file are horrible distractions. And distractions correspond to wasted time. Not so much for the two seconds spent doing a given action, rather because of missing and finding the focus again.

How to use it

It is essential therefore, in my opinion, to keep everything you use handy. Over the years, I’ve developed some “best practices” in order to achieve this result. And this inspired me to create a tiling window manager like Mosaico (click here to download) . The idea is simple: just organize the most used application windows so that they cover the entire screen.

Mosaico Tiling Window Manager

For example we can assign 1/4 screen to explorer, 1/4 to email client and half screen to the word processor. There are many layouts like this, you can easily come up with one of them that suits your needs better. These layouts are easy to create and arrange using the tiling window manager capabilities of Mosaico. Nevertheless, as big as your monitor can be, it can hardly display more than 3 or 4 application at once, in a reasonably usable way. A second monitor can help for sure, but when you have 10 or more applications it’s difficult anyways. Mosaico can assist us, with its ability to save these layouts (called snapshots) and to restore them immediately with a click. We can, for example, create two snapshots:

Snapshot 1: 1/4 explorer, 1/4 email client, 1/2 word processor
Snapshot 2: 1/2 pdf reader, 1/2 browser

(looks like a cocktail recipe). Using Mosaico you can switch from Snapshot 1 to Snapshot 2 just by selecting it (forward/backward buttons or mouse wheel) and clicking the “screen” button (or double-click the snapshot itself). This is, in fact, like having two monitors. If you consider that Mosaico can save up to 8 snapshots, you can see that customization possibilities are numerous.

A real world example

My personal setup, for example, always has three fixed snapshots spanning two monitors.

  • The first one is this:Snapshot 1. Main: Visual Studio, Secondary: 1/3 Chrome, 2/3 Chrome. Mosaico Tiling Window Manager

    (Main: Visual Studio, Secondary: 1/3 Chrome, 2/3 Chrome). It allows me to work full screen on the main monitor, while I keep an eye on real time analytics for www.soulidstudio.com and my emails + instant messaging.

  • The second snapshot is fully dedicated to File Explorer. It allows me to keep eight paths handy, no need to search through endless folders and copy/paste is much faster.Snapshot 2. 8 file explorers. Mosaico Tiling Window Manager.
  • The third one is for surfing/relax. Secondary monitor is set up like in the first snapshot, while main monitor is half browser and half pdf reader (or just two browsers sometimes).Snapshot 3. For surfing/relax. Mosaico Tiling Window Manager

Some applications like Process Explorer or the text editor are always minimized and used occasionally.
Since I have refined this work method with a tiling window manager I can keep focus for longer periods, I produce more and I work relaxed. I estimate in one hour the amount of time saved. It’s not a statistic measure (hard to do), it’s more the awareness that now I can easily do in a day what a couple years ago used to require much more time.

Alfredo