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Game Distribution Platforms Becoming Annoyingly Common 349

The Escapist's Shamus Young recently posted an article complaining about the proliferation of distribution platforms and social networks for video games. None of the companies who make these are "quite sure how games will be sold and played ten years from now," he writes, "but they all know they want to be the ones running the community or selling the titles." Young continues, "Remember how these systems usually work: The program sets itself up to run when Windows starts, and it must be running if you want to play the game. If you follow this scheme to its logical conclusion, you'll see that the system tray of every gaming PC would eventually end up clogged with loaders, patchers, helpers, and monitors. Every publisher would have a program for serving up content, connecting players, managing digital licenses, performing patches, and (most importantly) selling stuff. Some people don't mind having 'just one more' program running in the background. But what happens when you have programs from Valve, Stardock, Activision, 2k Games, Take-Two, Codemasters, Microsoft, Eidos, and Ubisoft? Sure, you could disable them. But then when you fire the thing up to play a game, it will want to spend fifteen minutes patching itself and the game before it will let you in. And imagine how fun it would be juggling accounts for all of them."
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Game Distribution Platforms Becoming Annoyingly Common

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  • by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @07:48AM (#30902336) Journal

    Actually for once EA is doing it correctly. You have 4 ways to buy their games (that I know of):

    1) Physical product from store
    2) Steam (where you get the goodness of Steam services and social aspects)
    3) Direct2Drive
    4) EA's own store and download manager

    You can buy your game from any place you prefer. If you buy from other places, you won't get EA's own download manager or things. That's how it should - buyer can choose the platform he prefers. For me that is (unsurprisingly) Steam.

    I'm sure not all people like the social gaming aspects of Steam and other platforms, but I do enjoy them. It's easy to play with friends or chat in-game (good with multiplayer games). But for those who don't like them, they can be turned off. I never buy from physical stores anymore, it's a lot more convenient to buy from Steam and almost instantly get to play it. I always keep wishing I could do the same with my PS3 or 360, but they usually only have the smaller games in their stores and I have to order the "real" games via post.

    Good example of social aspects in Steam is also that via MW2 I've got many interesting players on my friend list so that theres always someone to play with, but they don't bother me if I'm not playing. It's more fun to play with the people you somewhat, even if very vaguely know.

  • by Amarantine ( 1100187 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:01AM (#30902434)
    But i can still pay the games i bought for a NES or Mega Drive. I think the PS2 is the last console before the new generation where patches, firmware upgrades and whatnot became the norm.

    I have no problem with not being able to play the games i bought now in 10 years or so, but perhaps they shouldn't be priced as such then. Games now cost the same as 20 years ago, yet they don't have the same lifespan.
  • Ah yes (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:09AM (#30902486)

    One of the reasons I quit PC gaming.

  • Re:Typical /. BS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vanderhoth ( 1582661 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:30AM (#30902598)
    I own a Nintendo, Super Nintendo and tons of games I loved when I was a kid. I still play with my Nintendo and Super Nintendo, which still work almost 25 years later. When the systems eventually don't work anymore, I have Emulators and ROMs for all my games that let me play the games on my laptop and PS3 (with Linux installed on it). Let me know in 20 years how all those Steam games are working and what you can play them on. Should be interesting.
  • by wertigon ( 1204486 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:44AM (#30902700)

    That's how it should - buyer can choose the platform he prefers.

    Amen to that brother, amen.

    One can even take it further. I've often wondered what the difference between Steam, iTunes and The pirate bay is. Because the way I see it, there is no *significant* difference. The difference is about the same difference as Verizon, AT&T and T-mobile.

    Now, don't get me wrong. There are differences between the three. The pirate bay, for instance, has no control over what floats through their trackers, which means quality often is hit-and-miss, and viruses are rampant. And now I'm only talking about the legal (e.g. filesharing CC-licensed content) aspect, not all the warez and pr0n. But for all intents and purposes, iTunes and TPB is essentially the same service.

