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Ryu’s Musings – The Valve Conundrum

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steam_greenlight

Originally this post was going to be on just two features of Steam, the Hubs and GreenLight. As i was compiling it though it’s grown to cover a number of areas, so i renamed the post the Valve Conundrum.

So Valve have released several new features of Steam, most have failed to win support of the fans, or even the game developers.

GreenLight

GreenLight, was Valves attempt to foist off it’s responsibilities as a distributor to the fans. the basic permits being that of democracy, enough people need to vote for it to be released. Valve claimed it was aimed at releasing the bottleneck on releases on Steam, as well as opening up the procedure to the user base.

This part of post is yet again spawned from my arguments on a post on the Game Hubs, over a recently GreenLit game that was charging some £17/$30 for a bit of software that is readily available for free. The argument revolved around whether GreenLight is really a good way of handling things like this. Instead of dominating the original thread (and going way off topic) i decided to make this post instead.

What i found surprising is that Gabe Newell himself said in an interview over on Gamasutra that GreenLight was a failure, and that it will most likely go the route of the Dodo.

GreenLight (Agarest: Generations of War)

GreenLight (Agarest: Generations of War)

GreenLight has been lurching from one problem to another since it’s first release. Mere hours after it’s release we saw hundreds of fake games being posted, such as Minecraft and Half Life Episode 3, and a slew of games that people had no rights to.

It swiftly became apparent that GreenLight was brought to it’s knees. After all how could people vote for the right games if 99% of the stuff on GreenLight were garbage fakes. Valve were slow to respond to this, almost as though they’d never expected this to happen (go figure), but under the new system all games added to the system had to pay a one time fee of $100, which was donated to charity. Oddly this was met with a lot of criticism by the community at large, and has never really settled down. With many people claiming it’s a cash grab by Valve, despite them (Valve) donating the fee to charity.

The major problem faced by GreenLight is that it’s cumbersome, hard to find things, and easily manipulated. In fact several games and bits of software we’re ‘GreenLit’ despite the fact they were incomplete, and in several cases nothing more than proof of concepts.

For me the big problem stems from the fact that my favourite genre, J-RPG’s and Visual Novels, find it almost impossible to get GreenLit as they’re constantly down voted by people who don’t understand the genre’s, or simply don’t like the genre at all. There have been several campaigns by ‘groups’ that feel that visual Novels should have no place on Steam due to their adult origins.

Game Hubs

the Game Hubs are Valves attempt to move away from the original Steam Powered User Forums. They always said that the Hubs were to be used in conjunction with the SPUF and would never replace them. However this was not the real truth, and many are not happy with what’s happened.

As Valve moved to a more software orientated environment, and a more unified one, they released the Game Hubs, game specific type forums that could be accessed from within the Steam Client, as well as from within games. Valve were adamant that they were not replacing the SPUF, but wanted the Hubs to be used in conjunction. However Valve stopped adding new games to the SPUF even if requested, and started to push more and more traffic to the new Hubs.

For a lot of people this was an unnecessary move, since the SPUF were, and still, a well used and loved environment. Added to that the functionality of the Game Hubs is severely limited when compared with SPUF. The more I’ve used the Hubs the more I’m reminded of WordPress, with original posts being blog posts and everyone else just commenting. The problem comes from the fact that there’s next to no moderation abilities, nor is it easy for users to format their posts. though adding some things have been made easy, the general consensus seems to be that the Hubs are a waste of time.

The Hubs are a bit like GreenLight, with a lot of the power being given to the user base. However the user base tend to be mob mentality, which is usually the lowest denominator. This is reflected in many posts where arguments and flaming can and do rage unchecked.

I understand the concept behind the Game Hubs, and I even think it’s a great idea. However given that the SPUF is perfectly usable and uses a very mod able format, i would have thought that Valve would have instead looked to merge the two together. It would have made more sense given the popularity of SPUF.

Early Access

Early Access is a new branch of steam allowing publishers to release beta versions of games for early release. This move sparked some controversy as it circumnavigates several consumer protections, and many felt it was added in response to the WarZ fiasco.

WarZ of course being the game that was released on Steam as an unfinished Beta Release, and led to a storm of controversy that lead to Valve removing it from Steam for a while. When it made it’s return it was still in Beta form, though the store page was lightly modified to mention this, though for many the fact it was allowed back on steam was a big problem.

Early Access seems to have been a response to both WarZ and a number of GreenLight titles that were nothing short of beta releases. On the surface it was a great move, it meant indie dev.’s could get their game out there and on steam and generate the revenue needed to finish the game. Problem is it seems to bypass GreenLight, which kind of defeats the purpose of GreenLight. Added to this it all invalidates the protection that users get when they pre-order a title. that being they can request a refund any time up to the day of the games release.

