Valve created Steam well over a decade ago now, with the sole purpose of reinvigorating, restoring, and evolving the PC Gaming place. So why the hell did they stop?
I will open this by saying, while I am very much a periphery to PC Gaming and its largest audience, I have been aware, involved in, and observant of it for well over 5 years. In those 5 years, I have seen my housemates, friends, colleagues, all using it, but I never dived in. Something felt wrong.
That something, was how I was always reminded I was looking at something from the mid 2000s. Clunky, albeit robust in a way, but the impression I always got from it was the “Ma and Pa store on the high street”. Quaint. Funny. Quirky. A great idea that needs to grow. That’s what people said about it. In some ways, yeah back when it was new, that probably actually was the image it had. So why in 2012 did I still see that?
The thing with Steam is that it’s the primary digital distribution platform for PC. Sure you have Humble and GOG, but they don’t come close to the market share. If you want games, you use Steam. If you want deals, they can often offer great deals, just to keep that competition down, as they’ve been there the longest, and have accumulated a lot of wealth in the back pockets.
Valve created Steam as a way to revitalise PC Gaming. It had hit a slump when Steam first came along, it needed some solid store presence, and that was Steam. You can get refunds, you can get games with great deals, download them to your device, and pray you can play them without some additional DRM getting in the way (I mean, Steam is DRM).
In the mid 2000s, sure, that was awesome. in 2017 though, and even back when I first saw it in 2012, has it evolved much? No, not really. Steam has numerous problems, all traceable, as far as I am concerned, back to one thing and one thing only. The two main problems I want to focus on though, is functionality, and content. They have the same root cause however.
Look how far I had to go before I stopped seeing “Released on Today’s Date!”
Starting with functionality, Steam is a bit of a mess. It’s all algorithms, something now even YouTube is realising probably isn’t the best way to handle things. Games are suggested half-heartedly, there are “Alleged” content filters for you, it’s very automated. It’s mechanical, a process. That very process with some things is unrefined. Take for instance screenshots, because you can’t just PrintScreen stuff, you press F12. But to view said screenshot in your accounts gallery, listed under your account, there are steps to take.
I actually asked some PC aficionados why this is. They said it’s because you don’t want all your screenshots being viewed publicly. I told them, well like on any other platform, they should just be saved to your gallery, where you can then edit and set permissions as to whether some are private or not. Simple stuff. Turns out, you can set permissions like that, but not from within the gallery, but from within the incredibly small “Main” menu at the very top of the UI, under Screenshots, which is where you go to publish screenshots before they enter your gallery, and I have to ask, why? Why has this system been left in place when across almost every platform imaginable, it is streamlined and simple? Why did Valve simply stop evolving Steam, something they made Steam to do in the first place?
But that isn’t all. That is minor functionality compared to refunds. In the event of a refund, it is only eligible within two weeks, and two hours of play time. So why, please someone tell me, can someone live stream an entire game, just under 4 hours, and then live stream themselves being awarded a refund with a false reasons given being “I bought the wrong game”? Let’s ignore the fact they live streamed it, and question why the hell Steam awarded a refund for a play time that was out of the rules they themselves set? Do they just not care? There has to be someone on the other side right? Otherwise that wouldn’t just go through an automated system!
This is baffling. Steam has these rules in place and they can just be walked around. Casually is if nothing is wrong with that. This loops back to the problem of content now.
It has been well documented by critics such as Jim Sterling and others, that Steam has a curation issue. No one is actually at their desk doing anything, and if reports are anything to go by, Valve doesn’t have a defined structure, staff just do whatever, and having seen Half-Life get a patch earlier this year I can believe that.
Steam left curation to the community. A bold idea, back when it had the Ma and Pa store look to it, but now, Valve Corporation, you should have staff. God knows you have the cash to do it! But back to curation, Greenlight, as anyone who leaves something up to a community will know, was a disaster. Abused, broken down, and indies felt their genuinely good games are, well, buried really. They are.
Now with Steam Direct….let’s not even go there. It’s done nothing. It hasn’t helped. The entry fee is the same as it was for Greenlight, which doesn’t help matters, and it seems like there is less curation. Indies have become openly resentful of the situation, and I have to agree.
In a 10 month period where 6000 games are released on Steam (Yes 6000), which is a 50% increase over the whole of 2016 at 4000, one has to wonder why a single platform is getting triple the games that the PS3 got in its lifetime, in less than a single year. Why is this the case? Does Valve not have any concept of curation? No, they don’t, and we come to what I believe is the root of the issue.
Money. Valve is swimming in it. They evolved the PC space and made bank, competitors can’t come close to their market share as they have the funds to flash sale away and keep people in the ecosystem.
Valve even makes games! Well, I say that loosely. They made a few games, maybe once or twice a decade, and just rolls in micro transactions and DLC sales, and of course, a cut of all those submission fees they get from Steam Direct, and every game sold on Steam. Now as for why I say they make/made games in a loose manner, is because…well a lot of them they just bought, or were mods of games that they published. Valve themselves do very little, they don’t need to. They can sit and be happy.
Steam was created to evolve PC gaming. But Valve, being a corporation, as much as they like to say and act otherwise, has hit the gold rush and stopped. They don’t need to anymore. They don’t need to be proactive, keep pushing with their philosophy, or even make games! Money just makes itself now, and the rest of the world is evolving past them. Valve has become purely reactionary, you can see that with how they handle even controversy and poor games: It’s all after the fact.
Valve….I mean at this point my only suggestion is hire people. Get a corporate structure, get people to actually work. Or any day now, hopefully, someone will come and evolve the market in a way you should have done ages ago.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or want to share this with friends, please do so! Thanks for reading, and Happy Gaming!