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The Age of Steam 159

Posted by Soulskill
from the stories-that-aren't-about-riverboats dept.
Ant writes "Edge Online has a six-page article titled "The Age of Steam" about Steam's history that begins: 'The name could hardly be more appropriate. Just as railroads swept the US, leaving in their wake a west that was significantly less wild, so has Valve's Steam client spread across the PC, centralising, simplifying and consolidating. What started as a way of administering updates has become a delivery platform so powerful that it has threatened to render even the big publishers' alternatives obsolete, an online community so well-supported that it sets standards even for those found on consoles, and a no-fiddling environment that allows your games, settings and saves to follow you from one PC to the next every time you log in. Looking back, such success seems inevitable, but in reality Steam was far from an obvious idea. Creator Valve was a developer, not a publisher or distributor, and the service's opening months were marred by bottlenecks and a frustrating online registration experiment. More interesting than the triumph, then, is the journey: what has made Steam such a powerful platform? Which forces shape its evolution? And how can it rewire not just the PC market, but the way that games themselves are developed?'"
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The Age of Steam

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  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @05:48AM (#27132481)

    It still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of reliability and user-friendliness. Turnaround times alone make steam a hassle at times, just because I remember how quickly I could go from playing TFC to Pirates Vikings and Knights in the old WON clients, and I tended to register FAR more servers for the list than the ~200-500 tops I get now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:12AM (#27132581)

    Didn't RTFA yet but have something to say about steam.
    Digital Distribution of games is growing more and more popular. It no longer is an oddity amongst PC game distribution methods. Unfortunately it is growing more and more monopolar constantly with Steam's rising success.

    Steam still is proprietary, non-free and most importantly, controlled by a game development company. There's not much wrong technically with Steam, it's actually the best digital distribution method I've tried.

    Unfortunately with buying all your games from Steam we run the risk of no serious competition against one big juggernaut in digital distribution. There might come a day when Valve, a privately held corporation, decides to actively deny publishing something because it could put Valve's own products at disadvantage.

    The best alternative would be a free, open source digital distribution method with payments handled by a non-profit entity/entities.

  • Good sales : (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:12AM (#27132583)

    I just bought World of Goo for $5 on Steam and it is every bit as fun as the reviews have said. That's probably the third game I've bought for $5 in the last few months.

    Almost every weekend they have another game going up for anywhere from 5% to 75% off. Bought GTA4 for $35 when it's still full price everywhere else and it plays fine for me.

    Steam has a lot of benefits but when you don't have a large game budget those sales are nice.

  • by MR.Mic (937158) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:13AM (#27132591)
    I used to have the same problem, where the server list refresh would stop at around 200-400. I read somewhere that you have to delete a file and let steam rebuild it on the next run. As I recall, it was one of those .blob files. I did that, and my problem was solved.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:17AM (#27132615)

    I bought a physical copy of the first Half-Life back when it was released. When Steam entered the picture, I registered Half-Life to it, making the CD-Key useless since at least the online portion of the game was now completely tied to the Steam account. Then I forgot my Steam password and was unable to recover it - for five years. So I couldn't do much with the boxed copy of the game I had, nor could I access it through Steam.

    However, a week ago I suddenly remembered my Steam password, and installed Steam to see if my account was still alive. Not only did I find Half-Life associated with the account, but also several commercial mods and two expansion packs that I had never bought. All of these automatically downloaded/installed with just a click of a mouse. Turns out that the commercial mods/expansions were awarded at some point for free to those who bought Half-Life before Steam existed. On top of that I noticed the (apparently long-running) NVIDIA [steampowered.com] and ATI [steampowered.com] campaigns on Steam, through which you get a couple of games for free if you have their graphics card, most interestingly for me Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. And all of this works flawlessly through Wine on Linux.

    All in all, I must say I'm quite impressed with Steam, as long as you don't lose your account credentials.

  • by Xiroth (917768) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:24AM (#27132649)

    Creator Valve was a developer, not a publisher or distributor, and the service's opening months were marred by bottlenecks and a frustrating online registration experiment.

