Experienced Points: Steam Gets Civilized

By Shamus
on May 16, 2010
Filed under:
Column

So, my column on Friday was about Civilization V being released as a Steam exclusive. It’s gotten to the point where I dread bringing up Steam, because the discussion always ends up in the same ditch. No matter how much sugar I add to my thoughts on Steam, we always end up with:

1) I never have any problems with Steam, therefore people who complain about the service not working are either lying or stupid.
2) I have 24/7 broadband internet and don’t mind online activation, therefore people who object are wrong.
3) I enjoy Steam, therefore your concerns over the future of the platform and its effect on the industry are just Steam-bashing.
4) I’m sick of you talking about DRM. Don’t you write about games anymore?

Usually they’re less direct, but this is the general gist of it. Some people don’t like to have other people not like their favorite things. (I honestly don’t know how we’re going to get through another twelve weeks of Fallout 3 Spoiler Warning without a homicide.) I suspect a lot of the above points come from young people who are trying to boil my column down to “Steam is good / bad” and aren’t interested in ruminations on stuff like “industry trends” and speculations on where the business will be in five years.

But I’m fascinated by the changes we’re seeing. The entire videogame market is changing right in front of us. It’s a bit of a free-for-all at this point (or would be, if the Steam rivals hadn’t given Valve a three year head start) and this could lead to a lot of major shakeups over the next few years. I have no idea what those changes will be or who will end up as winners and losers, which is one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by it.

Look at where the industry is right now: A few publishers run the show. All of the major development houses are now owned by publishers. The PC hardware mayhem of the last four decades has hit a plateau and the technology has stabilized. Games are now more or less part of mainstream culture. This is the point where you might expect the industry would begin to settle down. But instead the simultaneous rise of digital distribution and casual games is creating all of this uncertainty. We can see the publishers doing all sorts of odd stuff, like paying $300 million for casual game portals or launching hilariously inept online platforms. They can see that major changes are coming. They know they want to be in on this new market. They have lots of money and power, but they don’t know what to do with it.

Their missteps often hurt enthusiastic gamers, but it’s still hilarious to watch them dance.

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A Hundred!20204144 comments. Or one gross, if you'll pardon the expression.

From the Archives:

  1. pkt-zer0 says:

    If you were going to take issue with dependency on a piece of software you don’t want, online activation, or a monopoly, shouldn’t you be complaining about Civ5 being on Windows?

    • Drexer says:

      But it willl have a Mac version as well.

      :p

    • Shamus says:

      Dependency on Windows is a natural thing: The game has to run on SOMETHING. :) Dependency on Steam is an artificial thing, a business decision. The previous Civs run just fine without Steam.

      • pkt-zer0 says:

        And Freeciv runs just fine without Windows. Dependency on an MS/Apple OS is no less of an artificial dependency.

        • Shamus says:

          If writing games completely cross-platform were easy, then everyone would do it. Bit Civ 5 is all fancy next-gen graphics and whatnot, and making that seamlessly cross-platform like Freeciv would be a huge and expensive undertaking, if it was even possible. The comparison is pretty unfair.

          And besides, the new link to Steam comes with all sorts of additional requirements about connectivity and such. You’re basically arguing that any requirement from a game is fine, no matter how cumbersome, because the user has already accepted the premise of the game requiring a particular operating system.

        • Binks says:

          “Dependency on an MS/Apple OS is no less of an artificial dependency.”

          That’s not exactly true. An artificial dependency is (at least in my mind, maybe you have a different definition) a dependency that there’s no reason for besides profit. In that regard limiting to one OS is not artificial, it’s required unless you want to spend a ton of time/money on making it cross-platform (which is not as easy as it seems, I’ve been involved in an effort to make a small app cross-platform and it was not fun at all).

          It’s like complaining that the iPhone is limited to being on AT&T. That’s a perfectly reasonable complaint about a purely artificial restriction. Now if you were to complain about the iPhone using the phone network instead of, say, wireless internet and VOIP to make calls then you’d be really pushing the term, that’s not really an artificial dependency, though it is arbitrary.

          • pkt-zer0 says:

            You say that the only motivation for having an artificial dependency is profit, and then say that the only reason for not making things cross-platform is that it cuts into profits? I’m not sure I can see your logic there.

            Anyway, my point wasn’t having to make everything cross-platform (you could make them Linux-exclusive :P), but that the “problems” of Steam listed are already present in Windows, it’s simply that people have grown to accept them there.

            • Jabor says:

              Not quite – “profit” and “cost” are not entirely related at this point.

              The problem with releasing something cross-platform is not that it cuts into profit – it’s that it cuts into the limited budget you have to work with before the game starts bringing in profit in the first place.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      If you make something just for windows,its not only because its more widespread and thus will sell more,but because its easier for you to code in windows,since all your tools are windows based.In order to make it cross platform,youd need other tools as well.

      But to make it available just on steam,you need to invest in more tools,and none of them will affect the usage of your product.They will only limit the distribution.

      So,making it windows only is cheaper than making it cross platform.But making it steam only is more expensive than making it available via other distribution networks.Thats why this is artificial dependency while windows only is not.

  2. Drexer says:

    Now for a more serious comment:

    I too feel very interested in this pretty much crucial point of distribution history. Due to the way games are linked to the internet, trends that we see here might very well identify probable pathways for all kinds of business in the future.

    I’m a big Steam user as well, but I can entirely see your point of view. I think most gamers end up lacking some empathy for gamers in other situations, specially becaue it’s much harder to find a gamer without internet service on the internet(which I known is a tautology).

    I for one was specially enraged with Assassin’s Creed 2 due to their horrible DRM. I didn’t buy one copy for myself on principle, but I couldn’t buy one for my cousin(who loves the historical setting of Italy), because he can oly get internet acess from time to time for downloads thanks to a friend of him which allows him to piggyback ion his internet during the wee hours of the night. I believe I even mentioned this before during the apex of the talk regarding AC2.

    Steam is in that subset of downloadable services which feel confortable for me(and can be used for my cousin as well). Direct2Drive for instance, even though it’s teoretically better, is extremelly annoying seeing as you cannot start and stop a download in such a simple way. Part of this might also be because I became a gamer due to Steam, seeing as some years ago I still suffered from difficulty in finding games of the subsets I wished in my country. Steam fixed this for me, but I can totally understand how this is not the case of everybody.

    I’ve also spent some time musing how I would like to do things if I was a developer, and the fact is that currently a choice is also necessary. I would very much like to imagine a game being totally horizontal across the digital download content distribution services, but that is simply impossible with the current key system. You need to give the key to one distributor or another, and if a user wants to add his key to X or Y services, he can only do one or else it might all implode in a clusterfuck of confusion. >_>

    PS: If you started reading this in verse after I quoted Mordin, this is all your fault dear comment reader.

    PPS: I almost forgot to post this link. This is only losely related to this topic, but it ilustrates well another problem digital distribution still faes. The fools:

    http://digs.by/dxtv4U

    PPPS: TYhis was not meant as ajab as Mac gamers. I feel sorry for them actually, to end up having such an horrible (non-)example of their kind on youtube.

    • krellen says:

      Wow. Gamers are jerks.

      The Mac guy is right, actually; your digital distribution system should be pretty simple. Click things, get the newest version, play. Especially for a Mac user, because Apple’s controls on everything else pretty much guarantee that they’re long used to such an experience. The large reason why people buy Macs (and why I, as a professional, suggest people buy Macs) is to avoid all the hassles, tweaking, and troubleshooting that comes with PCs.

      Had I had a similar experience with the software as he did, I would have uninstalled it and lambasted it as well. “Lrn2Steam” is not an acceptable response.

      • FFJosh says:

        Yeah, I have to agree here. I’m, frankly, somewhat confused by the massively negative response to the guy’s video.

        Okay, it’s Youtube, but still: All I see in that video are fairly legitimate complaints.

