New consoles are just around the corner… but don’t forget about Steam. Valve’s all-conquering desktop OS is constantly evolving (and they aren’t above stealing good ideas from competitors as their new digital sharing, originally planned for the Xbox One, shows!) and they have big plans for it. Rory Mullan is here to tell you why Steam sets his heart a flutter…
Steam has become synonymous with PC gaming experiences. Since jumping ship from Xbox 360 and diving into the ocean of PC gaming, Steam has been a constant with *my* gaming experience. And I’ve almost loved every minute.
I am not going to sit here and pretend like I haven’t nearly smashed my computer with a brick because Steam wasn’t playing nice – everyone that has used Steam has uttered unthinkable profanities in maddened frustration at least once – because, well, it happens. As it does happen with nearly every gaming platform, it is something I have gradually learned to accept and come to terms with like a grieving widow. Think about it, this might happen to you once or twice a year and in exchange you get a mostly reliable platform that caters to your every need as a consumer. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet.
We all know Steam had a very shaky start. The situation was very much comparable to Xbox One’s initial ambitious plans for its vision of gaming. Half-Life 2 required an internet connection to activate. Now, that doesn’t sound to crazy to us *now* but in 2004 it wasn’t guaranteed that you had an internet connection. And even if you were posh internet owner, chances were you had a dial-up connection. Oh boy, remember how #XboxDone was trending after the Xbox Reveal Conference? I wasn’t gaming at the time beyond playing Civilization III on the easiest difficulty and never winning, but I managed to dig up a few forums. “How dare Valve tell us when we can play our games!?” “1984 is coming! BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!” were some of the high(low)lights. But now, Steam’s DRM and cheap prices are (arguably) proving to be saving graces for the PC space (along with Blizzard).
Steam is one of the best things to happen to the PC gaming scene since graphics cards. In the Steam store’s catalogue, there is over *eight thousand* games – from indie to RTS and to FPS to RPG. *Eight thousand* games at the click of a mouse. That’s *eight thousand* as in 20 cubed and is in the postal code for Lisbon, and *eight thousand* as in that’s a *freaking massive amount of games*! With Steam, Valve have developed a high-quality distribution outlet that delivers what consumers want in a consistent way – and an outlet that has games for very reasonable prices and an outlet that *occasionally* has games for *stunning* prices. Even if you are buying a five or fifty dollar product, this is money you might of otherwise of never spent on the game. This money goes back to developers and giving them more money for more resources and staff to produce amazing games that everyone can enjoy. In fact, downloaded PC games constituted 70% of the gross revenue of PC games released, compared with 30% at retail meaning that more money has been injected into the PC sphere. And because the games are digital, this reduces the costs (no discs, case) and allows the developers to distribute their product even more cheaply. More revenue and reduced costs provide incentive for developers to pay attention to PC gaming and this makes sure we get better products.
As I write this article, I have my Steam client open. What’s this? The excellent, GOTG contender Portal 2 is only $5 after a 75% reduction!? When you have Steam, exclusive – and *almost ridiculous* – sales like this slowly drain the money you have saved up for your latest trip to the pharmacy for heart medication. Just think about it, during the Summer, Halloween or Christmas (which are famous) sales for only $20 you can often get yourself not one, not two but FOUR high quality games often only one or two years old for only $5 each. Just wait and see, completely awesome games like Fallout 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, BioShock, Dishonoured will be going for stunning prices come Christmas and as a result old Gabe is going to get your hard-earned cash and buy another pool. You are going get awesome games to satisfy your gaming hunger. A winner is everyone. And it’s sales and availability like this that ensures that Steam continues to trample UPlay and Origin into the dust – both with extremely limited catalogues and have proved to both be more nuisance then anything else.
Steam is great for small developers. A game that is very dear to my heart, the indie masterpiece Terraria, sold over 1 million copies in just a year. That’s absolutely incredible considering that Terraria is only a 40 odd megabyte product – as opposed to 40 gigabyte blockbusters with millions of dollars behind them – made by the small American-based indie studio Re-Logic almost purely because of the exposure it got on Steam. Even more, in a world where our gaming industry slumps between stagnation and boom and Call of Duty versus Battlefield (seriously guys, still on this?), quality indie ideas and games can often miss out on the support and attention they deserve. Steam Greenlight allows the average gamer to, in a mild way, shape the future of the indie industry and perhaps even the industry as a whole. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a focused, atmospheric first person shooter or a fun little puzzle game to test your mental skills – you are able to vote up the title you are looking forward to and help put it in the spotlight. The terrifying minimal horror game Slender that has been made available for free for everyone, a product of the Greenlight process and was hosted on Steam.
Steam also supports creative gamers with the Steam Workshop – a very simple way to install your mods and enhance your experience. Being slightly stupid when it comes to actually *using* computers, this is an excellent process for me because it is so easy. All I need to do is have a look at my games library, click on my desired game and BAM! at the very top of the page is a link directly to the Steam workshop. If I am looking to play as Uzbekistanis in Civilization V or want some enhanced blood textures for Rome II, I just have to browse the workshop and click ‘subscribe‘ to a mod. That’s it. No fiddling around with placing .dll or .esp files in random directories, just downloading it directly and activating it in-game. You’re good to go and you’re ready to have an augmented experience. Granted not all of your games will be supported, but more and more games are swiftly getting a Workshop.
So far I haven’t even mentioned Steam’s slick and accessible user interface. Something the Steam user interface has excels in the is discoverability and availability of features that relate to your favourite titles. Integrated community features and guides (for n00bs) available directly from your games and quick access to other community discussions from gamers at the top tab. Playing a high-profile game (possibly by Creative Assembly…) and need to know when the newest patch is going out to get those extra frames or properly working AI? No worries, articles directly aggregated to the Steam overlay by news websites and official community groups have you covered! The store is easy to navigate, with fluid switching between search and genre allowing you find the game you are looking for easily. And even with Big Picture mode, you can use your controller for all of this if you aren’t a fan of a mouse. Fortunately, Valve aren’t EA, and allow you to take your games with you anywhere. Getting a new PC or a new internet connection? It doesn’t matter where you take your Steam account all your games are ready for you to enjoy.
Now, I couldn’t imagine gaming without Steam. It truly is a 10/10 service that Microsoft and Sony can (and are) learning a few things from. My love for Steam is one of the reasons for my defiance in sticking with PC and avoiding jumping back into consoles. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Steam account needs me! (Rides off on the back of a turtle).
– Rory Mullan @thenomadprophet
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