I love Steam. That is, the digital distribution platform, not the gas. Not to say that I don’t love water being turned into gas when reaching boiling point, I guess that is pretty awesome too in some ways. But I digress. Chances are if you know what Steam is, I am preaching to the converted, but I want to spend a few paragraphs explaining why this digital distribution platform can meet all your PC gaming needs.
According to the Wikipedia page, Steam has been around since 2003 (created by Valve, the developers of Half-Life), but I’m afraid I only heard about it much later than that. Even later still, I decided to join Steam. So why do I like it so much, what is it about this digital distribution platform that makes it so special?
Well, first of all, it works really well. In one of my previous posts, I complained about how digital rights management (DRM) is hurting the games industry, and how DRM actually punishes the consumer instead of those pirating games. Steam is the exact opposite of that. It gives PC gamers an easy and hassle-free way to buy and play games. I kind of assumed when I first installed Steam that you would need to be online in order to play the games, given that it is an online digital distribution platform. I was wrong. Steam actually allows you to play offline, which is perfect if you say for example: travel a lot, or have an unstable internet connection, or live in a rural area, or serve in the military, or find yourself in any one of a thousand possible scenarios where you don’t have an active internet connection at all times.
Secondly, Steam usually gives you pretty good value for money. PC games generally tend to be cheaper than console games, and Steam is no exception. Also, chances are that you will pick up your games cheaper in the online Steam store than you will in whatever local store you visit to buy your games. The best part is, that if you are willing to wait a bit, you can find amazing discounts, with developers offering games at 50%, 75%, and sometimes even 90% off. On top of all of that, if you own a game on Steam, you own it forever. Given that it is a PC platform it pretty much guarantees endless backwards compatibility, and you can access your games anywhere on any PC that has an internet connection, which includes any save data that you may have.
The third aspect that I like about Steam, is the community that it hosts. Recently Steam added a feature that allows players to write reviews of games, and give it a thumbs up or thumbs down, and I would never have guessed that such a system could work so well. I’ve seen some reviews on there that would put the work of professional reviewers to shame. It is a very nice way for you to see what the “everyman” thinks of the game, and whether you would like it as well. Chances are you’ll find someone with tastes and interests similar to your own, who will reflect on the things you care about and in doing so give you some insight as to whether the game is worth the price. More than that though, the problem with professional reviewers is that they don’t actually have to buy games, and whatever their opinions might be, your perception about a product changes when you have to spend your own money on it. Much like Jeremy Clarkson on TopGear sometimes struggle to appreciate anything that isn’t a ludicrously expensive supercar, reviewers sometimes struggle to view games from the consumer’s perspective.
Finally, Steam gives me an easy way to support game developers directly. Yes, some of the money does go to the friendly people at Valve, but most of it still goes the person or people that developed the game. It also gives indie game developers a nice platform to market and sell their games. Steam have given loads of indie developers the opportunity to sell their games to the masses, something which was considerably more difficult in the past. I mentioned above that Steam hosts a (mostly) nice community of gamers, which means that indie games that are in early access can get detailed feedback from players, allowing them to shape the development of their game according to the needs of their market. There are issues with early access games, but in my experience early access can be a win for both the developer and the player. I’ve actually started to enjoy early access games, it’s nice to receive an update every now and then giving me a reason to go back and play a game again to test out the new features and tweaks, and it is even nicer to know that I can give feedback which shapes the development of the game and ensures that the final product ends up being as good as it can be.
Overall, Steam is a platform that is focused on benefiting both the players and the developers. Perhaps I’m wrong, but based on their actions Valve just doesn’t seem like the sort of organisation that would screw over consumers simply to get as much money from them as they possibly can. Unlike, for example, Microsoft with the latest Xbox – trying to sell a product to gamers that clearly prioritizes the needs of the organisation over that of the consumer. Valve, by contrast, does focus on the needs of the consumer, and as a result they are incredibly successful both financially and in terms of reputation.