DevelopmentIndieOnlinePR & Marketing

Going Through Greenlight: The Approval Process

January 7, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska


DevelopmentIndieOnlinePR & Marketing

Going Through Greenlight: The Approval Process

January 7, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

This article was written by Sergey Babaev, Creative Director of GD-Team.

Hello everyone! Recently, GD-Team began the development of MO-shooter Metal War Online. The project seemed to be a multiplatform one, meaning it will unite all the gamers with browser and client versions. Metal War Online has run only in Russia as a stand-alone client game and a social application. Over time, we decided to enter the global market via Steam. Like many of our colleagues, we realized this project via Greenlight. We devote this article to our experience of getting approval.

Please note that we don’t pretend to any creative and innovative approaches. We saw some simple and available communications gap on Greenlight, so we collected all the points together and show their importance for reaching the main result – getting the Greenlight! This consists of two parts: the approval process (advises, mistakes, etc.) and the early access (results, measures).

Is it Possible to Go Without Greenlight?

If you are not a big publisher or if you don’t have any friends who deal with the top-management of Valve Corporation, you can forget about getting directly to Web Services.

Let’s be realists. If you are not a big publisher or if you don’t have any friends who deal with the top-management of Valve Corporation, you can forget about getting directly to Web Services. Even if you deal with regional or local managers, they will only compliment your project, express their happiness to work with you as potential partners, and ask you to get through the modest approval on Steam Greenlight.

Don’t take it personally. There is not much choice: it is either supreme privacy or attempts to form some self-regulation procedures and filtration of incoming requests. You could possibly avoid the approval, but let’s suppose this measure is an impossible one and don’t take it into consideration.

What Does the Public Like?

Getting on Steam shouldn’t and must not be your end in itself.

Now for the favorite question of all developers: what can we do to get on Steam? This is the wrong question, and it leads to many dangerous consequences for developers. Don’t try to find favor in the eyes of the platform. Getting on Steam shouldn’t and must not be your end in itself. You can give the look to the audience, you can manipulate the understanding of your project, but you needn’t repeat the games which have already gotten the Greenlight and ARE waiting for release. Here are the reasons:

  1. The public probably doesn’t want the same game project.
  2. You don’t know how the game will operate after release. The service of “games access” isn’t a shop. You can’t be sure that by getting through Steam, the project will collect good feedback and money for release. And the other way around, it doesn’t mean that the project can’t be a successful project without Steam. Greenlight is some kind of Steam level. It expresses the whole trend in the Greenlight-community. This group of users bought time to look through games which would never be released with Greenlight, allot the marks, and comment. They are like aid men of their favorite social medias, saving 90 percent from spam information.
  3. If you try to duplicate the success of any other game projects, you may face comments like “downvote for the same one”.

We are not going to discuss deeply some main questions. We believe that each developer will decide if its project can pretend to be a successful one or not. We are just trying to allay concerns which face developers during preparation for Steam.


So you are going to bring you project to Steam. First, you have to register by paying $100 and filling a form. Let’s divide the process of statement into some main parts and try to explain general mistakes in each one, because the first days in the catalog of specialties are the most active. Even if you can find an extra source of votes, you can’t maintain the same level of interest to your game for weeks.

1) Media Content

Preparing Metal War Online for Greenlight, we decided to post some of the most beautiful screenshots and our launch-trailer, quite stylish and dynamic demonstration, especially for F2P-projects. But here we faced the first catch…

Our Russian launch trailer

The first mistake…and it wasn’t mistake at all… was that the trailer was only in Russian. The soundtrack was made by Russian actors, and it consisted of Russian text. We didn’t consider that it was the first reason of negative understanding by gamers. We received comments like, “They just didn’t try to translate the trailer”. That’s why we didn’t want to waste time with translating the soundtrack. We had prepared for negative comments, but suddenly we saw quite nice ones: “Finally, it’s perfect Russian speech”, “We are tired of warped words”, and “The game is by Russians, and it is so cool!”. Some gamers thought that we just saved the style of Russian military negotiations and tried to interpret them for gamers.

We don’t advise you to repeat this event. Effect of such activities can be different and you can hear the same comments like “They just didn’t even try to translate”.  If you have some Russian soundtracks, it’s better to add English frames – subtitles and translations. In this way, the gamers will understand that it isn’t the result of you poorness or laziness, but that you try to convey your own unique atmosphere.

If the enthusiastic gamers fixed their eyes on the trailer, the most hyper-correct ones wanted to look through screenshots because these screenshots are the unique demonstration of the live game. What they ended up seeing: Russian text in chat, Russian elements of interface, Russian indicators on speedometer. They didn’t accept the project. They decided to look through the application form in order to find some information about localized languages. More patient games gave some comments, and others commented with a “downvote”.

Trailer Comments
Comments regarding our Russian trailer

This little mistake created several thousands downvotes. But later, we corrected. We posted the screenshots without the interface. These screenshots looked more subjective and didn’t consist of provocative information. You can also use fake screenshots with localization as promo material.

Screenshots without an interface can be useful on Greenlight

If you are going into the international service, you need to prepare an English version and, even better, German, Spanish, and French versions. There aren’t many words and verbal cues in our project, so we could do the localization quickly and inexpensively. We realized our mistake, and we began the localization of our project in four more languages except Russian.

Another mistake was the gameplay. It’s the most important point, but we will not pay much attention to it because not every project has a good and useful build for making a video for Greenlight. Many times, the gamers saw a lot of perfect screenshots, but later found out that these screens were just fake promo materials. That’s why they don’t believe the screenshots as a demonstration of gameplay. Also, they don’t believe the CG-trailer provides insight into real gameplay.

More negative comments we received....
More negative comments we received….

If you don’t have any gameplay video, the gamers may doubt your project because they think you only have screenshots. Of course, such projects can still get the Greenlight. Still, you should try to make a video. Ordinarily, there are several demo scenes from the engine. This shows how you are progressing and developing. Speaking from the perspective of developers, such scenes can lead to negative comments and points of view. The users will be able to understand how much money and powers you have spent. It’s definitely easier to make a demo scene than paint a fake screenshot. It is important for ordinary users to understand if such a project has any chance for success. If you can’t make any video or promo materials, then the Steam approval should probably not be the most significant aim.

Another point to look at is multiplatform. You have to appreciate it, especially if the engine’s authors decided to support it. For example, look at Unity3D. It isn’t perfect (if we speak about service and support), but qualified specialists will make your game for any platform. It’s stupid to ignore an opportunity to reach a whole category of users. Some of them react to the absence of their favorite system very bluntly:

Linux is just one platform users want….

We aren’t saying to promise everything to users, because unfulfilled promises on Steam aren’t the right tactics. You have to estimate your resources and the opportunities of chosen technologies. If the engine is multiplatform, it’s better to think of a Linux version and its start. If the technologies and resources don’t give you opportunities to make everything like you want, we advise you to inform them that you are preparing a version release for some platforms during the months after your start on Steam. Also, you should name these platforms. In this way, you can collect hundreds and maybe thousands of upvotes.

2). Title and Description

Our description looked like typical promo text, but everyone has their own point of view about effective text. That’s why we don’t aim to give you any experience in this sphere. However, here are some simple rules that may help you avoid problems:

If the project is in the development stage, you need to indicate the dates of the main levels: close alpha, open alpha, closed and open beta testing and etc. You can construct a diagram, if necessary. People don’t want to pay for obscurity. If the project is in close beta testing, you should refer people to your site where users can find out information. The gamers can’t get into this level, but they begin to understand that it works. If the project has already started in one region (in our case, Russia), you must inform the users. Call the number of gamers and the places where the game has been started (in our case, it’s social media).

You should also specify system requirements. Although nowadays nobody takes into account system requirements when starting to play, they calm the users. The users will think, “If the guys know how their game works, it means that the tests were held.”

We have used such a logo where our reconnaissance equipment Chimera looks like a head of manlike robot.

And the most important part: you need to provide a description of your project in all the languages which you localized in. Unbalance and disparity leads to misunderstanding and doubts from users, meaning they will probably not be clients.

During the fulfillment of your title and description, you will be offered to choose an icon. We suggest that you shouldn’t abuse GIF-animations. You will be in the list of news even if you don’t have cool animations and perfect colors. It’s better to choose a good big logo to mystify the users. We have used such a logo where our reconnaissance equipment Chimera looks like a head of manlike robot.

After fulfilling everything, you will be published on Steam Greenlight. Now it is up to everybody to see and critic.

Work with the Community

Now you are at the beginning of a difficult road. You’ll have to face the gamers who have their own opinion about all the details of your project. It’s better to prepare for unusual critics – from dubstep in trailers to disgust towards F2P. People can say “no” to your long service only if they don’t like the music in trailer! It’s a harsh world!


And the negative comments keep coming….

Don’t despair! You did nothing bad. Sometimes, you can’t talk around your opponents. They are using their right to judge subjectively about content and are trying to exclude any aggravator. If they don’t like dubstep, the best you can do is load another soundtrack from the game if possible. But unfortunately, all your attempts will go to waste. Don’t play with moody gamers. You should try to connect with those who are making contact. Let’s consider some ways to connect during your time on Steam Greenlight.

First of all, you have to discuss the special aspects of your project. All the MO-games which include any technical equipment have one meme wrangler – the users see futuristic clones. We wasted a lot of time discussing all the special characteristics of our project to the gamers.