        Now, he may not understand Steam or how it’s supposed to work as well as a PC gamer, but he’s not a PC gamer, and that’s the point. He tries to get it to work the way it essentially should work (click on the “get free game” button -> download game) and it doesn’t. I don’t see the problem in complaining about that.

        As for the hardware and crashing issues he runs into later in the video, it seems fairly obvious to gamers that his computer doesn’t meet the minimum requirements, and that is a PC woe that any Mac user that wants to get into computer gaming will simply have to accept. But to someone who isn’t a gamer in the first place–or, at the very least, has never touched PC gaming before–the fact that the game they just got simply refuses to work is a jarring and frustrating experience. I’m sure many gamers have had a similar experience when they picked up that one game they’ve been looking forward to for a while, only to find out that their computer is too slow to run it. For someone who’s never encountered that situation before, it’s perfectly understandable to react the way he did.

        So I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with him complaining or what he’s complaining about–in fact, I agree with a few of them. Really, why do some websites have me download software only for that software to download an update twice the size of the installer immediately after I finish?

        • Drexer says:

          And here is where I have to disagree.

          Not because your opinions aren’t right on certain points(such as the updater and such, but that is usually a choice of the developer which I in this case agree with), but because is reaction is simply daft.

          I sent the free Portal link to a lot of my non-gamer friends, and of those, none had any problem. After seeing the video, I asked some of them how the installation had been for them and they had no problems whatsoever. They clicked once, got the Steam download, installed, updated and started the Portal installation immediatly. Note that those were total newbs to gaming. Their ue of computers was nothing over the usual high scholl/college use in non-technical courses. One of them, was a girl who thought her computer had a virus because it shut down every two hours, and in the end it was the Windows 7 beta that had expired.

          His reaction in general to me(and this is based on my recollections from seeing the movie yesterday), is similar to someone complaning about having to put the CD in the tray, having to close the tray and to click on the dialogs to install a game, and needing to upgrade his DirectX software to play the game through an automated installer on the disk. It’s an exagerated reaction that can only be expected if he thought that Portal was a flash game.

          Although a great part of my mind still thinks he was a troll.

          • Blanko2 says:

            really?
            i was nodding my way through this, and im a PC gamer, through and through. i’ve troubleshooted my way around my computer for a while now, yet i agree with several of his points.
            i don’t hate steam. i don’t like it either, but i don’t hate it. i find it cumbersome and annoying and i hate, just as he does, the constant updating of things.
            christ, maybe sometimes i just wanna run a game without it updating for six hours and then telling me i don’t meet the minimum system requirements? (im talking to you, TF2 two years ago)
            its great how steam updates constantly (in the sense that they are fixing things). its not great how it doesnt ask you before doing so.
            this is getting too long, regardless, but you spelled school wrong.

          • Eric Meyer says:

            And here is where I have to disagree with you. I had pretty much every problem he did, except for the crashing. My reactions were roughly:

            1. Massively updating the thing I just downloaded? Lame.
            2. Hey, the Spinning Beachball of Death! I hope this thing hasn’t locked up my compu– oh, never mind, it was just starting up. When do I ever see Mac applications invoke the Beachball when launching? Never. Not even Microsoft Office 2003 makes that mistake.
            3. Wow, the Steam client feels like a really bad Adobe Air applet. Now, I know it’s a native Cocoa application, but that just makes it worse: it means Valve went to the effort of writing a native application that is so awful.
            4. The Steam client is mostly a web browser. Wait, don’t I have two or three of those already? (Actually I have more, but I’m an outlier.) And it’s a really slow browser to boot. I feel like I’m back in the days of 56.6.
            5. Not only did it take Portal three hours to download, it took that long because the download automatically paused itself more than once.
            6. The download screen disagrees with itself twice: once in terms of how much data it’s downloaded, and again in terms of current download speed. Seriously? And I’m supposed to feel confident that the people who wrote this knew enough to not wipe out my hard drive by mistake?
            7. Hey, the download’s done! Now where did it put Portal? In my Applications folder? No. In the ‘Games’ subfolder where I put the Steam client? No. It put it hidden away somewhere. I can only launch Portal by launching the Steam client. Which is slow, looks awful, and hides the games away in a “Library”.
            8. I’ve launched Portal. Whoa, the screen colors just shifted WAY blue. Is that permanent? (Fortunately, it isn’t.) Game’s fullscreen now, which is nice. but– oh, hey, the Spinning Beachball of Death again. And it’s not going away. I’m starting to think the game locked up my computer. Okay, be cool, wait it out.
            9. A minute later: oh, good the game did launch without locking me up. I can play now.
            10. Twenty minutes in: why did the game suddenly stop producing any sound at all? The computer isn’t muted.
            11. Well, completely quitting and re-launching the game got my sound back. That’s something, I guess.
            12. Okay, time to get back to work. Quit Portal. Oh, that’s right, I also have to quit Steam. I’ll just do that and– wait, Steam just locked up and then crashed outright. BECAUSE I TOLD IT TO QUIT. I though only Photoshop and Excel were that stupid.

            Before you decide to condescend in my direction as well, let me assure you that after 33 years of using computers, 30 of playing video games on a wide variety of platforms, and 20 years of using and abusing Macs, I have at least some awareness of what Portal is and how games (or any other applications) should and should not work. My Steam experience is almost a textbook example of how it should not; the only things that would have made it more textbook would be to crash the whole computer (which happened to the YouTuber) and for the game not to run at all.

            Now, I admit that I haven’t played a lot of Windows video games. Is what I described is par for the Windows course? If so, why does anyone put up with it?

            • Jarenth says:

              For future reference, Steam usually installs games into your Steam\steamapps\common subfolder. If you haven’t sworn off Steam altogether at this point, that might come in handy.

            • Simon Buchan says:

              Nope, Either you have crazy bad video/sound drivers, or that is exactly the sort of shit a Windows game gets (or *should* get) blasted for. You should remember Valve have had much less time to tweak and tune Steam and the Source engine – not to forgive them for it, but that you should expect this to get better. In fact, there was a Portal update on May 15th claiming to fix a crash on exit…

              I’m fine with it having a custom skin, it’s mostly well behaved, consistent, and much prettier than their old one :). It could look nicer, though they might be expecting community skins for that?

    • Irridium says:

      He actually has some decent points.

      Its says “Free! Play now!” So you should be able to play now. Sure you have to download it, but still, it shouldn’t have to download it, then download updates, then download steam updates, ect.

      Granted, I just wish he wasn’t such an ass about it. To me he just came off as very smug, and he seemed like he was always hoping it would fail. Could be just me though.

      And I know this isn’t related, but why in the hell would he download stuff he doesn’t know anything about off the internet without doing some research on it first? It baffles me, and is just asking for trouble.

      • I suspect this guy is a seasoned Mac (and possibly PC) user,
        he basically took the “first time” reviewing position,
        something many game and software reviewers seem to forget to do these days.

        I did not see a single wrong statement by him.

        Things like the progress bar being hidden behind another window should have been avoided by Valve.

        Automatically adding Steam to the system startup is a big no-no, I had to laugh when he mentioned Adobe doing the same, as each time I update a Adobe thing on this system I have to get rid of startup launchers Adobe adds without having asked me first.

        Not ensuring that the “new” download is pre-patched up to the latest patch that is also available is kinda daft if you ask me, and Valve is not the only sinners among publishers in doing that.

        It seems Steam for Mac slipped a few bugs through Valve and Apple’s QA, so if they saw this video (which I hope they did) some of the issues he encountered will hopefully be fixed.

        Also, the changing of the color/light settings is really messed up.
        My monitors are calibrated to the SRGB standard and Dynamic whatever are all turned off.
        If a game messed up my color calibration and gamma settings I’d be pretty pissed. A game or software should have no business messing with system or even user settings, unless the user tells the software or confirm to the software it can do that.

        And as to his comment on Steam being a “website”, although amusing is actually correct.
        Steam is basically a Game Download Portal with “social” widgets and whatnot.
        A simple shared DLL (more or less) with background downloading/update checking and announcements etc. would have been enough, all the rest of Steam could easily “live” in a browser window.