    And in fact, the problems stemming from Valve being historically corporate-facing (publisher-facing) rather than direct consumer-facing company are still being felt. Their customer service is infamously bad, and their policies when things go wrong seem almost specifically tailored to piss off the customer as much as possible.

    The software is decent (although I'm still quite unhappy with the intrusiveness of the DRM), but software alone won't take them all the way. I'd suggest that there needs to be a near-complete split in the company - one which focuses on game development and one which focuses on game delivery, as the two are completely different in the approach they need: product development vs service delivery.

  • Steam and retailers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xest (935314) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:24AM (#27132657)

    It's odd how different retailers are taking different stances with Steam. But also, here's why I think retailers are stupid to support Steam as is.

    Gamestop in the US I believe refused to stock Dawn of War II because of the fact it forced the user to register, update, and play the game via Steam. This is understandable as they'd basically be selling a game that forces a competitors sales tool on their system.

    Here in the UK though, I purchased it online from GAME. They shipped me it to arrive on the Thursday before the Friday release and although GAME got it me early, I couldn't play it because I couldn't activate it via Steam.

    I still personally think Valve are in the wrong here, just because I have to register with them does not mean I should have to activate via them and activation was not mentioned on the box or GAME's website. Still, who is in the wrong is debatable, neither did anything legally wrong, but one thing is clear, you might as well just buy via Steam anyway as you can still preload it and download as many times as you want from them.

    But here's the twist, I complained to GAME because I was still pretty pissed that I'd bought a GAME off them that I couldn't play until Valve decided that I could so I complained to them and oddly, rather than having Gamestop's stance, that they agree, it's bad for their customers to have to deal with Steam they actually wholeheartedly supported Steam and their DRM and actually took responsibility saying they shipped it early to ensure I got it for release but that it shouldn't have got to me before release but that if they'd shipped it a day later I might have got it after release, blah blah blah. I also made the point that their website didn't at the time mention Steam, Windows Live activation and also complained that this is important because should Steam ever go titsup and not have chance to release a patch (which wouldn't be an impossible scenario for any company as the current economic situation has taught us) that I may never be able to reinstall or play the product again after that point.

    I find that stance rather interesting, it's almost as if GAME actually wants to be destroyed and replaced by the likes of Steam. So is there more to this? Do they think they can actually benefit from Steam in some way? Was it just political correctness in that they wouldn't want to slag off a company whom they sell software for or is there something else to it altogether (maybe they only care about console sales?)? I as a customer sided entirely with them stating that I felt the activation and such was stupid but rather than seize that, they turned around and agreed with their competitor (Valve) that their method of distribution and service was effectively inferior even though there's no reason they actually needed do so.

    For what it's worth I also contacted trading standards who agreed that my complaint regarding the DRM was valid, and that it was not illegal for GAME to ship me the game early and as such I should've been able to play it at that point. They are looking at taking action at very least for the fact the game box and GAME didn't advertise that the game was only usable when a 3rd party (Valve) states it can (or can't) be used through activation even if it did mention registration is required.

    I also pointed out that the alternative is that many may just resort to piracy if it's difficult or troublesome to play legitimately purchased games. I received a rather amusing response that contained the ultimate freudian slip (or perhaps not??) stating:

    "The DRM software that must be installed is designed to prevent privacy"

    I'd imagine they meant piracy, but privacy works for me too.

    Still the crux of it is this, I'd like Steam a lot more if it avoided DRM. You can do preloading without DRM- just give people the entire game except the executable needed to run it. I'll also never buy from GAME again, not particularly out of spite, but more because the only feeling I got from them was one of arrogance, effectively the

  • by discord5 (798235) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:25AM (#27132669)

    It still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of reliability and user-friendliness.

    True in some areas (as the ones you mention about multiplayer), but I have never bought as many games in retail as I have since I've got access to them through steam. The convenience of being able to buy a game I feel like playing and within the hour playing it far outweighs the problems for me. You could argue that I could pirate/steal/whatever the game and be playing it in the same amount of time for free, but by spending a little bit of disposable income I can be entertained for a couple of weeks and I get the added benefits of steam.