    So, what happens when lots of similar centralized services appear and we get a giant mess? Answer: Develop some open and decentralized protocols to clean it up! Thankfully, the open protocols are more or less already here (cue XMPP, HTTP and Bittorrent), now all someone needs to do is glue them together in a coherent way, make a nice packaging and release it under one brand. Here's how I'd like it to work:

    1. Joe. A. User opens up his Digital Store(tm) client.
    2. Joe selects one of many interesting stores in his "bookmarks" list. Think of it as a webbrowser.
    3. Joe wants to check out that nifty game, Quake 2037 that he keeps hearing so much about. So Joe clicks on that title.
    4. Joe gets directed to a page where he's asked to fill in his Credit Card details. Joe complies.
    5. Purchase is now completed. Joe is granted access to download the game. The game can be on a server owned by the Digital Store(tm), on a server owned by the game developer, or perhaps on a bittorrent tracker. The "where" is not that important, only that Joe gets his game. Where it is is up to the content deliverer, whom does not have to be the same as the Digital Store(tm).
    6. Joe has now downloaded his game and can start playing it. Happy playing! :D

    Before anyone says "WTF, security holes! o_O;;" yes, there are a few in the above scenario, but they can be fixed. The important part here is that there's *one* program to get your music/movies/games/warez/whatever from, and that one connects to a lot of different stores. The stores in turn have deals with content producers, that is, the artists, game developers, writers etc. Since the standard is open, someone will make it dead easy to set up your own store, thus avoiding the big cartels. Voila, the distribution of the future is solved!

    It's too bad MAFIAA won't ever let it happen... :(

  • by mr_da3m0n ( 887821 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @08:59AM (#30902790) Homepage
    Well, I can't seem for the life of me to find the original article, but I recall clearly that Gabe Newell stated that Valve has a decryption key ready to go out, at the press of a button in case they go belly up.
  • by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @09:14AM (#30902922) Homepage

    It depends on your local law as to how enforceable the EULA is. I bought a game, I didn't pay for a license (at least not as far as it was presented to me). If nothing else, physical copies of the game will still work even if you do violate some obscure license clause ("you can't play this game while wearing red socks"), where as Steam and similar DRMed games are dead in the water as soon as your "license" to play is pulled.

    As for your old games, just because you've lost or scratched them doesn't mean that everyone else has. Not working in current OSes is normally easily resolved with DOS Box/ScummVM or some other emulator.

  • Re:Typical /. BS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:11AM (#30903600)
    The biggest sinner of all is rockstar games.

    Consider the PC release of GTA4. If you purchased the retail copy then it requires Games For Windows Live and Rockstar Social Club/b> ...

    ... but the fucking punchline is that this fucker also installs SecuROM.

    ..and no. Steam users are not off the hook. With the steam version you get all that, and also a Steam dependency!

    With that said.. I like Steam. Of the the nice things about steam is that they disclose the existence of any other DRM (besides Steamworks) prior to purchase. Steamworks is the least obnoxious of all the mainsteam DRM's out there, and you get a good bit of added value (unlimited downloads, no digging around for CD keys and the like..) for the trouble of dealing with it.
  • by h00manist ( 800926 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:52AM (#30904252) Journal
    The tons of "abandonware" games out there attest to this reality. For commercial apps as well, there should be "end-of-life" terms right at the time of purchase, and put into the EULA. At a minimum, access to binaries and some sort of new-users-enabling license after the product is no longer sold. Ideally, the source should become accessible, under some sort of license, after a number of years, to allow updates etc. Smaller publishers would perhaps include an agreement to open-source it after a certain amount in sales. Source to the community features, system applets, and servers need to be included for some products. Basically the EULA agreements, as contracts, have to be reviewed to include rights for users too, not just publishers, or they should be refused. Shall we shart demanding user-sponsored lawyers to rewrite publishers EULA contracts before certain user groups recommend the products "fair EULA terms" ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:44PM (#30906990)

    I enjoy buying everything second-hand because I want the game industry (as it exists today) to collapse. Unless the developer releases source code for older games, I don't give a rat's ass about them. Most of these people just want to install malware on my PC to make my disks wear out.

    I still buy new games from id Software. They are the only ones who treat customers with a shred of respect.

  • by wjousts ( 1529427 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:05PM (#30907312)

    but I recall clearly that Gabe Newell stated...

    Not in the Steam TOS he didn't. Nor anywhere else where it would be legally binding. But it's okay, Valve are the good guys, right?

  • Re:Tell me about it! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trixter ( 9555 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:32PM (#30907668) Homepage

    I learned this the hard way recently... I bought a few games because they were cheaper from other services, and was disappointed that the entire process wasn't as seamless as Steam is. Poor download times, odd licensing, and misbehaving system tray icons eventually forced me to re-purchase all my games from Steam just so I wouldn't have to deal with it. And I'm glad I did.

    One of the things I like about Steam is that, without any effort on my part, my games follow me. If I log into any computer in the world with the steam client, my games are there, ready to download and play. That's DRM I can live with.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban