The New Steam

By Shamus Posted Thursday Oct 11, 2007

Filed under: Video Games 36 comments

Yesterday the Orange Box was released. It included several games, including Half-Life Episode 1. Reader Trigear already had that, so when he picked up the Orange Box he had two copies. He was able to “give” me one of his copies through Steam. (Thanks Trigear!) In order to get the game I had to renew my relationship with Steam. I’ve been very harsh on the service in the past, but most of that happened three years ago. Time to see how things have changed.

Steam now has a bunch of social stuff: Friend lists, homepages, personal icons, and instant messaging. It looks like they want to turn it into MySpace for Valve customers. Nothing wrong with that, although for an introvert like me the social features have all the practical usefulness as a shiny new pair of rollerskates for Dr. Xavier. One thing it adds is the ability for others to see what games you own and how long you’ve played them. It shares this information without asking and indeed without giving you a way (that I’ve seen) to choose to not share it. I don’t know if this information is available to everyone or just those on your friend list, but the whole thing made me mildly uncomfortable. If it was an option, I might switch it on, but the inability to hide it gives the whole thing a Big Brother kind of vibe that gets firmly lodged in my craw.

Shamus! It took you HOW LONG to beat that game? Man, you suck! I beat it in half that time. On Expert! Using a joystick! While drunk!

Also part of your personal profile is your “Steam Rating”. When I loaded it up it was at “0.2 – teh suck”. I figured this was some sort of rating I gave to Steam in the past as part of a long-forgotten feedback program. I thought it was there to remind me how I’d rated the service, in case I wanted to change it. Then as I played the number went up and I realized that this was not my rating for Steam, but Steam’s appraisal of me. After playing for a few hours my rating is now “3.3 – Shooting Blanks.” Hey Steam: Same to you, buddy!

So in my experience with the new Steam, it started off invading my privacy and followed that with direct personal insults.

Its puerile fanboi attitude aside, Steam is indeed a better service now than when I was first dragged into it. The fact that Trigear was able to “give” me his license for the game is a major concession on their part. It’s not as good as just letting me do as I please with “my” things, but it’s better than similar schemes and moving in the right direction.

I will never love it, but at least the thing isn’t a bother now. Acquiring stuff through Steam is now less of a headache than just pirating* it, so they have that much of it working right. The DRM stays out of the way and is more or less seamless. I do hate to make this concession and accept this sort of thing, but I have to admit that after the recent BioShock / 2KGames debacle Steam looks downright reasonable in comparison. Yes, I know: Thin end of the wedge, boiling a frog, the camel’s nose. Sigh. I know.

* I don’t pirate games, but I’m aware of the process and how it works. It can be a hassle, but if it’s less of a hassle than paying for the game then the publisher is doing something very wrong.


From The Archives:

36 thoughts on “The New Steam

  1. roxysteve says:

    One of the reasons I dislike forums in general is the whole “ratings” thing. Since the forum moderator will want people to post more and more* will tend to pick more or less perjorative terms for the “noobs”. Repugnant practice.

    I also think you’ve suggested a splendid new term for the Web 2.0 parry-diggum: “The thin end of the camel”.

    Not sure what it would mean, but I’m not sure what Web 2.0 means either, and I use it an awful lot.

    The phrase would come in handy at geekcons like the Linux Expo as in:

    Well, for all the arguable security provided by MD5 encryption over SSH in a VPN setup, I think with a few minutes careful thought you’ll have to agree that it clearly represents the thin end of the camel and ask yourself is it worth the cost when push comes to shove?

    The functional equivalent of letting a stereophile give you endless stats about his/her system, and when they pause for breath saying “Sounds perfectly adequate”.

    The trick is to avoid requests for clarification after you’ve said it, either by sriking an attitude that suggests that everyone around you knows what you just said, or in extremis taking a call on your fake iPhone.

    Love the new logo, by the by, even if it does represent the thin end of the camel.


    * There is always a perception that out of quantity will come quality in this post wikipedia world: I think the theory is hogwash and that 50 million users can be wrong, or at least, badly misinformed.

  2. roxysteve says:

    striking an attitude. I spilled coffee in this keyboard a few days ago and it hasn’t responded well to my remedial cleanings.

    And proofreading is TTEOTC.


  3. Shamus says:

    I like how we’re already abbreviating it.

    Bah, that term is SO two comments ago.

  4. Ian says:

    Valve seemed to take a ton of cues from Xbox Live! with their new friends system, such as the achievement system (do something fantabulous in a game and all your friends can see it).

