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Interview with Eugene Ivanov

Don Parsons / November 9, 2014 at 8:00 AM / Interviews

This past week, after finding out about Indie GameDev Greenlight group on Facebook I decided to follow up on it to get more information on that and to discuss Greenlight with someone who was clearly invested in the process and knew some of its flaws.

I contacted Palmkingdom’s creator and Indie GameDev Group creator Eugene Ivanov and asked if he would be willing to speak with me on those matters. He accepted and this is the interview that came from it on the Group, Greenlight and some other topics.

While I am interested in whats going on with the group, I am also interested in hearing your thoughts on the issues with Greenlight and what you think would be a better model in general. I think that having discussion on how to do it is a way to maybe promote improved process there as right now I think Greenlight being a secretive formula based on subjective Valve opinions that updates when Valve feels like creates a lot of trouble for smaller developers.
I want to focus on the games but also provide the information and discuss some ideas about improving the industry in general. I think that given the time you’ve spent promoting your games and thinking on ways you’ve probably spent a lot of time looking at Greenlight and its issues and come at it in a direction I don’t not being a game developer.

Eugene: About the greenlight FB group: this is not a circle-jerk club. Neither it is not possible to force anyone into voting, nor it is welcome by anyone to be spammed with vote-my-junk requests.

So on the group the first set of rules was more to encourage people to vote using internet hyperbole than any sort of attempt to mandate it then?

Eugene: The first set of rules was as everywhere else. How would I get the first hundred members? It is plain stupid to count on the “vote on them all mandatory” principle. After a week, you will start losing subscribers – no one likes to get constant ir-relevant spam in FB notifications. I was actually wrong in my (worried) expectatios that it would attract the spam-projects of Greenlight. You be the judge and take a look what kind of projects surfaced in the group – many of them they are actually good games.

For the group going forward – do you see its function largely for developers having a forum to discuss their greenlight projects and what worked/hasn’t worked for them?

Eugene: The group will evolve into a steam discussion forum, hopefully, with the main goal for the developers to grow into something bigger.
Eugene: The goal of my group is not only help developers get their projects on steam, or improve greenlight page. For the flash- and android- ported stuff, the goal of my group is to persuade their developers that there’s a better place for their games except Steam. I believe Valve should have disabled the ability to copy greenlight links AT ALL. One week of front page exposure. Only natural Steam traffic, and no way to mob-vote projects. And then count the real, honest votes. No voting after day 7, that would be fair. No matter where you get your votes from, it’s destroying the idea for others, because you’re setting the bar higher.

steam greenlight

On your suggested program there, we know that Greenlight originally had no submission fee (now it of course has the $100 one that goes to charity) and it was added because of the amount of spam products that were getting sent to the area. What would your suggestion be for dealing with that? Reading your comment, you also seem to think that Valve’s idea of helping market as part of what they add and price point setting is something that could be done away with. What would you think than of almost a secondary site within steam designed for indies that submit their games and sell them there with promotion on the main page being based on sales? Something like that would allow them to prove that they can drive sales to Valve?

Eugene: The problem with greenlight is that no one really enjoys or feel excited about it. The develpers are slapped in the face with a hefty 7-10,000 vote entry-barrier, and the gamers view greenlight as spam. Everyone keeps sending them greenlight links when they are playing. Is that really how Valve wanted it to be?

The best model would be: let most projects in, keep them for several months, and if there’s no profit – ask them to leave. The real objective of greenlight how I see it is driving YOUR users to Steam. If you look at it from a business perspective, then it is logical for a software-selling platform to need fresh new users. We indeed had some of the most loyal fans join Steam just to vote and support us. Will they buy anything in the store – that’s another question.

I’m not a gamer. I develop games, and have less time to play them now. I’m not a Steam user either. To me, its interface is totally counter-intuitive. I don’t have many friends there, and the item-trading thing is “alien entertainment” (referencing XCOM here). So I can’t possibly use Steam to get greenlight votes. Requiring a developer to use Steam for greenlight promotion is like expecting a home-schooled student to use his classmates’ help with homework – he’s got none of them. So we used what we had – a 120,000 user mailing list, and our social channels. Most of those users are iOS gamers. They don’t have a steam account, they have no idea how to use it. Others have forgotten the password. Facebook just doesn’t work, we had close to zero results from our 2800-fans page, and eventually abandoned it. We wrote to the review sites – they don’t read emails. Putting greenlight links on developer forums is an instant ban. Where should a project get the promotion it deserves?

On the item trading thing I can relate – its mostly surrounding a handful of free to play games and such that I personally don’t play. Watching people spend that amount of money on cosmetic stuff is almost as unreal as aliens with advanced technology not having any protection against jets!

Eugene: I mentioned item trading because that’s how greenlights get greenlit. You get in a large LOL community and promise them items for votes. And you’ve got it.

Do you think that Valve’s position currently with so much of the market under its control is problematic on PC Gaming? Many of the sites after all that sell games digitally aren’t even really selling the game as much as a Steam Code to redeem the game making Valve at once both the retailer and the wholesaler

Eugene: I get all my games via humble store. I don’t use steam as a customer or player, as I said earlier, it doesn’t feel a comfortable home.

