It is safe to say that we are entering a new Steam Age, rather than a time when steam is a new power source this Steam Age is where Valve’s program is at the heart of the modern PC gamer.
Steam is home to over 20 million users and plays host to over 500 different applications. In recent years it has become much more than simply a digital distribution platform. Initiatives such as Steamworks and Steam Cloud are taking Steam and adapting it to what PC gamers need in the current PC gaming climate. It is not just PC gamers that Steam is targeted towards; the numerous features present in Steamworks have made Steam an ever more enticing platform for developers to become attached to. Steamworks has enabled developers to include achievements in their games and use Steam to organise multiplayer games.
Further Steam is a shining light in a PC gaming world infested with DRM. The use of the recently announced Customer Executable Generation is Valve’s attempt at making an anti-piracy system that truly works. Of course Steam has its detractors, many of whom complain that it is the worst example of intrusive DRM in existence. However, with CEG every Steam user will get a unique copy of a game without install limits or root kits, all people will need is Steam account and they won’t need any devilish SecurROM or such like. This is just another example of Valve adapting Steam to the changing environment in which it is used.
Part of what makes Steam such a valuable service is Valve’s refusal to let it stagnate. They are constantly developing new features and tools for the platform that has become an ever present part of the lives of millions of Steam users. The robust community features provide a place to chat, to organise and play games and to hear about the latest news through the announcements posted by the vast number of groups available on the Steam Community.
With the expanding range of games using Steamworks the entire system is becoming a larger part of people’s gaming lives. Big games such as Dawn of War II and Empire: Total War are only available if the user registers the product on Steam. The release of these games using Steamworks has been of great benefit to gamers, the developers and indeed to Valve. Whilst Dawn of War II suffers from issues with Games for Windows Live, the incorporation with Steamworks has been largely successful.
Using Steamworks with Empire was also a great decision; it has made the multiplayer component of the game much more user accessible. For The Creative Assembly the integration of the game into Steam and Steamworks has enabled them to distribute game updates in an incredibly easy way with automatic game updating. The release of these two games with Steamworks has also greatly benefited Valve as many more gamers will have signed up to Steam in order to play the games. An increase in users makes Steam an ever more attractive platform for developers and publishers who wish to distribute their games online.
Admittedly Valve have made some blunders with Steam, they introduced a payment system where people in some European countries can pay for games on Steam using the Euro. However, rather than changing the exchange rates as they did with Pound Sterling, they made 1€=1$. This is a move which has alienated many people in the affected countries who have to pay over the odds for their games. On the whole however Valve have a digital distribution system that has become a market leader.
Looking at Steam as a whole, we have perhaps one of the key tools with which to promote PC gaming. Recent figures released by Valve show that a recent combination of a half-price sale and free weekend saw a 2000% increase in people playing Unreal Tournament 3. Similar promotions have seen games receive massive sale boosts. Great savings and free weekends are an attractive way through which developers can promote their game on Steam, and the evidence shows that these deals lead to very impressive figures and statistics. These promotions are not just great for the developers and for Valve, they provide gamers with great deals and in the case of free weekends there is a great solution to the issues the surround demos. Providing people with the full game for a weekend allows them to gain a true sense of what the game is like instead of often limited demos.
It can be said that Valve have a monopoly over digital distribution on the PC with Steam , however this isn’t necessarily so. While they may have over 20 million users, they are not tied to using Steam and only Steam. The joys of being a PC gamer are that we can chose where we get out digital products from. GamersGate, Impulse and Direct2Drive all have their advantages and disadvantages, but more importantly they provide PC gamers with a choice, this is something to be proud of.
Steam may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it is home to a massive catalogue of games, and the numerous features that Steamworks provides, and Steamcloud will provide are going to shape how we play games in the future. Steam is one of the most important things in PC gaming today, if you are a PC gamer, then it is likely you are living in the Steam Age.