    Speaking of your complaint about the friends network, I think you can shut all of that off. In the Steam interface, go to File -> Settings, click on the friends tab, and deselect “automatically sign in…” I’m not sure if that’ll completely stop the service but it’s worth a shot.

  5. Pederson says:

    I’m not sure how it’s done (since I don’t much care myself), but I know it’s possible to keep your Steam profile ‘private’. One of my clan-mates has his set up that way.

  6. Phlux says:

    Shamus,if you’ve got a PC capable of playing Episode One, I would definitely recommend Portal. I know you were interested in he past.

    If anyone is going to pick up The Orange Box, then I definitely say it’s a great buy. I would have paid 45 bucks (pre-release price) just for TF2 and Episode Two. Actualy after playing the TF2 beta I would probaly pay 50 for JUST TF2. Getting those two games AND Portal is a steal.

    Portal is priced just a bit high as its own product though. 20 dollars for a game that took me 2.5 hours to beat and has limited replay value is pretty steep. It’s absolutely amazing, though. Hilarious, challenging and innovative all at once.

    They’ve said fan reaction will determine whether we get Portal 2, Portal Multiplayer or Portal map packs next. My hope is for FREE map packs for now, and a Portal 2 which has a longer story and includes more than just the portal gun.

  7. Telas says:

    As a survivor of Web 1.0 (alas, poor sock puppet, we hardly knew ye!), I can’t help but notice how remarkably similar Web 2.0 is looking to its predecessor.

    I’m not one for Black Helicopters, but you’ve got to wonder if maybe there’s some kind of conspiracy at work here… “But this time, we really can make money without making a profit! I promise!”

    Or maybe it’s something in the human psyche, like the thoroughly-disproved-but-perennial-belief that others can do a better job than us at running our lives.

    Oh, wait – we’re talking about Steam? Cool stuff; I don’t care who calls me a noob. If we meet face-to-face, I can make them eat those words. :-)

  8. InThane says:

    I gotta say, Portal is indeed awesome, especially the ending. If you’re looking for a deep, fulfilling story look elsewhere, but if you’re in for some quick puzzle candy while being taunted/prodded/whacked by an unseen observer and the world’s most polite drone turrets, along with an ending that actually had me ROTFLOL – no exaggeration – I’d say try it. Best AI adversary since SHODAN. Apparently some of the writing was done by the “Old Man Murray” guys, which explains the sense of humor in the game.

    And hell, while you’re at it HL2 Ep2 was a big improvement over Ep1, albeit with a somewhat annoying sequence at the beginning of the game. The ending “boss battle” of Ep2 is how a boss battle should be done IMO – I’m not going to spoil it, just say that it’s not a conventional boss battle by any means, and that part has replay value in spades. Having completed it on Easy, I have NO idea how to get the “special” achievement that’s tied to it, but I’m planning on going back and trying.

    TF2 is also great, for basically being a ten year old game with shiny new graphics. The game is fun in itself, but it’s also the whole “over the top 1960s espionage theme” that makes it work. You need to get in to Steam and download the character videos they have – so far the Soldier and the Heavy are my favorites, but each of them are rather amusing.

    And hell, while we’re at it:

  9. Gothmog says:

    I’ll second the opinion on Portal. I stayed up until 2AM last night finishing it. It’s a brilliant game. Right up your alley, Shamus.

    However- don’t ready too many reviews about it. It has GREAT pacing and ‘sense’ of discovery throughout- it’d be a shame to ruin that by some asshatted reviewers spoiler-rife review.

  10. M says:

    Is it actually possible to get Portal without wasting money on those other games?

    Pardons to fans of them, but I really don’t give a darn about team fortress or Half-Life. I played Narbacular Drop and I’ve been waiting for Portals ever since.

  11. InThane says:

    You can get Portal from Steam for $20.

  12. Scott says:

    Yeah, it’s $19.95 (US) off of Steam. I don’t think you can buy it in the stores unless you buy the whole orange box though.

  13. M says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. Hm…for $20, I think I’ll save up a bit of cash for a copy.

  14. Carra says:

    HL Ep 1, 2 & portal look like nice games.

    Seeing how I already bought HL2 though, buying it twice with the “orange box” is not something I want to do. And buying them all separately is even more expensive.

    Although the orange box looks like an excellent buy if you didn’t already buy one of the previous games.