On Steam you mention not thinking much of how it’s set up or feeling comfortable there. Did the update they did with Discovery affect that any? What is your thought with the ubiquitousness of Steam DRM on many games? While we’re at it, what about DRM in general on computers, as I imagine that on mobile platforms that is in fact not an issue to consider with the closed platform setup.

Eugene: What is Discovery effect? I didn’t know steam updated the interface, at least I haven’t noticed any difference.

DRM-wise, I have little to share. I buy games via humblestore, and they are drm free. The steam codes I get there mostly go to my friends that know how to use them. Oh yes, part of the problem may be the absolutely horrific steam client for OSX.

The Discovery Update was applied mostly to Steams front end. Basically they put in a que similar to the Greenlight one and they set up a system based on recommendations on the front page based on what you were playing already and had on your wishlist. Additionally they added Curators like the Greenlight lists – the person can put about 150 characters why they recommend a particular game. I don’t think there’s been any changes to the Greenlight side as of this point from it.
I don’t have an apple device, so what is the steam client like for OSX and how does it compare to other clients, or even Steam on other systems?

Eugene: Yes, the favorite / follow notifications on Steam are totally broken. Unless you add every user who commented your greenlights, and spam them personally in PM, you will never see them again. Oh yes, the PM system is just as broken – it doesn’t keep messages history, and it’s impossible to determine if you contacted that user before, and what you discussed.

The Steam client on OSX feels… alien? Not native. It feels like an opensource app ported from Java. That’s my own opinion. Desura followed the same mistake: a shop where you need a client app is a very bad idea, unless you’re Valve and can force people to use it. The client app is one of the reasons I don’t want to use Desura, for example.

One of the better ways to promote games on greenlight I’ve seen is on twitter as there seems to be a healthy community of indie dev there who discuss and share projects, often under the #indiegame and #indiedev hashtags. Have you had any experiences with that?

Eugene: We have a twitter account but the effectiveness of it is questionable. At least based on our experience. If you know how it should be done right, I’m eager to learn.

Regarding Twitter, I’m not an expert but my experience is commenting on things, providing information – getting on some of the lists such as Indie Game Developers can do a little bit, making sure your tweets are picked up by the bots that cover #indiedev #gamedev and #indiegame to promote them. There are also some people I’ve seen on there who focus nearly exclusively on Indies and promoting them – Indie Gamer Chick reviews them and promotes them and to a lesser degree Indie Game Lover is often discussing it. Indie DB is another good spot as it has a whole database and they will sometimes retweet stuff or send out info about games added to their list. Indie Game Stand is a site that sells just indie games – many of them trying to get on Greenlight – as does Groupees though it tends to do so more in a bundle package. If you want to look at bundles I recommend going to Indie Kings as they track them all along with different distribution channels.
I can’t say that I know much about the iOS approval process and such other than that it has had some panning regarding censorship by Apple. How would you compare that process to getting on Steam? What about other platforms such as Desura, and Good Old Games?

Eugene: The iOS approval process is pretty easy. Make a quality game and you will see it all coming on iOS – we don’t need any marketing there at all. On Desura, a week of downloads is all you will get. GOG is a totally closed market for the big companies only, I don’t see any way to get there, they don’t respond to emails.

 Where would you be suggesting that the flash and android devs put their games? Onto iOS? What about smaller computer games that aren’t aimed at mobiles or their developers haven’t dealt with mobile platforms before?

Eugene: I think flash games belong to facebook. Ios is a different market. I see no way a small company can get greenlit naturally. They got 10.000 votes, okay. Did those votes convert to 10.000 sales? If not, those votes are not genuine. Measured this way, i highly doubt there are many projects that should have been greenlit at all.

Will you help us get greenlit for Dwarf Tower?

We can take a look at it – and if you want a review of it you can submit it to Rutledge who handles that side of it. All review copies go through the boss at [email protected] and he’ll send it out to the team for someone to look at.
I take it that despite everything Valve has made no noises on the developer end about changing Greenlight (everything being their admittance of it being a miss and plan to scrap it… at some time in the future).

Eugene: We have three different games on Greenlight – in three projects. They do help one another, as we have announcements about the other two projects in each of them.

Ah can you tell us a bit about your projects then and how they are they doing so far?

Eugene: Palm Kingdoms 3 was the first greenlight project we launched – it is now #60 / 3000 games on greenlight. 360 days on Greenlight.

Dwarf Tower is 210 days on Greenlight – 83% to top 100.

And lately, we launched our Palm Kingdoms 3 RPG spin-off “Royal Bounty HD” as a separate greenlight – 13% to top 100 at the moment.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Eugene: Yes.

Make games, not war.

We’d like to thank Eugene for taking his time to talk with us and go over some issues with his group, greenlight in general and various other gaming related things. We attempted to contact Valve on the matter of Indie Gamedev Greenlight, however we have received no reply from them.

What are your thoughts on the issue? How do you think Steam Greenlight can be improved? Do you think Indie Gamedev Greenlight with its changed rules has a place? Share them in the comments below!

Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.