    I remember how quickly I could go from playing TFC to Pirates Vikings and Knights in the old WON clients

    I remember how much of a pain in the ass it was setting up a game between a couple of friends (not talking about WON here), and with steam that's done with a few clicks. I'm not going to paint a picture of a utopia here, but it's much improved from the old routine of getting on IRC or some IM client and alt-tabbing back and forth between your game typing "Can you connect now?"

    The criticisms that I'd have on steam is the DRM (although compared to the draconian forms of DRM, Steam's DRM is acceptable) and of course the big question of "What happens if Valve dies and I want to play my games?"

    All in all I'm really happy with Steam. It's made me buy more games than I used to, probably because now I buy on impulse rather than holding a box in a store and saying "Nah, I'll get it through other means", and it's decreased the time wasted on connecting to others.

  • by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:35AM (#27132715) Journal

    I hear you on the credentials...

    I forgot my steam password, once, when setting up a new machine. The old one wasn't exactly functioning, and I'd simply copied all of the files off the hard drive, assuming that would be enough for anything I needed. Fortunately, I also had a disk image, which i convinced to run in a virtual machine, then downloaded and ran a small utility to find my password (from a very isolated virtual machine, so no way it could send it to anyone).

    I'm sure it's possible to do it without actually running the Windows in question, but there was no ready-made script, and it was way more than I wanted to learn about Windows crypto.

    But yes, after that, there is no way I'm forgetting that password.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:56AM (#27132813)

    Valve has promised in the event they go under, they'll release the DRM validation.

    Of course, if they go under, it may not be their call to make. You never know who'll wind up in control. They're privately held now, but if the choice is between going public or going under, they may choose to go public first. Or they may take a loan against some of their IP like Flagship did before they imploded.

    And, of course, who knows what their contracts with third party publishers look like? They're selling first run titles from other publishers now, Dawn of War II for example, or Spore.

    I highly doubt publishers like EA would be happy with distribution contracts that would allow Valve to pull the plug on the DRM.

  • by east coast (590680) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:59AM (#27133219)
    I see your point but the fact that it appears that you have unlimited downloads of purchased games that makes it more valuable, IMHO, than a store bought game. I have no less than 4 box games that I'm missing a disc from or a disc is no longer readable to. I could get a new disc if I pay a price (assuming it's an unreadable disc, with a missing disc I'm SOL) or I can use Pirate Bay if they have it there but with Steam it's just a legal and fast download away.

    I will buy a Steam version before a box version assuming that there isn't a vast difference in price (let's say 20 USD versus 50 USD). So Steam has me as a customer unless they change their policy. It's a much better deal than iTunes in that fashion.
  • by PHPNerd (1039992) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @08:08AM (#27133313) Homepage
    I remember when they first pushed Steam with Counter Strike 1.5 (or was it 1.6?) oh well. Before you could launch CS without Steam in a stand-alone client and after you had to have Steam. I was in college at the time and everyone (with but few exceptions) in my entire dorm hall played CS together at nights. Then Steam came out. Everyone hated Steam at first because it was clunky, slow, and impeded our play. It would frequently crash and sometimes kick people for no reason. It was Steam that killed dorm CS and left a bad taste in my mouth. Several years later when HL2 came out along with CS:S and I saw that they were still using Steam, I almost didn't buy it. When I found out what they had done with Steam (improved it substantially, made it actually work, added an online community, etc) I was happily surprised. Today I use Steam all the time and just last night downloaded a new game (UT3). Steam allows me to play with my friends in just a few clicks, keep tabs on their achievements and progress, and voice chat rather easily. I have real-life friends scattered all across the country now, and we can still very easiloy get on and play CS together. I know of no other platform that allows such seamless play for such a variety of games. Just my 2 copper coins.
  • by Khelder (34398) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @08:34AM (#27133595)

    I think I must be misunderstanding, because it sounds like the company broke your physical copy because you used their on-line service, and you think this is a good thing.

    I'd like to thank you for helping me understand Steam better. Now I'm *sure* I want no part of it.