  15. Davesnot says:

    I was getting nervous.. nervous that you weren’t gonna mention BioShock.. thank you for calming my nerves!

    As to being an introvert.. well.. I suppose you can imagine that we are all just an elaborate electronic anomole that produce semi-coherent text blobs that post to your website.. but.. er.. well.. I think I’m an actual sentient being. Albeit one that you’ll never probably meet.. you have most definately shared with me far more than many less introverted friends.

    I think with today’s culture your claim to introversion is a self-held belief that may need some further introspection.

    Enjoy! and thanks for sharing!!

  16. Rob says:

    I’m an hour into episode 2 and I’m loving it. Definitely worth the money for me. Not a huge fan of TF2 but I can see the appeal for some. I haven’t tried Portal yet but found this flash version which is free and was pretty fun (gave up after lvl 29):

  17. Phlux says:

    Carra, I disagree: Even if you already own HL2 and Ep1, The Orange Box is STILL a great deal. Like I said above, I would have paid the full amount just for TF2. I haven’t had this much fun in a multiplayer game in years. The classes are impeccably balanced and the pacing is fantastic.

    Episode 2 is quite a bit longer than Episode 1, which went for 20 bucks I think. maybe 25. It’s easily worth 30 all on its own, and there are many fully fledged non-episodic games that would charge you the full 60 bucks for less gameplay.

    Portal is overpriced as its own product. 15 would have been more reasonable, but if they dish out some free content in the coming months I will forgive them.

    Just buying the 3 games individually costs more than the whole Orange Box put together. And this whole “share your extra copy” system is ingenius. What better way to hook people on HalfLife products than to make a hundred thousand copies available for “free”.

  18. Shamus says:

    Davesnot: A funny fact about introversion as it applies to me: I find dealing with people to be draining. However, this does not apply to asynchronous communication, only to realtime exchanges. Thus phone, IM, chat rooms, and (the worst) face-to-face leave me rattled after a couple of hours, but blogs, email, forums, and such are all just fine.

  19. Lanthanide says:

    I got the Black Box, which apparently was discontinued and only available to purchasers of the Radeon 2900XT. Luckily my partner bought one and isn’t too interested in gaming, so I got Portal, Ep2 and TF2 free, and didn’t have to repay for HL2 and Ep1. Weeee.

    And yes, Portal is excellent. I can’t help but think that the ending was very ‘beat you over the head’ with the song lyrics, because in the past Valve games have often had vague endings, so they beat you over the head with what happened to make sure that no one is confused :)

  20. ofb says:

    The sharing of your profile is off by default. Your argument is moot as it is doing the strongest privacy setting possible.

    To be able to share your profile, you have to set up your profile first, which includes deciding to keep it private or to share your stats.

    As for the Orange Box Skeptics… When HL2 came out it came with HL1. Nodody complained that they already owned HL1, because you’re not paying for it twice. It’s an old game, and you got to enjoy it for years. Now it’s free if you support later products of the company. I like how that works, it’s a bonus. The fact that you can gift them is insanely kind, since they were already just extras that are worthless price point wise.

    Oh, and has anyone mentioned you can buy each piece seperatly? Yeah.

  21. Miral says:

    Yep, the Orange Box is good value if you want any two of the four games within (it’s basically buy two get two free).

    Personally, I wanted Portal and HL2:E2, in that order. I already have HL2 and HL2:E1, and I don’t give a flying monkey for TF2, but the price of the OB was actually cheaper (with prerelease discount) than getting the two games I wanted separately. And so now I’ve got a couple of free passes lying around too :)

    Anyway, Portal is freaking awesome. Gameplay is a lot of fun, very addictive (I played it solid until the end), and the ending sequence is simply the absolute best thing I’ve ever seen in a game, without exception. The only annoying thing about the game is that it’s too short — but they’ve set it up so that player-created maps will be possible soon.

    Haven’t gotten too far through HL2:E2 yet. There were some annoying sequences a little way in, but I haven’t died yet, so it’s going ok so far :) Portal’s definitely more fun, but then that’s the sort of player I am.

  22. Davesnot says:

    Shamus.. I suppose that’s my basic introversion too.. I normally don’t sweat much (literally).. but face to face.. even good, energetic, happy face to face makes me wish I’d remembered the deodorant.

    I have hundreds of ways to get my wife to order the pizza/chineese food… it’s not that I can’t do it.. but if I can find a way to get out of it.. I’m there.. I’m even quite cordial and well-liked in my conversations and such.. was even a saleman for a bit.. but it’s a switch that has to be thrown .. and the longer it’s been since I was forced to throw the switch.. the worse it is.