        Another amusing thing was the add for Portal he got, it’s obvious the advert system lacks a check to see if the user already have it.
        It’s as silly as buying a game, opening the box, and inside the manual is a stick-in leaflet advertising the very same game you just bought. Gah!…

        I have no idea why the guy got flamed so hard for the things he said,
        they where all valid points that Valve at least should try to handle better.

        • Irridium says:

          I agree. All those problems have plagued me as well. Well except it changing the color settings… but anyway, most of the problems can be solved with a few adjustments to the settings. But I shouldn’t have to tweak it so damn much before it becomes tolerable…

        • Blanko2 says:

          hear hear.
          adding itself to the system startup, i swear.
          that should be one of the things that gets you sent to hell.
          cursed adobe acrobat, EVERY TIME YOU UPDATE YOU DO THIS!!!

  3. Nick Bell says:

    Two things. The first is a clarification: “All of the major development houses are now owned by publishers.”

    There is of course a major exception to that: Valve themselves. While they do self-publish digitally, they are not a publisher in the EA/Activision/Ubisoft sense. That’s why they participate in the EA Partners program to get all their physical copies created. (See also: Bungie).

    That nitpick aside, this is terrible news in one BIG sense. Its a huge step backwards from Civilization 4’s DRM, or rather, its lack of. Civ4 didn’t even have a CD-key. It had nothing beyond a disc check, and even that is gone now with a patch. I love Steam, but this is still a bummer.

    • BaCoN says:

      Sure, but you buy it and download it once, and you have it for all time. You don’t need to be online to use games with Steam. Whoever keeps telling people that is insane. This literally means you can install it on as many computers as you like with the same Steam account, and just run in offline mode. SOOPAR EASY!

      • Simon Buchan says:

        The reason people say you need to be online is that Steam had a long (LONG) standing bug that meant offline mode was broken for some people (for example, me). It’s fixed now though.

  4. Sashas says:

    Since you mention it so directly, I am going to address point number 4.

    Speaking only for myself, I have no problem with the DRM digressions. What I do have a problem with the the shift from text reviews to video reviews. The former I love. The latter I can’t even access.

    The big problem I have with the video commentary is that I don’t usually surf with sound. I also usually don’t have the time to devote 20 minutes to concentrating on a video. (That is, I may have 20 minutes or even 30, but I am generally trying to do other things at the same time like chatting with friends.)

    I may be unique in my habits and preferences, and it is ultimately your choice what type of content you want to create. (For all I know, video-reviews are just a lot more fun than writing.) Since this didn’t seem to be on your radar, however, I thought I’d bring it up.

    Best Wishes,
    Sashas

    • David says:

      Totally agree with you there. The amount of content in a given 20 minute video review is something I could read in maybe 5 minutes tops. And I could keep listening to music while I do so. Maybe switch to another tab to keep up with something else.

      I have the same objections to podcasts. If people link to a podcast, I follow the link, find it’s a podcast, and go away. Unless there’s a transcript. Transcripts are awesome.

      The only video-review stuff I watch is Zero Punctuation, which is more of a full experience than most of these things. Plus, dude talks way fast.

      • JB says:

        I agree. So I skip the videos and read the text posts. Problem solved! :)

        Seriously though, not everything suits everybody all the time. I don’t think it is fair to request otherwise. I am sure the videoes are entertaining for those who have the time and sound. I don’t, I wish I did, but I accept that I have to pass on some of the content on the internet now and then.

    • Mistwraithe says:

      Agreed. I have very little interest in the Spoiler Warning video reviews. The time required to watch them is the biggest factor in this and in fact turns me off pretty much all blog/news style video content on the internet (with a few comedy exceptions such as the Onion and Yatzee, both of which are short and have a high laugh to length ratio – probably not a coincidence!)

      I too haven’t said anything yet but it seemed worth mentioning. Shamus makes the site for himself and for a huge number of people, so what I want doesn’t count for much and that is fine. On the other hand what I want probably still counts for at least 1 vote (out of the thousands who follow Twenty Sided) so I may as well register my vote!

      • Amarsir says:

        Not that my saying so really contributes anything, but I too skip the Spoiler Warnings because the video is less flexible than text. I think if it was pre-scripted, rehearsed, recorded, and edited, so that only the very best content was delivered in the shortest possible time (like a good Escapist video) then that would be one thing. But the nature of these Spoiler Warning recordings is that we get everything. And there’s nothing wrong with delivering that of course. But since I can’t skim the video, I just skip the whole thing.

      • Sord says:

        Interesting, I never though of Spoiler Warning as a review. I see them as watching a friend play though the game while you hang out and make witty comments.

        If you somehow haven’t bought the game, but have wanted to see what everyone is talking about, this is a way to do it on the cheap (although I’d bet seeing the game and wanting to make your own choices leads to a number of new sales too).

    • Ingvar M says:

      Not entirely alone. I am not too fond of videos. I can partake of a text review at work, I cannot partake of a video review at work. When at home, my primary “surfing box” doesn’t deal gracefully with video content, so I’ll have to switch to another box, laboriously copy the URL(s) across to there and then watch it.

      So, in general, “video content” becomes “content I do not partake of” (although I did end up watching the Rymdreglage video).

      • BaCoN says:

        I admit I didn’t enjoy the Mass Effect ones as much, but since Fallout 3 is a) a game I naturally enjoy and know top to bottom and b) I appreciate Rutskarn, even if he doesn’t play L4D2 because he’s too cool for Bbot and I, it’s much easier for me to get in to.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      Count me as one more who completely skips over “Spoiler Warning” entries and others because of the video content. I do most of my browsing on this site during breaks at work, and as such my computer is constantly muted. If there is a short video about something that looks particularly good or interesting, I’ll make a note of it and view it when I get home, but a 20-30min video is just more time than I care to invest in this sort of thing. I’d rather spend my time playing a game than watching someone else play.

  5. Andy_Panthro says:

    I agreed with the points you made in the article, and was really disappointed at many of the comments that it received.

    Personally, I don’t like Steam. So I don’t use it (or any games that require it). I used to try and explain this to people who asked why, but they would never accept my viewpoint as valid. Now, I try and avoid talking about it, but do read articles related to Steam in order to judge the general mood.

    My main concern these days are anti-competitive practices, and feel that having Civ5 on only Steam adds to the likes of Empire:TW, DOW2, MW2, GTA4 etc., being locked to that system.

    In the past, you could buy from any retailer and receive physical media. You could then install and play the game independent of the retailer. With digital distribution systems, you are often locked in to their system (many require specific patches for each particular system) for the length that you want to play the game.

    One of the advantages of Good Old Games is that you can make a proper back-up which is independent of GOG, doesn’t require any online activation. This means that you are never reliant entirely on a remote system to play your game.

    GOG only seem able to do this because they offer old games, and a compromise for me for other services would be full DRM removal after a certain amount of time.

    • Moriarty says:

      well yes, in a perfect world we could download games for cheap without DRM, but if we try to keep realistic that won’t happen anytime soon.

      DRM is still loved by publishers and we’re not gonna get rid of it, and I do prefer Steam over most of the efforts of other publishers.

      (At least if we assume the offline mode works all the time, I never had a problem with it, but there always seem to be some who don’t get it to work)

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Correction: we are never going to get rid of it as long as people continue to give in and buy games with DRM.

        Of course, since the collective will and resolve of the masses appears to be the equivalent of a crack addict looking for his next fix, you are effectively right.

  6. Vegedus says:

    I love steam, but I between the Steamworks and another column I read on the Escapist, I can see where the “monopoly” idea comes from. It could certainly happen, and the result wouldn’t be pretty. Only having to put your eggs in one basket is just so… Convenient. If you don’t take into account that any company with monopoly automatically behaves like a dick and provides dismal service, having Steam stand on top sounds nice, simply because then you could have all your games at one service and have little fear of losing them.

    • Angie says:

      Unless of course that one service goes away, in which case you’re totally hosed, you’ve lost all the games you “owned” through that service, with no physical media nor any backups. :/

      Similar (although temporary) situation if you find yourself someplace without internet. I like to be able to play games on my laptop while I’m travelling, and if I bought/rented/paid-to-borrow Steam games, I couldn’t. Some airports have free wifi, while others make you pay for it; I won’t pay ten bucks for two or three hours of wifi. My mom’s wireless is pretty cranky and sometimes I can’t hook up to it; with games ON my laptop, I can play anyway for the weeks scattered through the year when I’m visiting her, but if I used Steam, I’d be out of luck. I take my laptop when my husband and I go on cruises, and I like to be able to play games on shipboard. Wireless service on a ship can cost as much as eighty cents per minute in my experience, and I’m sorry, but I’m NOT paying anywhere near that much — or anything at all, actually — just to connect to Steam so I can play games they’re trying to convince me I already own. So there’s a week or two without games.

      Or I can just ignore Steam and buy only disk-based games. Guess which I do?

      Luckily I’m one of those people who doesn’t care for shooters, or any action-type games, so lack of Steam has never bothered me before. I’ve been playing Civilization since the first version, though, and I have to say it pisses me off that I’ll be missing the next one.

      Angie

      • Hugo Sanchez says:

        But you say that as if Steam would disappear overnight.

        You can still use steam offline, you just need to set it into offline mode while online. After that, no biggie. Hell, if you’re offline most of the time, just leave it that way, unless you know you’re going to be online for a good strecth of time.

        • BaCoN says:

          Valve has enough customer appreciation to figure out a way to recuperate customer losses in the case of a total meltdown, but I severely doubt that’ll happen anytime soon, and probably not inside of the next ten years.

          Or you could just turn to piracy.
          EDIT: If, and I mean IF, Valve went defunct and Steam wasn’t supported by someone else.

  7. The main problem is the online activation. While I have a fair amount of Steam Games the one I am most pleased with is Gamers Gate with it’s various wargames and similar games. The service allows me to buy the games, download it, and play it. No on-line activation or anything silly. Note if you like the Hearts of Iron series make sure you get it there not Steam.

    The one advantage of Steam is no CDs. Try I might with my two boys it hard to keep CDs unscratched. In this respect Steam is a godsend. I am OK with the trade off and know the risks. The net effect for me is that the games are going to stick around longer. Although I will prefer a Gamer’s Gate style setup.

    • BaCoN says:

      Steam isn’t “Online activation,” it’s “Online purchasing.” There’s a significant difference. Online activation implies that you have a hard copy of the game that you cannot use without going online. IE, you paid for the game but cannot use it. Online purchasing only requires you to be online for the period it takes you to set the game up, and you CANNOT GET THE GAME WITHOUT IT. Thus, you are not putting up with the potential risk of “No Internet=No Game” that you get with Online Activation, which is to say, “wasting your money for a game you can’t use.” Because you can’t waste the money if you can’t get it, but you CAN use it in offline mode.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Meh,no one plays vanilla civilization,so downloading a bunch of updated mods after each patch is standard.Steam will make this a tad easier,so I dont see this as a bad thing.

    As for your monopoly argument,I too root for impulse here.More competitors means better quality and prices,and that makes happy customers.

    • Binks says:

      “Meh,no one plays vanilla civilization”

      I know of 7 people who I interact with daily who would like to have a word with you about that :P. Just because you don’t do something doesn’t mean a lot of other people don’t, I play vanilla civilization all the time, as do my friends. The closest any of us have gotten to mods for it is the Beyond the Swords expansion.

    • Strangeite says:

      I only play vanilla Civilization.

      I am not a gamer but I have owned every version of Civ and giggled like a school girl when I heard about the release of Civ 5.

      However, I never run mods or expansions. I never play multiplayer. I play offline more often than online. I also play the game many many many years after it was released (I just finished a very long drawn out game of Civ 2 last week). I don’t buy other games.

      I don’t see any advantage that I will have by “buying” the game on Steam.

      Will I buy Civ 5? Yes. I can’t imagine a world where I wouldn’t play the newest version of Civ.

      Am I happy? No.

    • Irridium says:

      Agreed with Blinks and Strangeite.

      I only play Vanilla Civilization, and I only play it offline.

      I have no desire to play it online, since the few times I did play online it was just “build units and rush”.

      I like to take things slow, build up an empire, gradually take things over in one grand campaign. And online play just doesn’t suit how I want to play. Yes I’m sure there are people exactly like me and there are specific games for it, but I just don’t care. I hate waiting for people to take their turn, I hate having a time limit on my turn. I just want to play my way, I don’t need Steam or the internet to do that.

      I love Steam, I really do (please don’t flame me), but I see this as completely unnecessary. I remember reading somewhere (think it was either a Steam description or the Civ 5 press release) that Civ 4 sold well over 6 million copies. And from what I remember it had very little, if any DRM, so I can’t really see copy protection as a good excuse.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I wasnt really serious.However,I dont remember playing vanilla any civ except the first,way back on my amiga.The rest is always moded either by me,or by someone else(thats the case just with IV).Even when I play IV,I play it with at least blue marble.But thats because I never play it online,so I can tweak it any way I want.But,I still see how this will be a benefit for bunch of people,especially the modders.

  9. Jarenth says:

    I guess a lot of each individual’s outlook depends on their experiences with Steam. From the column I assume that for some people, Steam is a “…crash-prone resource-hungry virus“. I don’t recognize that idea at all: for me, Steam runs like a dream, made of cotton candy clouds. As such, I fall in the pro-Steam camp. Had I had different experiences when first being forced to deal with it, I might not have.

    Life's funny that way, I guess.

  10. krellen says:

    Well, as one of those hard-core strategy fans that has thus-far managed to avoid Steam, I’m leaning towards being cautiously happy about this decision. Some of the design choices for Civ V had already made me doubt I was going to buy and enjoy the game; the fact that I need Steam to play it just makes the decision easy.

    Congratulations, 2k. You just lost a sale.

  11. Personal Anecdotal Experience:

    I purchased Dragone Age: Origins through Steam. My husband purchased the game through Amazon and received it on DVD.

    Whenever he starts the game, it tries to phone home to Bioware’s authentication service to verify the extra downloaded content that he purchased. This verification process often fails the first time and he has to reload the game.

    I start the game through Steam. I NEVER experience this problem.

    Go figure…
    Leslee

  12. Torsten says:

    The situation of gaming industry is very similar to the situation music indutry was in about a decade ago. The digital distribution was the big thing and every company was creating their own distribution systems. And anybody who used the services back then will remember how terrible they could be. You could only listen the songs certain times, or only on certain players, often listening cd´s on pc was not possible, and so on. The deal often was that if you bought a digital album you had to accept a certain player to come with it.

    That situation was changed by Apple with iTunes, and to some extent iPod. Eventually everybody started using their service and music industry had to adapt and get along. Now iTunes is pretty much the only major digital music distributor.

    The game industry is still waiting for their iTunes. So far Steam has been the best option.

  13. I’d like to add a number to your Steam thing: I live in a country where 1gb costs $10 (that’s about average, although the cheapest I’ve seen is about $7). I can’t afford to have to download all my games – I just spent money to buy them already. Paying twice the price of a game (which is a nasty hidden cost) is pretty harsh. Besides that, the fastest connection speed we have is dismally slow, so it can take forever to get a game down the line.

    However, the concept of Steam is fantastic. If I lived in a country with better internet access, I’d happily use it.

    I have to say, though, I think Civ 5 made a good move (for 1st world countries). It might be harder to purchase in countries in similar or worse situations than mine, but I like the manner in which Steam does it’s DRM – it’s far less intrusive, and certainly doesn’t affect the gameplay itself.