Due to Early Access giving immediate access to the game it means there’s no right to a refund. Anything that takes away from the consumers protections is bad IMO. Especially when it appears to be put in place purely because of events that had cost Valve, as in the refunding WarZ.

Steam Workshop

Steam workshop is a great tool, and one of the few things i think Valve have done right the past few years. The system is essentially a index of mods for games that use the Steamworks system, for example games like Skyrim. This means you don’t have to go to other sites, in some cases many sites, to get the mods for your game. Rather you subscribe to them through the Steam Client and then they’re auto updated and installed for you.

Steam WORKSHOP

Steam WORKSHOP

The few games I’ve used the system with have been seamless, and not experienced any major issues. The only problem i have is that the system is hard to navigate, especially in games like Skyrim that have literally thousands of mods. So finding that one mod you May want is difficult.

The system is great, but it does have room for improvement.

SteamBox

The Steam Box is another of the recent controversies involving Valve. The idea behind the system is that it’s basically a console running a modified version of Linux and Steam. It would use the Big Picture mode of the Steam Software to be basically run on any TV/Monitor in the house.

When this was first announced there was a lot of interest, and confusion. The problem many pundits had was why anyone would want to buy a different type of game console. However as more information came out on the system it did genuinely sound good. It would run PC architecture, making it more usable and powerful than consoles; yet have a smaller form factor than consoles.

However at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show Xi3 revealed their ‘Steam Box’, which came with rather insignificant components, to the point it would struggle to play most of the current gen of games, never mind the next gen ones; as well as a rather hefty price tag of $1000. The controversy came when Xi3 claimed this was the first in the new Steam Box series, but a few days later Valve announced that while they hard offered ‘information’ this particular unit was not an official Steam Box. Many game journalists feel the reaction from Valve was weak, late, and a distancing move given the units under-performance and over price.

At the moment Steam Box looks to be the next Half Life Episode 3.

3rd Party software on Steam

One of the biggest complaints that is frequently brought out about games on steam is the inclusion of 3rd party software. Whether it’s UPlay, Origin GFWL or some other ‘launcher’ the e-rage these platforms can generate is spectacular.

On the surface, my initial reaction is to agree with them. Steam is a DRM system of itself, so why would we need other software. However, the problem here, and one i see fast becoming a reality, is that Steam is becoming a Monopoly. which is never good for the consumer. Also a lot of these games that generate such ire were released either prior to Steam becoming mainstream, or outside of Steam originally. When it was then released on Steam it wasn’t really always possible to remove the original launcher, whether due to financial concerns or game functionality. so they’re left in.

"Grean man Gaming" one of the many options to Purchasing PC games

“Grean man Gaming” one of the many options to Purchasing PC games

The Game Hubs seem to be split into three factions, the first are people who have had genuine problems using these third party platforms. This sadly is due to the nature of PC gaming. Since PC’s are so varied in their make up it’s practically impossible to run tests to cover every build. Personally i don’t have an issue with these guy and even feel that the game Dev.’s really need to look into WHY there’s problems and how to get round them.

The next group are the whiners, who simply don’t want the 3rd party software because it’s the ‘in thing’ to rage against them. They’ve  no valid reasons for the hate other than it’s what everyone else does. Or they simply are to lazy to press a few extra mouse clicks to launch the game. These guys get no time from me.

Finally you have people like me, who don’t really care if it includes 3rd Party software because we have no issues with running them, and aren’t to lazy to press the mouse button a few extra times.

I’ve never had a problem running 3rd Party software, with the exception of GFWL giving me a few issues, truth be told I’ve had more issues with Steam than any other.

However the main benefit of having multiple stores like Steam is that it prevents Steam from becoming the Monopoly and totally dominating the market. This is something a lot of people had seen coming for many years, and it was only in the past year or so when their domination was curtailed by publishers releasing their own versions of steam, EA’s Origin, Ubisofts UPLay and even Microsoft’s GFWL. When these started to become more in the fore Steam lost a lot of ground and the field became more balanced. While these platforms will never have Steam’s dominance, the fact they’re there and have a market share means they add a counter balance to Valve.

This in turn gives more protection to consumers, little as it is in the digital distribution era, but also allows for more competition. This was proven IMO over the 2012 Xmas Sale, usually one of Steam’s largest events. This year they were pretty much outshone by other store front’s such as EA’s Origin, Green Man Gaming, Gamers Gate and even Amazon Digital. These stores couldn’t be anywhere as effective at sales if Valve was the only option available.

So while getting these platforms to work can be frustrating at times, I think it’s worth the effort to keep a balanced field.

Ryu sheng

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1 Comment

  1. Valve are by far my favourite dev not just in terms of the games they release but also their work ethic. If they do go ahead with the Steam Box I’m sure it’ll exceed most expectations however if they did fancy releasing Ep3 in the mean time to keep us going then I would be a very happy chappy.

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