I used to make these in response to arguments by admins and other opponents when I was a troll on a forum, seven or eight odd years ago.
On the 16th of May, 2017, video game website Polygon published an article titled “Valve is not your friend, and Steam is not healthy for gaming”. This article has also prompted a response from video game blog PlusMana, which was linked to one of the Discord servers I often roam, which is how I find the Polygon article. And I think I should be responding to this article, as I wanted to make a few points of my own on Steam and its practices, and how it could improve. Let’s get into it.
The drive to be on the bleeding edge of technology powers the PC gaming community. We want nothing more than to run our ridiculously powerful rigs on barely stable beta drivers, with our CPUs overclocked to speeds that are neither advisable nor guaranteed to be safe for our systems.
Kind of a minor point, as this is only the primer to th
e conversation, but as far as I know, we PC gamers do not need to do any of this to dominate the console peasants. That’s what favouring GPU over CPU does to a machine, it seems.
The world is finally realizing that a hands-off, profit-first, tax-dodging “connection and services platform,” powered by the cheap labor of people who aren’t technically employees and have no rights isn’t exactly a good idea. In fact, it may be a very bad one. Whether this means government regulators finally getting their act together, unions winning court cases or citizens voting them out of town, these companies are starting to feel the downside of moving fast and breaking things.
If you were to ask the average PC gamer, they’d swear up and down that there’s no way they’d ever give their money to such a corporation. They’d not only be caught dead before helping a company like that come to power, they might even join the resistance to stop them.
And yet, that sort of operation is exactly what the PC gaming community has been supporting, promoting and defending since 2004 when Valve more or less forced us to install Steam by bundling it with Half-Life 2.
Kind of a large chunk there, I’m sorry, but I think it needs to be read in one go. It is the introduction to the points that Polygon will make in the article, and therefore an important read.
“Hands-off, profit-first” is a pretty good description of what a free market is. Hands-off, because the government would mostly stop enforcing useless regulations and limit itself to useful ones; “profits first” is simply an assessment of a company’s prime motivation: make money. If a company provides a good enough product that people want to buy it, the company makes money, otherwise they die. This drives companies to provide the best product possible at the most cost-efficient cost possible.
As for “tax-dodging”, I hope the writer has evidence for this claim, otherwise it is pretty much textbook defamation.
Valve controls an unprecedented slice of the PC gaming industry, and there can be no doubt that the power behind the throne is, and always has been, us. Good Guy Valve worked hard to make us believe that willingly installing surveillance and control software onto our computers was a morally benevolent, perhaps even righteous act — and we swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
All of this began when Valve released an easy way to keep Counter-Strike updated. And then Valve figured out it could get a lot of people using the software by making it a mandatory part of Half-Life 2. Here’s what ExtremeTech wrote in 2004:
In an unusual first for PC games, Half-Life 2 will require some form of Internet access upon installation, Valve Software’s Doug Lombardi confirmed today. “All versions require an Internet connection upon installation” to prove the legitimacy of a player’s copy, Lombardi said. “This is for authentication/anti-piracy purposes. Once this has been completed, the owner of either the retail or the Steam version can play Half-Life 2 single player in offline mode.”
The monopoly that Steam has on PC gaming is percieved by Polygon as an unearned priviledge that Valve stole from the consumer by forcing them to install it with Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike in 2004. The thing is, consumers are not forced to buy or play either of these games. In 2004, and even today, some gamers oppose Steam’s practices and refuse to install the service to their computer. That is entirely their right. In fact, an entire faction of these gamers supports GOG.com, CD Projeckt RED’s DRM-free platform. Others however either do not mind or even support Steam. While I’m not a big fan of Steam’s DRM system, I would like to point out two factors that Polygon has omitted from their article:
1: DRM-free games exist on Steam. https://www.gog.com/forum/general/list_of_drmfree_games_on_steam/page1
This list proves my point, and as you can see, it is rather long and inclusive.
2: Steam is not simply a DRM machine, it is also an online store and an automatic updater to your games library. It is also a social media platform. These are services that Steam provides, and these services are also marketable. Considering that they are free to the consumer, and that they cost money to maintain, Steam could be charging a monthly fee for use, but they do not. This is what they do with the 30% they take off the sale. This money is not being greedily kept in a safe in some rich CEO’s room, it is being used to develop the service into what it is today.
Remember that even the retail version of Half-Life 2 required the installation of Steam, which means any store that sold PC software was selling you their doom with every copy of the game.
This slightly hyperbolic sentence from the article is also the root of the problem. Video game retailers disapearing when the digital world proved superior on the free market, while sad, is simply the cold and ruthless hand of evolution, of survival of the fittest, applied to economics. Steam did not shove itself to our throats, it proposes a service that has proven superior to retailers in some ways. No need to step out of out homes, frequent sales, decent prices, and ease of use. Disc versions of games still have the advantage of quicker installation, however. This is why Steam became as prominent as it is. It’s a service. If it was nothing but a nagging DRM program, it would have stayed that and would not have gained support. Prominence, maybe. But not support.
We also didn’t want anything else once we were comfortable with Steam, which is a big problem for anyone who doesn’t want to give Valve a third of every sale.
This segment is adressed as developers I believe. This aspect of the service is perhaps the one that Polygon understands the least, as indie developers have access, be it through Greenlight or through an established publisher, to the biggest digital market there is available. I’m sure this is worth a bit of money, is it not?
The rest of the article is a defense of Origin, Electronic Art’s Steam equivalent, for practices that they consider superior to Steam, notably the supposed generosity of EA with their free games, compared to Steam, which does not offer such a service.
Here’s the thing. EA is not simply limited to Origin and the good parts of Origin do not excuse the greedy and consumer milking practices of EA, along with the murder of game development studios such as BullFrog or Maxis and other practices. Valve does not have that track record.
This is why people hate EA, and not Valve. The conversation is not simply around Steam and Origin.