  14. Sekundaari says:

    I fell for a trap with Empire:TW. I bought it retail, found out it had to be activated through Steam, then found out it had to be played through Steam. Next came the auto-patches, and patches were desperately needed. Newest version didn’t necessarily mean best with that game though, and that was the only version Steam let me play. Instead of both game-fixing and content-adding mods there was DLC, and the vanilla units were mostly bland.

    This was mostly because of Creative Assembly and SEGA, and not the fault of Steam, of course. Nevertheless, I won’t risk repeating any of that with Civ5.

  15. Ham08 says:

    I don’t envy you, Shamus. When it’s your job to analyze and critique the gaming industry you have to develop a pretty tough skin to remain steadfast while holding on to your integrity. Impressive.

    It doesn’t matter what the subject is, there’s always going to be insults thrown around, but especially when the object of examination is popular among the masses of knuckle dragging mouth breathers, for they are the ones that throw insults without full understanding of the subject matter and possible consequences for the consumer.

    Don’t let them change the way you do things, because your writings are extremely important for everyone whether they understand/like it or not.

    P.S. I own Civilization III and IV with expansions and was looking forward to the newest incarnation, but I will not buy Civilization V with a forced steam account requirement. When I buy a game, I don’t want strings attached, especially artificial limitations that devalue the product in such a way that it becomes nothing more than a rental. I don’t understand why so many people are willing to give up what they already had, which was ownership and the ability to install and play the game as many times as they want without restrictions or On-line activations in exchange for temporary use subject to corporate profit and control minded whims.

    P.P.S. Maybe you should write an article detailing a vigorously thorough explanation of both sides of the argument. In my mind, it’s sort of like politics in that the government takes 5 bushels of apples away and gives back three while the stupid people rejoice because they think they have won not realizing that they actually got screwed. I simply do not understand the consumer DRM cheerleader’s point of view. Corporate DRM cheerleaders, yes. But, not consumers.

    • Jarenth says:

      The second paragraph of your post ever-so-slightly reads as if you’re saying all Steam supporters are Neanderthals. Which is an amusing mental image, but it might not be the sentiment you were trying to get across.

    • Bandit451 says:

      I’m interested to know: Do you feel the same about Itunes?
      Both are digital distribution methods that you buy and download a product from, you can download each respective product multiple times without limitation, and you can use both products while offline. Your *ahem* “strong words” against steam users would make a little more sense if I knew what you thought about other digital distribution methods.

      For me, Steam lets me voice/text to friends, play my games on both my PC’s and my Laptop without needing to take a cd or my savegames back and forth, buy games cheaply with their sales, not worry about intalling updates for my games, and not worry about managing anti-hacker programs like punkbuster. Steam ADDS value for me, and I’m happy to give up my “Ownership” for the game for these reasons above.

      My only worry is that Valve/Steam will go under and I’ll lose my games, but when I look back to what I played 15 years ago (System Shock 2) I couldn’t get the thing to run on a recent computer. I had to Pirate my own game to get a version that would run on my computer. Thats’ dumb, and why should I think that will change in the next 15 years? No system cannot correct the basic longevity flaw of computer videogames: technology moves foreward. Steam helps me in the here and now when my videogames will be playable and optimized for these machines.

      • Nick Bell says:

        There is a big difference between iTunes and Steam. iTunes (currently) sells completely DRM free music. Its yours forever, no strings attached. That’s completely different than games that are forever tied to being activated with Steam. (Also: you can only download iTunes music once. Lose it, and its gone.)

        All that said, I agree that Steam adds value. When I bought Dragon Age, we installed it on both my computer and my wifes. We flipped her install into offline mode, and then were both able to play through the game at the same time. No pirated copies or no-cd cracks required.

        • Mayhem says:

          I passionately hate Itunes, but consider it a necessary evil as I need it to load music onto my Ipod. I own an Ipod because it was the only music player that had more than 60GB of space and I like to have a large chunk of my collection with me when I travel.
          Ipods have a great user interface, and are very intuitive. Itunes however, not so much. I especially love the fact that every time you reinstall itunes, the first time you go to sync the ipod it completely deletes and recopies every piece of music across again.
          With 60Gb to copy, this process takes around 8 hours, with a lot of babysitting because Itunes aborts the process whenever it encounters an error. And this is with 100% my own music, copied myself from my own cds, with no DRM involved anywhere except that imposed by Itunes itself. And people wonder why I only change the music on my ipod every 10 months or so.

          • Bandit451 says:

            I feel the same way, Apple makes great hardware (provided you don’t buy a 1st generation ANYTHING) but their software is terrible, shitty, unoptimized, and unintuitive. Maybe it is only unintuitive because I have used PC’s all my life, but still, when even Windows Media Player finds album covers and automatically applies the ones I want, and Itunes has me searching all over the internet for the one that I have, it annoys me. Also it feels the need to split individual cd’s (same artist, same band, same CD.( God help you if it is a compilation or soundtrack CD)) into multiple groups, I haven’t yet figured out why, but that is another thing a default windows media player will do properly.
            This has turned into a rant.

            Nick Bell thank you for calling me out, while I have Itunes, I have never bought anything. Thanks for clarifying the finer points, now I know I won’t buy anything from Itunes because If I can’t back it up at least three times, it isn’t worth it.

            Mayhem, I feel the same way. It was a major annoyance to find out that the Video Ipod Nano I received for Christmas necessitated so much babying and fiddling to get my music organized, sorted, and given album covers. Itunes truly is a terrible thing on a PC.

          • Nalano says:

            Don’t forget – not only is iTunes a bloated PoS that’s necessary to run an iPod from (and is horribly slow if you have a collection of 10k+ tracks, compared to just about every other media organizer like WinAmp), but it didn’t always have DRM-free tracks.

          • pinchy says:

            There is an option somewhere to turn off the auto-synching stupidity. Its sometimes annoying to have to manually drag songs across from the library to the ipod but it’s personally less annoying than the auto-synch thing.

            I will totally agree, however, that it is a terrible piece of software to actually have to use.

    • Jirin says:

      The reasons I like Steam:

      1) The cheap games. Since we’re talking about Civilisation, Civ IV and all three expansions was $10 a weekend or two ago. I live in Australia, so that’s beyond second-hand prices from stores here.

      2) Convenience. I do all my gaming on a laptop, so I can cart all of my games to Uni and back every day. To do that with store-bought games, I’d need to go messing around with no-CD cracks, and that’s more of a pain to me than just buying them off Steam. Even if I don’t have an internet connection going, I’ve found the Offline mode reliable (it just takes it 10 minutes or so to work out that I need it, which is a bit of a pain, but not absolutely terrible), so that isn’t a problem for me.

      3) Gifts. I really like the Steam gift-buying system. Helps when interstate friends have birthdays.

      So yeah, it’s more like having them take away five apples and give you three oranges. A bad deal for some, but if you really prefer oranges…

      Edit: Oh, before I forget: there’s also the Steam Community tools. I don’t use most of them, but I do like the in-game chat. If I want to play something without being disturbed (like Dragon Age), then I just go offline, but if I want people to be able to contact me, it’s there. Handy when setting up Left 4 Dead games, too.

  16. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Here’s a philosophic question: How does one tell the difference between a “monopoly” and a market-endorsed dominant player? Especially, how does one do so at a given point in time, without a deep familiarity with what has gone before? Which one is Steam and why?

    • Jarenth says:

      I’d say that people support and buy from a market-endorsed dominant player because they chooise to, but support and buy from a monopolist because they don’t really have a choice in the matter. It’s a thin line, though, and one that’s really consumer-specific.

    • Drexer says:

      I would say that in this case we can coonsider them as equivalent.

      The fact is though, that monopolies are evil by presence only, as their evil is not on the fact that they practice evil prices per se(Steam for instance, could have 100% of market share and still do its regular discounts if its fame is to be trusted), but because there is always the possibility that they start inflating prices with no opposition or choice for the consumers.

  17. Irridium says:

    Hm… as a Steam/Valve fan, and a long time Civ fan, and a DRM hater, I really don’t know what to think.

