Wednesday 22 June 2011


I dislike Steam. Well...OK not really.

But let me give you a recent example. In fact, as I am writing this blog as this is happening right this second. 

I bought Fear 1, and expansions second-hand, hard-copy some time ago. I enjoyed them all greatly. Fear 3 is coming out soon and I thought it was appropriate to obtain the first sequel and have a go, if it was good I'd move on to the third. Had a look at Steam, actually was quite cheap. However, I like owning a physical disc (and a variety of other reasons which I probably will go into later). I buy the game, it was delivered today, and I fire it up. And it requires Steam. I was rather annoyed at this. It would have been nice if it was more overtly marked on the game as ultimately there is no difference between owning a physical version of a Steamworks game; the sole difference is you didn't have to download the original game.

So, I will be playing this game on Steam. It seems I have to. I can see why developers would do this and of course for just as many people that articulate reasons why Steam is horrible, there are many people who love Steam to bits. So for my first ever attempt at a blog I thought I would articulate my thoughts. Although despite some of the negativity, I definitely do prefer this form of DRM to any others.

As Neo says: The Problem is Choice
This stems over a wide variety of topics, of which I hope to cover in future blogs. Simply stated : the Tech Industry has moved in a way of dictating how you use something. The example I always use is "Buying a Car: when you buy a car what are you allowed to do with it?"
● Change the colour/tires/parts/engines (with generic legal framework, you can not put an aircraft engine in. Well, actually you can but it may not work or may be illegal but you are not prevented)
● Drive it in any way (Yes, you may have to face consequences for your actions but are you prevented? No)
● Use it when you want. And sell it when you are done. (You may not find a buyer, but you are not prevented from trying)
● If you want to use the car, you use the car. You don't need to turn on another car in order to drive the one you want to drive. 

Steam doesn't work this way.

● I can't choose where to install my game, it has to be with Steam and all the other Steam games. I've in fact had to re-locate Steam once because it was putting everything on my Windows drive, and I do not want that. Relocation was a huge pain in the ass. I had to re-download most stuff.
 It will not let me play the game unless it is up-to-date. For a multi player title, or e-sport where universal balance is actually important, that is acceptable. Every time I log into steam, it seems there is another Half Life 2 engine update and it tries to update 4 of my games. Team Fortress 2/Half life/Counterstrike etc...I opened this game over an hour ago, set up a blog and wrote all of this and I am still not playing my game
● I highly doubt I can sell my game after, I was informed that this game was permanently associated to this steam account during installation. If you can not sell something, you do not own it. A little simplistic but I feel it's true.
● I can not play Fear 2, nor any Steamworks game, without opening Steam first. Not the most heinous of crimes you may say, but what if I don't want to open Steam? It's about choice and yours is taken away from you. Especially when I deliberately choose NOT to buy it through Steam and support another vendor, I find myself back on Steam anyway because the people who made this game decided for me.

Some Supposed Pro's
The common counters encountered in Steam discussions usually go along these lines.

"Steam centralises your games"
Yes, that is true you can go to one place to run all your games and that is mildly convenient friendly, but only to those people that want to. If you don't want to centralise your games, well, tough you sort of have to.

"Steam keeps your games up-to-date"
Yes, again that is true and the fact it's there is a great blessing for PC gamers as keeping their games up-to-date can be annoying, but not being able to play a single player game unless it is up-to-date removes your choice. A game that may work perfectly well one day, could be subject to a 1GB patch of things that you are never going to play. You have no choice about this and must take up your Hard Disk and spend time not playing to accomplish this. This becomes a problem if you have many games all trying to stay up-to-date.

"You can run it in Offline-Mode if you don't have the internet"
Great. But that's not a Pro, that's a safety measure for a very stupid feature: You can only run offline games if you have the internet. And it is not a great mode either... sometimes doesn't work.

The Future
The future of PC gaming, like the future of media, is digital distribution. It will be a long process of swapping over and there are many many people who right now do not want that swap (industry concerned with current method of production and distribution) but with the exponential growth of both Disk Size and Internet Speed & availability there is no doubt it is how it will go. Who knows maybe one day games will be on Cloud-esque platforms. Probably.

But what we are in right now is a limbo. Where Digital Distribution is trying to reach gamers whilst maintaining the other outlets and where we end up is this strange state where I bought a hard-copy game, yet can only play it on Steam. Where hard-copy games are less expensive despite increased costs because the Digital Distributors have to currently keep Publishers happy because Publishers are the ones who stand to lose most from a pure digital distribution front. And where to combat the seeming monopoly Steam has, we are getting to a stage where every developer is going to have it's own platform (Like EA Store, Origin) which as a gamer will get severely annoying if you can only play EA games through their platform, Steamworks through theirs and so on. Why is a Steamworks game £7 on Amazon but £29 on Steam?

As usual, there will be a huge gold-rush style event with everyone racing to get the best platform and Steam have years of experience ahead and will probably still emerge the best but there is a long way to go before it is satisfactory, and maybe facing some severe competition will be good. Competition breeds innovation. And don't forget the developer, we need developers to be suitably compensated for their work. Piracy is a BAD THING; no question. People should be rewarded for hard, good quality work...but that doesn't make every alternative to Piracy suddenly acceptable just because Piracy is bad. There is a middle ground and let's get to it.

However, speaking honestly, I do find that a lot of problems with Steam go away if you have fast internet. But personally, I do not feel that should excuse all of Steams flaws since most of the world does not have lightning fast internet.

It seems Fear 2 is finally ready, I hope. Maybe I can finally play my game.

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