Good Comment
….but good comments come as well!

This doesn’t mean that you need to poke holes in or try to criticize the same projects. It’s the wrong way and leads your comments to flood with showdowns and mutual disses. Such a situation will create negative understanding and will influence the opinion of other gamers about your project.

Another famous style of trolling is to offer excuses. Who is offering excuses usually seems guilty. You always need to hold your position. If necessary, you can mention that your team isn’t big, and you can’t meet the needs of all the users. If the project gets to Steam, you will have more resources. It’s more difficult to talk in such way, especially if you are launching a fundraiser campaign in one of the crowd-funding stages.

Remember: don’t delete the comments. There can’t be perfect comments. Only inexperienced developers can dream about them, but others avoid such fact. There should be critics, good feedback, and arguments in your comments. You must instill order only in that way if you see that there are a lot of haters in comments from other groups or games. In all other ways, don’t remove the comments. Just take a breath and ignore the negative words.

Attracting Traffic

Gradually, the number of limited traffic of Greenlight came out:

Greenlight Traffic 1The yellow line represents the number of visitors (not more than 50 per day). Less that 40 of them vote and only half of the visitors vote for. But these factors are not as important. The number of visitors isn’t so presentable, and you can’t collect 17-20 thousands of upvotes in such a situation. A demand to attract new users aroused. We decided to do it and faced some mistakes and problems.

The 1st Mistake: Attempting to Attract an Unknown Public Page

We placed a banner to attract the community

The most obvious way to attract new users is to place interesting banners on game resources.

We can’t say that such placing was ineffective, but the number of new users was poor. Then we remembered the social aspect of our project, which is more active. We posted an inset calling to vote for our project in the main news of the page. The mistake was that this call was understood as advertising and aroused resentment. The number of profile views and votes rose, but the proportions were the same.

Was it possible to attract social traffic properly? Of course, yes. You could just include in the news feed information about your project, attract the users to play in social version and than offer voting. Also, you need to inform them that it is the project of one team and not any registered post. Later, we held some activities. The quality of traffic from our other projects improved. The number of votes also rose.

Social Media
We kept trying different ways to attract votes

The 2nd Mistake: “Administration is spoiling the game. Downvote!”

The second mistake was our attempt to attract the users to vote for the social version of Metal War. The gamers can vote only in that way if they bought something at least once on Steam. It affects the public, which can influence on your project and opinion about it. When we called the community to vote, the traffic suddenly rose. But there was a problem in the social version. Haters began threatening to revote or something similar. The haters always use the thunders if they don’t like some negative activity. But, don’t despair too much. It’s just a negative fact for the group and its moderators. Several times, we saw some misbalance in votes, but it was the result of such thunders.

The 3rd Mistake: Not Ready to Vote

Like many others, there is an original news digest in our project, and can be seen upon entering the game. We decided to post the news about voting, but there was only one problem: The digest was shown to everybody, including the new gamers who just started playing. They either were not ready to vote and just close the digest or were displeased by the project and ignored the voting. What’s worse is they could just vote against it. That’s why mobile game developers ask you to estimate the application. They want to do their best to remove all the negative factors. We thought about it late, so we lost part of our gamers. But we realized our mistake and offered the vote option after some successful levels in the game. That led to a 70 – 90 percent increase of votes for our project.

The Results

With the mistakes, we did lose some traffic, leading to a lot of downvotes and difficulties in getting the Greenlight. The diagram of voting pattern in several days was the following:

VotesThe first day, the number of downvotes was 845 among 1700. The next day, the number rose, and the traffic began to fall. In about four days, the number of reviews was less than 1000, and the number of downvotes still rose. Only in 1 – 5 weeks did the situation changed.

Discussing the problems of project localization, it is important to understand that we didn’t notice the habit to revote in Greenlight. You can correct you mistakes and attract other user to vote for your project. The users who speculate don’t vote for or against. They just do “Ask me later”. The number of such users is quite low. Even if you can talk them around, it doesn’t help you. Try to surprise the new public all the time. Those gamers who have already voted made a choice and forgot about you.

If you have some strategy for voting, you can only wait. In our case, we needed to gain 18 thousands votes to get the Greenlight. It can lead to accessing the Top 100. Top 100 is a life order which settles in each project selection. During several such selections, you can be in the Top 10 and get the Greenlight.

We did it!

After successfully getting the Greenlight, you get access to open beta testing. You need to prepare the integration of a payment service provider, authorization, a CDN for giving a game client, and develop a promo site, implement achievement system, and many other things which we are still working on. After getting on Steam, we will prepare the next installment in order to tell you about the technical and business aspects and what you should pay attention to. We hope that you have found something interesting in our information for your projects! Stay tuned for the next installment!


Mariia Lototska