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Steam developers speak

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Steam developers speak: Maximum profits for Valve, minimum responsibilities

Valve likes to take a cut of sales, but it doesn’t like to be responsible for the store

There was a time, not so long ago, when every PC developer wanted to be on Steam. Getting your game on Steam — if you could manage to somehow contact Valve and impress the company with your wares — was a golden ticket to sales and success.

Those days are over, according to the 20 developers I spoke with for this story. While selling a game on Steam has never been easier, only a “chosen few” are reportedly lucky enough to have Valve’s mysterious algorithm favor them with some promotional screen real estate, or popular enough to get a Valve representative to help them with a support ticket. The rest often feel like they’re on their own.

For many Steam developers, this two-tiered and algorithmically curated culture of “one Steam for the popular, and one Steam for the rest” is leading to dissatisfaction, resentment and confusion.

I started receiving emails from developers who wanted to air their concerns about Steam after I wrote an article about the cold, corporate illusion behind the “Good Guy Valve” reputation. I’ve spent the last few months following up on these concerns, speaking to 20 different developers, from small-scale operations up to well-known “AAA indie” developers, to get a feel for what it is that has made so many of these once-eager Steam evangelists so cautious and bitter.

Very few of those developers were willing to put their names to their criticisms, with one even saying that they were “pissing themselves in fear” about the idea of an off-the-record Discord voice call. Much like the Steam Workshop creator community, which lives in terror at the knowledge that Valve could cut off their income at any time, Steam developers know who holds all the power in the relationship.

Here’s what those developers had to say.

It has been nearly five years since Steam introduced the review system. Since that time, there have been millions of reviews left on countless Steam pages, an entirely new genre of gaming journalism invented, and a radical overhaul made just to handle the backlash from angry PewDiePie fans.

Steam users enjoyed having an easy and convenient way to share their thoughts and opinions, while Valve enjoyed successfully implementing a system that encouraged users to invest more unpaid time and effort toward supporting the Steam ecosystem. Valve never pays for anything it can get users to do for free. Remember, Valve is a company that Gabe Newell himself described as “more profitable on a per-employee basis than Google and Apple.”

For some developers, however, the last five years of Steam reviews have been a nightmare.

”The whole way Steam handles reviews is so brutal and backbreaking to developers,” one developer with more than 500 reviews on their latest title told me. “I’m almost scared to talk about this because I’m scared of gamers knowing how much more power they have than they think.”

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