  • Steam Objector (Score:2, Interesting)

    by vincanis (1496217) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @09:54AM (#27134695)

    As with Lord Ender, my complaints with steam derive from the online activation component on retail titles. Half-Life 2 was the first and last Steam title I ever purchased. While I can appreciate Valve's frustration at the HL2 code thefts, I still have an encrypted, unplayable DVD of Half-Life 2 sitting on my office shelf. While I can see the utility of Steam, I simply haven't recovered from this insult.

    That being said, I have no qualms about a one-time authentication process for games purchased online, or when CLEARLY disclosed on the box and in the game description before purchased. However, throwing an activation routine on a disk-based retail game without prior full disclosure is simply unacceptable.

    I'm a huge fan of digital distribution. I just wish that I had never purchased the retail edition of HL2 (still have the shirt) so that I could give Steam one more chance in good conscience.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @10:34AM (#27135327)

    Sadly this doesnt work as well in Europe.

    As I wrote in my other ranty post they recently changed their pricing from USD to Euro in the European side of the Steam store.

    This means that a title that used to cost 39.99 USD now costs 39.99 Euro. This is a jump of about 10 USD for a single title. (39.99 Euro is aprox 50 USD)

    This pisses me off since it is a blatant abuse of their DRM and is just another type of region-lock that was attempted on DVDs.

    Screwing over customers in Europe this way and then refusing to admit that they raised prices pisses off people to a fair degree. Hell, I must have seen 20-30 people just this weekend with "1 EUR != 1 USD" at the end of their gaming name.....

    This shows the bad side of a system like this. Pricing based on region. This is no different than having region-locks on DVDs and it causes people to go "Screw this, I'm going to TPB" out of principle.

    You really do not want your customers to feel morally superior by looting your content off of TPB... If they do you're just plain fucked :-p

    --Pissed off gamer--

  • Re:Steam was obvious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chabo (880571) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @01:45PM (#27138587) Homepage Journal

    I also wander why it says it deletes something, but still keeps all the files on my system.

    I think I know what you mean.

    When you right-click a game in Steam and select "Delete game files", or whatever the option is, it deletes the .gcf (game cache file) associated with that game. The GCF is a large archive file that contains the game files created and sent to you by Valve. When you install a game, only GCFs are created.

    When you run a game for the first time, a folder is created in your account directory that contains downloaded files (third-party files downloaded from multiplayer servers), saved games, etc. This directory sticks around after the game is deleted from Steam. They assume that just because you wanted to free some disk space by deleting the game doesn't mean that you want your saved games erased, which is a good assumption IMO. However, for multiplayer games, these folders can get quite large (~1GB for my TF2 folder, I think), and if you're worried about disk space, they need to be cleaned every once in a while.

  • I prefer Impulse. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ifandbut (1328775) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @03:09PM (#27139975)

    I'v used steam alot, and still do (I wanted to get Left 4 Dead a few weeks back an no local store had it so I bought it from steam instead).

    When Stardock launched their Impulse I was a little bit annoyed that I had to download another application just to update Galactic Civilizations 2. However, I am quickly becoming a fan of it. I pre-ordered Sins of a Solar Empire and was able to play the beta immediately. When the full version was released the Impulse client took care of everything for me. I recently bought the Sins of a Solar Empire expansion, Entrenchment, and the whole process was hassle free.

    The best thing about Impulse is:
    1) No DRM. I think everyone here at /. will agree that this is the #1 reason steam is not as good as it should be.

    2) You dont have to launch it to play your games. How much time do you waste when trying to play Left 4 Dead while steam launches and decides that not only steam needs to update but 5 other games need to update and start to all by them self.

    3) You dont have to update a game if you just want to play single player. I cant remember how many times I wanted to play Portal real quick and I had to wait for it to update before playing a SINGLE PLAYER game.

    4) It automatically detects if you have a Impulse game installed. I picked up a copy of The Political Machine 2008 in BestBuy because I had some gift cards to blow. I installed it and played it for a while then forgot about it. It was not until I wanted to check my GalCiv 2 and SoaSE games for updates that I remembered I had Political Machine installed.

    Currently Steam is more popular because everyone who plays HL2 or Portal has to use it. However, if a game is ever released on both Steam and Impulse I'll take the Impulse version any day.

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