To Steam, or not to Steam…

The Steam client in its full view and mini collapsed view.

The Steam client in its full view and mini collapsed view.

A little while ago my friend Scott sent me a message over Facebook detailing his opinion on Valve’s Steam client. It ended up being a pretty good conversation so I figured I’d post it here. Obviously, I am a huge fan of Valve, Steam, and everything related to either of them, so my opinion is a little biased. Take it as you will.

Scott: Steam is the dumbest thing ever.
I pay money for a game, but no, I have to download this other useless program and make an account. If I was a poor gamer without internet, I would be screwed. Thanks for caring, Valve.
If I’m not connected to the internet but there’s an update available for my game, I can’t play until I get it updated. Great.
I want to install HL2: Episode One. I have the disc in my freaking drive right now, but no. I have to DOWNLOAD the game, which will take over an hour longer than installing it from the disc. This is why software exists. This is why I bought it.
But no. Valve is all, “Hey, you like our game. Great! but before you play, you have to bend over backwards while we rape you! Thanks for your money!”
I’d complain to someone else but I don’t know of anyone else who would understand… If I bought the console version of the Orange Box, would I still have to go through this crap? Did you have these problems?

Me: I love Steam. I think it’s one of the greatest things to happen to PC gaming in 10 years. If not the single greatest.

1) It has more or less eliminated Piracy for Valve’s games. And the more games that are released on Steam are seeing the same results.

2) There’s no DRM bullshit. Example – Mass Effect PC can only be installed 3 times. Period. It checks online every time you install it with a certain serial code, and then you’re done. Even if you have four computers, you are S.O.L.. Three times, and that’s it. If you want to protect your $50 investment in the game, then you just have to let the 6gig installation sit on your hard drive for ever and ever and ever and ever. Bioshock was the same way, but they changed some things up and made a few people happy. I still hate DRM. And right now, it’s pretty much a)Steam or b)DRM. You could say that Steam is the lesser of the two evils, but I personally love steam, so I wouldn’t say it’s evil. You can install and reinstall games any time you want, with no penalty. Right now I have a bunch of games I own uninstalled to save space. Also, When Mass Effect PC first came out, you had to re-validate your install online every 10 days, without fail.

3) Steam is a WONDERFUL way for indie developers to get their games out. Steam takes only an extremely small percentage from every sale, so indie devs can actually make some money from their game, whereas services like XBLA pretty much rapes anyone who tries to make a game. This leaves room in the arena for only bigshot publishers who can afford to advertise the hell out of their cheap games so that they can still make a buck, even if the game sucks.

4) You can log into Steam anywhere. If you came over to my apartment, you could log into Steam. Then you could download Team Fortress 2 (which I don’t have), and you could play the game as yourself. You would have all the achievements unlocked that you earned on your computer at home. You could log into HL2 and pick up where you left off at home. All your save-games transfer over.

5) Steam is a social community, much like Xbox Live. As a matter of fact, Steam has a much larger feature-set than the PSN (Playstation Network) of the PS3. It’s still a few steps behind Xbox Live (anytime cross-game voice chat being a key thing not available), but it definitely rivals Xbox Live any day of the week. You’ve got groups, clans, forums, achievements, and in-game chats. There’s even the Steam Menu (shift+tab) that you can access any time! The PS3 is JUST NOW getting in-game XMB on July 2nd. That’s something that has been available in Xbox Live for years.

Lastly – Steam is free. You don’t have to pay anything to use the service. I love it! I have even added my non-Steam games into the My Games tab inside Steam, just so I can launch them from there.

Digital Distribution is the way of the future, without a doubt. PC gaming is dieing, and the only way to revive it is to be a step ahead of console gaming. Right now Digital Distribution is that step. You can buy Xbox Games and download them from XBL. You can purchase PS1 games from the PSN. You can buy classic games from the Wii Shop channel. You can buy mini-games from the WiiWare channel. You can buy Arcade games from XBLA. You can get smaller games like fLOW and Pain and Super Stardust HD from the PSN.
iTunes is making FORTUNES off of their new movie rental service. Netflix is getting so much business out of their over-the-internet movie streaming on the website that they are releasing set-top boxes for TV’s to stream Netflix movies off of the internet.

Digital Distribution is the future. When Steam was first released, it was clunky. It was ugly. It had MAJOR bugs.
You think it’s annoying to install HL2:E1 now? I got HL2 when it was first released. I had dial up. And there were already a bunch of updates to HL2. Booooo… Steam was aweful. Fast-forward almost four years and now Steam is the grand-daddy of digital distribution.
Penny Arcade released PAA:E1:OtRsPoD to their own new digital distribution website – Greenhouse (playgreenhouse.com), but soon realized that the only way they were really going to sell any copies was to sell it on Steam.

And also, hehe…. My internet connection tops out at around 1.5mb/s downloads, and it’s always that fast when I’m on Steam, so installing the updates or games is never much of a problem for me. I do love my Powerboost!

Scott: Okay okay, I understand points 1, 2, & 3, and they are good things, yes. Innovative. Point 4 sounds cool, but I have yet to try out. It sounds weird. When I left your house and logged off Steam, would my games just be wasting space on your hard drive?
I realize I’m being a little harsh. Steam has some cool stuff. There’s a promo going on where I can download Day of Defeat: Source for free during the next 14 hours. And I think I will.
My beef with it is that it’s required to play the games. Honestly, it is flat-out ridiculous that a separate client is needed to play. It’s not really even a client, just a community thing… and yeah, internet isn’t a problem for YOU, but when I wanna play up in my room, like a tried 30 minutes ago, the weak wireless i pick up is enough to log in and find out that TADA! I need to update the games. But it’s not strong enough to download anything larger than a webpage. So Steam either says, “the servers are too busy. Try later” or “This program is not ready for offline play.” Or something.
I’ll update later, I promise! Just let me play!
Nope. So I’m down here etherneting just to play a game and I get distracted by Facebook.

Sparknotes: Steam is cool, but it shouldn’t be required. It interferes with stuff.

Me: That’s all, folks! I think that in today’s age of internet-enabled games, a client like Steam is absolutely neccessary. We’ve got Xbox Live, PSN, the Wii’s feeble online (friend codes, game codes), so why are PC games held up to a different standard? But at the same time, I am a believer in free information flow and open source. So I can definately see where Scott is coming from. It would be nice if Steam was only optional.

What I’m currently playing: Zork! (yes, the first one, on DOS), Fallout (also the first one), and Civilization 4. Not to mention I’m still playing TONS of Geometry Wars 2 – working on my scores and trying to not suck so much. I’m also going through Serious Sam 2 (I forgot how funny this game is!) and going to try and make it to the Prince of Persia Sands of Time trilogy soon. I feel like the Prince deserves some attention – it’s been a while, and the new cell shaded game is looking pretty good.

2 Responses to “To Steam, or not to Steam…”

  1. scott Says:

    Um, did I give you permission to use my name on the internet like this? I might get… eh, i’m not witty this late at night. So, that’s cool. I’m glad you can understand my side some.. Maybe I should blog. If I can keep up the sarcasm, it might be fun.

  2. AuthenticKaizen Says:

    hey that was a good read and introduction about steam.

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