    Now I have kids.. so I can have them go interact under the guise of teaching them to be assertive.

    (looks around).. I suppose this is an odd place to be having this conversation.. (laughs) but I wouldn’t be havin’ it anywhere else. Nerd on, brah!

  23. The Defenestrator says:

    So, you’re gonna tell us what you think of Episode 1, right?

  24. dagnabit says:

    Another voice here chiming in for Portal, just about the most amusingly entertaining game I have played in awhile. Certainly the first game in a long time to have me immediately craving to buy merchandise based on it.

  25. Shamus says:

    ofb: “The sharing of your profile is off by default. Your argument is moot as it is doing the strongest privacy setting possible.”

    It’s not moot at all. The thing should be more clear about what is and is not being shared, which is what bothered me. Perhaps I’d like to keep a friend’s list but don’t want to advertise what games I’m playing at the moment? There are social programs that show what you’re listening to in iTunes, but this is a feature you must turn ON. As it stands, the only way to hide your game is to go offline.

    So no, there are real issues with the system. Not moot at all.

  26. At says:

    Bah. Everyone knows that the fastest way to get through a game is to play it on Expert, with a joystick and when drunk. The latter is the crucial part of the equation…

  27. Morte says:

    Will I be boiled in oil for admitting I quite like Steam? As someone who has a couple of gaming setups in separate countries (hey I live the life of an international playboy*) Steam is a god send, just log into the client, leave it over night and ta da a number of my most played games are ready to play the next day. I’m also finding that being able to purchase games via the platform and download them overnight is something that I appreciate as well.

    *This is a lie obviously, I just work abroad.

  28. Carra says:

    Well, €42 for HL2, HL:E1 & E2, Portal & TF2.

    Changed my mind and gonna buy it, can always give HL2 away with this new system :)

    Each of those games is well worth buying and combined…
    The best deal I’ve seen in a long time. Should keep me busy for a while.

  29. Shamus says:

    Morte: Boiled in Oil? Not at all. I see the features it has that make it appealing to some. I suppose “Take your games with you anywhere” would be valuable to me if someday I decide to leave the house. :)

  30. ofb says:

    Shamus: I agree that it’s not clear on how to hide your profile while maintaining your friend list.

    However you said:
    >> So in my experience with the new Steam, it started off invading my privacy and followed that with direct personal insults.

    This is false. It was off by default, you did in fact turn it on when it asked you if you wanted to set up your profile. It didn’t invade your privacy at all.

    The discussion on “post count” is pretty valid and enlightening. You can see the tone it’s going for right from the join graphic, with the dark character saying “I’ll believe it when I see it”. I don’t have an xbox360 but apparently this is similar to the live marketing.

  31. Morte says:

    Shamus: If I didn’t have to leave the house to pay the mortgage I wouldn’t mate! Now I can pay my mortgage and never see my house, oh the ironies.

    No one seems to have mentioned the best bit of the whole Orange Box package, Peggle Extreme 2 the Max (or something). That’s where the gameplay is. Well I’m enjoying it anyway.

  32. roxysteve says:

    [Morte] Your house is an anti-aphrodisiac? Mine too! I find it difficult to sustain even the slightest erotic thought while looking at the bloody thing. Mating is right out.


  33. Morte says:

    Ahhh…I see what you did there. We obviously have an accidental (or not so accidental) transatlantic translation problem.

  34. Mari says:

    No, I think you have an accidentally missing comma. As in it entirely changes the context if you type “If I didn't have to leave the house to pay the mortgage I wouldn't, mate!” instead of what you typed which was “If I didn't have to leave the house to pay the mortgage I wouldn't mate!” The former says “I am addressing a mate.” while the latter says that you would never engage in reproductive activities if you didn’t have to leave the house to pay the mortgage.

    Not that I’m the grammar police. I took my pill, I swear I did! Oh, who am I kidding? I fight the urge but if left to my own devices I would correct the grammar of every post I ever find on the internet.

  35. Sauron says:

    You know, I’ve noticed that a lot of people around here who don’t buy games have bought the Orange Box. I think, perhaps, we may have found the secret to DRM: make games that people want to buy.

  36. Morte says:

    Mari: Of course you are correct.

    Sauron: Are you mad? Please proceed to the Re-Education Centre immediately. (Yes, of course you are correct).

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