    On one hand, Steam brings in lots of great things. I may actually give the online more of a chance now, since its integrated and isn’t going to use Gamespy or something crap like that. This could also help me set up quick, fun games with friends, and not random jerks who bum-rush every game. Plus with Steam we won’t have to deal with the same DRM crap Bioshock 1 and 2 dealt with.

    And on the other hand, I was perfectly happy playing alone. The game has infinite replayability since every new game has a brand new map, civs are randomized, and anything can happen. I didn’t need to be connected online to have fun, the AI provided enough entertainment. Plus I doubt friends and lots of people would be willing to sit through a many hour game, going from ancient times to the future like I like to do. It just seems like a pointless addition to me since Civ4 offered a nice and easy way to play. No online required, no DRM, no online activation. It just had infinite fun, and that was it.

    And I agree about the whole Steam monopoly thing. I know that right now Steam and Valve actually give a damn about their fans/costumers. But what will happen when Valve’s gamer-friendly leadership is replaced with a not-so-gamer-friendly leadership. People say this won’t happen, but once upon a time Microsoft was seen as the underdog, as the cool guy. Everyone loved Microsoft, and said that it would never turn into a big ass-hole corporation. And look what happened.

    • Bandit451 says:

      You can put your steam client into Offline Mode, it will allow you to play your games with no connection to the internet.
      Provided you have downloaded them already ofcourse.

      • Irridium says:

        Yes I know, but my internet is flaky at best, and often it craps out during an update. Plus having to activate it online is just an unnecessary and annoying thing to do. I bought the thing, let me play it already.

        Plus, whenever I try to start it in offline mode when my internets down, it says “cannot connect to the internet, start Steam in offline mode?”

        I click yes.

        “We’re sorry, Steam cannot connect to the internet right now, try again later.”

        Yeah, thats what I deal with when I try to start it in offline mode when my internet is down.

        • Bandit451 says:

          Ah, yes, thats the terrible problem with Offline mode: you have to switch to it WHILE you are connected to the internet. Supposedly it is to stop hackers and pirates, but it still seems really dumb.

          • capital L says:

            I think the new Steam client has fixed this issue, which was always an insult as well as an aggravation. Now if Steam cannot connect, it will start in offline mode (or at least it does on my computer).

            I read somewhere that you may or may not be required to have manual set Steam to offline mode once before this will work, but I do not know for sure about this.

  18. “Dependency on Windows is a natural thing”

    No it’s not. It’s very easy to release a game engine as open source but with copyrighted assets. Once a game’s open source, if it’s any good, it rapidly gets ported to many platforms by the community, at zero extra cost to the developer. I see this happen all the time with not-for-pay open source games. But this is a non-standard thing to do. Commence calling me crazy.

    I also see many developers who, even though they only have the resources to build for one platform, they at least test and make sure it runs on wine, which isn’t nearly as hard to do as porting to a whole different platform (All of Blizzard’s released RTS titles, as well as WoW, for example). This is a step in the right direction.

    • Hugo Sanchez says:

      Yes, but commercially successful open-source games exists mostly in the realm of fantasy.

      Even if it’s open-source, if it’s using DirectX, you’re still going to have one hell of a time porting it to Mac/Linux.

    • ehlijen says:

      Releasing a game open source would require the industry to do a 180 in regards to DRM. Just how well can you protect a game from being cracked if you lay open the code for all to see?

      So no, releasing open source games is only zero cost if you did not expect any revenue from selling it, which does not apply to any commercial title.

  19. randy says:

    Shouldn’t it rather be Civilization gets Steamed?

  20. Conlaen says:

    Steam. I like it, but it also scares me in a way. I don’t like the fact that you have to be online all the time. Of course this is theoretically not always needed for steam, but I’ve also had times where te play offline did not work.

    The thing is, with piracy being the big issue publishers say it is, I can see that is the directions developers are going to. And Steam in that effect is not so bad. It adds functionalities where you have access to communities, know what your friends are playing, have a fairly easy updating client, you can play your game on any system where you log in (and install the game) and with the added Steam Cloud, can even play your own save games from anywhere. So as far as services like these go, it’s pretty nice.

    But on the other hand, not being able to play games on 2 systems a the same time sometimes gets to me (though we’ve had games where it would not pose a problem, or just sometimes, but then I guess my point is that the randomness is annoying too). I still don’t like it much that we can’t play a game at the same time, even a single player game, or we’ll have to pay for it twice.

    So in the end? I’m not too happy about it. But I also see that this is where all other DRM types are going as well, and compared, Steam goes about it much better so far. If I’m being inconvenienced with all that DRM always online crap, I rather have some other functionality in return for it.

  21. I’d just like to comment that worries about any one company grabbing a huge portion of market share are misplaced. This is a complaint that anti-big-business people like to rattle off without thinking about it, but it’s a common business trend when a new industry enters its shakedown period. The trouble is that the way this benefits EVERYONE is difficult for people to see, a classic example of what Frederic Bastiat was talking about so many years ago.

    The conglomeration of small companies into large ones creates massive economies of scale and creates a standardization that makes everyone’s lives easier. Granted, the standardized approach may not be the “best” one (the most common complaint), but it doesn’t have to be. The people who care more about optimization than convenience remain free to go about their optimizing, and the economies of scale created BY the large conglomerate actually ENABLE all the little fringe companies that cater to the optimization-hungry to exist. The R&D done by these fringe companies eventually works its way back into the conglomerate–after it’s been tested and simplified and the bugs are mostly worked out.

    It’s a terrific cycle, and it applies to pretty much any business out there. Henry Ford, for instance, was an example of this type of virtuous circle because he wasn’t really interested in cheap affordable transportation–he wanted to build race cars. So he was kind of a fringer on his own attached to a large company. His constant efforts to make fast cars led to dramatic improvements of the ordinary family model.

    So don’t worry if Steam winds up being the platform du jour. It may, in fact, be better for everyone if this is the case even if Steam isn’t the OPTIMAL platform.

    • swimon says:

      The argument is not “the industry might suffer as steam grows” it’s “the industry might suffer as steam becomes a monopoly”. I haven’t heard anyone say that it’s a bad thing that many people choose steam for their download the problem is that for Civ V steam is the only option. If this leads to every game being only steam compatible in the future then there can be no fringe companies as there are no games for them to sell.

      I’m usually somewhat of a proponent for big companies myself but this is not the same thing.

    • krellen says:

      Economies of scale are undesirable if you value diversity over price. The problem with huge conglomerates are not inherent evils of corporations, but the bland sameness that everything becomes underneath a huge conglomerate. No matter how varied they try to make their offerings, there will always be something the same about all of them.

      • Both of these comments are essentially equating something like “65% market share” (which is an enormously dominant percentage in most industries for those who know nothing about business–i.e. most everyone) with “monopoly” which is absurd. And what’s bad about things being “bland” and “the same”? It’s so bland that I speak the same language all the time when I could switch tongues every third word. Or my be arrange grammar more any like way because interestinger sometimes can. Being different just for the hell of it isn’t better.

        I’m sure you love it when the game companies make you learn a completely different and arcane combination of keys to play THEIR game, too.

        • krellen says:

          Consider the game industry: have a real good look at it. You already can see the “bland” and “same” that’s creeping into it. That bland and same takes the form of everything being a shooter, everything being first-person or over-the-shoulder perspective, everything being “realistic” brown, everything being “ohmygodawesome” graphics.

          This isn’t same that exists for ease of use and communication. This is same that exists because someone decided getting 10% of 50% of the market is better than getting 100% of 10% of the market.

  22. Reach says:

    I’m surprised that, with Ubisoft’s nightmarish always-on DRM running amok, you bothered to take the time to complain about Steam-exclusive titles. At a time when every publisher wants to push its own clumsy, useless online service, I’d think you would appreciate a single, convenient service and be glad when it shows domination in the market.

    I love Steam, and I think that once you take the time to get it installed completely, it makes everything easier and cheaper. However, I understand that many don’t have consistent internet connection, and many people have issues with not owning the games they buy, but at this point Steam seems like the best case scenario. Developers are losing too much money to retailers and second-hand sales to not require online activation. You may not like Steam, which isn’t perfect by any means, but surely you like it better than other DRM services like UPlay and SecuROM.

    • Drexer says:

      At the risk of this being far too close to Godwin’s Law, allow me to use an example.

      In 1974, in my country, Portugal, there was a (peaceful) revolution which threw down the fascist government that had been in power for forty years. This being that same year, one of the big political movements that supported this was of course the main socialist and communist parties.

      The NATO however, silently tugged the Portuguese government as it re-formed itself across the next year, to go back to a dictatorship. Their reasoning? That a right dictatorship was better than risking another communist country. We ended up firmly on the center-right of the political scale then, enough to make them happy, but the point still stands.

      They wished for the least harm. That does not make them right however.

      In the same manner, of course everyone here is outraged at Ubi’s DRM, however, just because we complain against X, it does not mean we won’t complain against Y, even if Y is better than X. It’s still a bad situation.

      Sorry for using such a political example, but it was the only thing that came to mind. >_>

    • Irridium says:

      Agreed, kind of. Sure steam is fine now, but what about in the future? In this industry things change very quickly, and rarely for the best.

      • Reach says:

        I don’t think it’s fair to immediately assume the worst, at least considering who we’re talking about. Steam is not showing any signs of decline or demonstrating abuse of power, indeed they are expanding and continue to make things easier, occasionally with no benefit to themselves (See: Portal is free, hosting of free mods, etc.)

    • Shamus says:

      “I’m surprised you’d argue against a slap in the face when the alternative is a sledgehammer to the groin.”

      Steam is a tradeoff of values. There is no way around this. Being the “least worst” does not mean it’s the best consumers can hope for, or that someone else couldn’t give consumers a better deal.

      • Reach says:

        You’re correct, of course. I would always prefer games without online activation, but if a game must have it (which seems to be the case for every friggin game at this point, at least until big publishers abandon their pointless anti-piracy crusades) I would be glad if its publisher decided to use a less-intrusive service that was already being used by many other publishers and actually offers some benefit in its use, rather than a clunky, poorly designed program that devours memory and requires a blood sample every time you boot it up.

        Maybe the industry has me brainwashed with hellish alternatives, but Steam seems to be serving as a sort of concession between developers and consumers, or at least the first step away from GestapoPlay and the like. I’m just grateful that there’s a service that is slowly returning rights to the customer, while the rest of the industry seems to be intent on stripping every last one away.

        • Sekundaari says:

          In this case though, Steam isn’t returning any rights, on the contrary. I have Civ4: Complete Edition, which is quite free of DRM. The last patch even removed the disc check! I won’t be buying the new one. On top of Steam, the civilization added with a “Deluxe Edition” makes me worried about modders’ capability to create new civs.

      • Everything in the *entire universe* is a tradeoff of values.

    • Steve C says:

      Developers are losing too much money to retailers and second-hand sales to not require online activation.

      This statement boggles my mind. Developers sell to publishers who sell to retailers. That’s how the distribution chain works. How in the world do retailers take money from the developer? Roving bands of pitchfork wielding retailers are not mugging developers. Retailers are part of the distribution chain that the game companies =choose= to use. If they “lose money to them” then it’s through the game companies own incompetence.

      Losing money to second hand sales is just as absurd. People have the right to sell stuff they’ve purchased. It’s called the doctrine of first sale. If I buy a novel in a store and I read that novel and then sell it to a friend or a used bookstore then the author has lost nothing. It’s the exact same for a video game.

      • Nalano says:

        To be fair, your analogy is suspect: Nobody has a printing press in their home, with the ability to make potentially infinite copies of said writer’s book.

        Of course, being the pinko that I am, I’m always glad to have that sort of ace in the hole – what with the ability to make the entire industry unprofitable – when what I see is a brazen attempt by the industry to throw creativity aside in the name of quick money.

        The irony is, half the time I don’t pirate because it’s too convenient to buy it straight from Steam (or GoG). The other half of the time I don’t pirate because I don’t want the game equivalent of a Dan Brown potboiler (such as AC2).

        • Steve C says:

          I wasn’t making an analogy. Nor was I (or the original poster) talking about piracy in any way. “Second hand sales” refers where you legitimately and legally buy something and then resell it to a 3rd party. I used a novel as my example because international copyright law treats both a video game and a novel exactly the same.

  23. Damian says:

    I’m confused. Here in NZ, Civ V is available for normal box purchase on pre-order at the moment. Somewhat confusingly, it is cheaper by quite a bit than the Steam version.

  24. JB says:

    I’m finished with PC gaming. I’m waiting for Diablo III, and that’s it.

    I’m old fashioned in the sense that I don’t like to use my credit card to many places. I’ve registered with paypal, and I shop at Amazon. That’s about it. if I can’t pay through these channels, I don’t buy.

    After pirating Civ II, I’ve bought Civ III, Civ III play the world and Civ IV. I’d buy Civ V as well, if a shop is willing to trade it for cold hard cash. If I have to register my VISA at some online site, I’ll pass.

    And by the way, I’ll pass om Diablo III as well, if it for some reason requires me to give up my VISA number online.

    As I said, I’m old fashioned.

    • Jirin says:

      I think you’re able to buy Civ V from stores, but it will then install Steam. You only need to register a credit card if you want to buy things from the Steam store.

    • Moriarty says:

      If you are registered at paypal, you don’t need to give additional information to someone else, you can use paypal at the steam store.

    • kharon says:

      You don’t need to register or trade any sensitive information in order to get a Steam account — just an email address (it could even be a throwaway Yahoo account).

      Likewise, Civilization V will sell as a disc version – you will simply need to tie it to a (free) Steam account. And even if minds are changed and it is sold only through the Steam store, you are able to pay for products on the Steam store from a PayPal account. I recently bought Plants vs. Zombies on Steam through my PayPal account, in fact.

      But, at this point, it’s naive to assume that Diablo III will be any different from Starcraft 2: I’m willing to bet heavily in favor of Blizzard saying you need to be signed up for a (free) Battle.Net account just to play the game — even if you only ever plan to play offline single-player.

  25. Lintman says:

    From what I understand, part of the Steam-exclusiveness is that the game is tied to SteamWorks: if a game uses on Steam for all its online matchmaking, cloud saving, achievements, and DLC purchases, and it is also using Steam for its DRM, then it’s pretty much a Steam-only game.

    Yeah, they could probably allow Impulse or Gamer’s Gate to “sell” the game, but they’d STILL need to require people to install and run Steam to support the actual DRM and online features. No one would want that, especially not Stardock/Gamer’s Gate.

    Alternately, they’d have to develop a separate version of the game using a non-Steam DRM for the game and DLC, and develop their own online systems for matchmaking, cloud saves, storefront, achievements, etc. If they’re gonna do that. they’re back to the Bioshock 2 DRM plus Windows Live plus something like a “Rockstar Social Club”. Boo.

    Valve has turned Steam not just into a store/DRM method, but effectively turned it into a development platform: The Civ5 game developers have targeted Steam in nearly the same sense that they have targeted Windows. Impulse is planning to offer many of the same online features Steam is offering, but a developer would need to code specifically for them in the just like it would if it wanted to support both PC and linux (though on a smaller scale of course).

    Now, the developers could instead just make it so the game works without Steam installed, and with the Steam-required features disabled, but that still leaves the matter of needing to provide an alternate DRM method, which then would likely mean that the Steam users end up stuck with both Steam plus the alternate DRM. How many people would prefer to buy an online-crippled version of Civ 5 with Tages or Secu-rom DRM from Impulse instead of the full-featured version on Steam?

    • krellen says:

      I don’t even see why Civ needs online matchmaking, cloud saving, achievements, or any other feature that SteamWorks is offering. No previous Civs have had any of these features, and no one will deny these games as top, best-sellers and best-of-year strategy games.

      Multiplayer Civ works best in a LAN environment, or with direct connections with friends you know. Why does everything have to have this stupid push to play games against random strangers? Can’t we just have a few nice games to play with friends, for fun, at home?

  26. Drexer says:

    Regarding a point that I see here being repeated from some random commentators far too much.

    I use Steam in offline mode. I never had a problem with Steam in offline mode. I suspect you didn’t either, or if you did, you managed to surpass it. However, many people still have lots of problems with Steam offline mode and have never been able to use it.

    I fully support Steam’s efforts to make offline mode a viable option, but until it’s 100%(or a very high 99% for statistical accuracy) workable, the ‘offline mode’ argument shouldn’t be thrown around as if it’s the solution to all complaints.

  27. Ham08 says:

    In the future people will reminisce to their grandchildren, “Back in my day, you only had to submit to an iron rod shoved up your buttocks with mandatory electrocution when you wanted to play games, but now things have gone too far.”

    Kids don’t realize that as soon as the dust settles and this measure becomes acceptable, the next measure will come along which further devalues the product and eliminates our rights as a consumer.

    “We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!” — Jean-Luc Picard (Lily’s rebuttal does not apply in this case.)

  28. JKuz says:

    “Steam is a crash-prone resource-hungry virus.” I second that. I have never gotten offline mode to work properly, and the voice chat has never worked well for me (I have to run skype in the background).
    Also I once had to wait two weeks for my retail copy of FEAR 2 to work. It installed, then refused to start until an update was installed, but it allready had the update. I ended up just writing it off as a waste of cash, but one day after 2 weeks it finally decided to work.

  29. Josh R says:

    [quote]I suspect a lot of the above points come from young people who are trying to boil my column down to “Steam is good / bad” and aren’t interested in ruminations on stuff like “industry trends” and speculations on where the business will be in five years. [/quote]

    As far as analyzing the industry, I just don’t believe that steam has enough of a monopoly to start abusing it. The ability to switch at any time to hard copies of games, or any other distribution system is too easy.
    The barriers of entry to the market are too low for me to be worried about monopoly abuse. And if steam start abusing it, or stop being seen as such a benevolent force, people will stop attaching their games to it.

    Otherwise yeah, I’m one of those young people that just takes from it the good/bad.
    It’s not so much the adversity to whether or not you like steam, it’s that I don’t agree with your reasoning behind disliking it.
    I’m also not so opposed to piracy if I’ve already bought something, I consider pirating it not to be a crime.
    So if steam do go down, I’ll be pirating the games I’ve already paid for back, and making hard copies.
    In fact, in my opinion I’d be within my rights to start doing this now.

  30. Hmm, my daughter buys a lot of games through an itunes account for use on an itouch. Had not thought of that as a successful drm model until tonight.

  31. X2-Eliah says:

    Perhaps you could do a pictorial article / guide on installing a Steam-ified game from a CD, Shamus? Pretty much like what you did with Assassin’s Creed 2 – just get a game from a disc that needs Steam, get a PC that hasn’t got Steam yet, and try to install it and show us how it goes – It would be not only entertainment, but a ground point for your stance on Steam (if results are what you expect), and perhaps a guide on what to expect for people who have remained Steam-free.

    And it would be fun, I guess.

  32. Moriarty says:

    I don’t necessarily think steam becomin bigger and even having a monopoly is entirely a bad thing.

    Was microsoft bad for the pc market? Was Aol bad for the rise of the internet?

    I think Steam may be the best way to kickstart online distribution of games, and being a fan of buying things online, I hope it’s gonna work. =)

  33. Steve C says:

    Was microsoft bad for the pc market?

    Yes!

    Was Aol bad for the rise of the internet?

    And YES!

  34. Zaxares says:

    Short on time tonight, but I just want to chime in that yes, a LOT can change in 10 years. CEOs and executives can leave or retire, and when they do, the spirit and direction of a company can change immensely. No matter how nice or friendly or charitable a company may seem now, one cannot rely on their goodwill remaining so forever.

  35. BaCoN says:

    I dunno if anybody’s mentioned this(because I am illiterate and have ADD. That’s right, I’m from the time before the H was added. You damned kids.), but I really like Steam’s in game browser. I just really enjoy being able to look stuff up without having to tab back and forth. Add to that the steam chat, and it’s a perfect gamer resource & social medium.

    Add to the fact that(and I’ve said this repeatedly) it has nothing to do with online activation, because you don’t, y’know, have to be online to use your games(unless they are MO-only), which is a thing a lot of people don’t get.

    I hear a lot of complaints about DRM and losing your rights, but as long as Valve is around, your games are a) supported b) held for you if you lose them and c) easily modded within the system. The fears that Valve will go under and we’ll lose everything we’ve totally worked oh so hard for are unfounded, because, and I am being honest here, it is a load of bullocks.

    Valve is not likely to go under within the next ten years.
    IF Valve goes under, Steam is likely to get picked up.
    IF Steam doesn’t get picked up, you haven’t lost your games, because Steam is still on your computer, and all the games you have are too. Most likely, Valve, when going under, would find a way to say “Here’s a patch so your games that DO require Steam no longer require it,” or something to that effect. Because Gabe Newell loves you.
    IF Gabe Newell hates you and wants your children served to him as a midnight snack before he plays a completed version of Half Life 2: Episode 3 that wasn’t released because of how much he despises happiness and joy, someone somewhere will do that for him.
    IF nobody does it, you can always turn to piracy as an absolutely last resort.
    IF you’re already a pirate, catch on fire.

    TL;DR:

    I don’t know anything, but I like Steam and Shamus sorta does, but he’s dubious and is building a bomb shelter equivalent of… Hey, wait a second.

    Would it be possible to download all your Steam games and then redirect your Steam’s queries for any potential online checks to a locally hosted server?

    Hrm…

  36. Talorc says:

    I actually like Steam, but not in this instance. Take 2 is busy trying to charge $30 extra for the same software because I live in Australia:

    http://www.steamprices.com/au/search?civilization+v

    37%. Normally that wouldn’t bother me as I would just go to one of the other DD places (Gamersgate, Impulse) and fool them into thinking I was from the US and purchase at the low price.

    Unfortunately, the Steam system has gotten quite strict with IP checks and account locking if you try and fool it as to your region! I wont risk my Steam account on trying to get the lower US price.

    So now I will not buy it at all, until it is on special or ordered cheap via import from the UK.

    • Nalano says:

      I’ve helped an Aussie friend get past stuff like this by buying it for them as a gift and having them paypal me the dough right back. International fees are less than two dollars and your money is returned inside of 24 hours.

  37. Blake says:

    “The cost of running Steam, Impulse, Direct 2 Drive, or Gamers Gate is basically no more than the memory, CPU, and hard drive the thing eats up.”

    I live in Australia, the time spent downloading updates to the Steam client as well as the bandwidth required to do so is the biggest cost for me.

    I’ve actually bought a boxed version of something, found it needed steam, let it install, created a steam account, logged into the thing then after ages of updating gave up and never tried the game again.

    I don’t mind the DRM and stuff that comes with Steam, but needing a decent connection means any Steam games are nearly impossible for me to play.

    • Talorc says:

      Hi Blake

      Change your ISP. There are plenty of decent ISP’s in Australia where Steam is download quota free and blazingly fast. I am with iinet, most Steam downloads are quota free and come in at 1500kb/s.

  38. Ham08 says:

    Steam DRM cheerleaders should just save your breath for the uninformed, easily manipulated, or uneducated gamers out there. Funny. It seems they picked the wrong demographic to force this type of shenanigan. The strategy gamer.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Makes perfect sense. After all, what current strategy games actually have a necesity to think, not a need for lightning-fast button-spam following a linear template “If he does this, I goto that, scan enemy, repeat”?

      • Ham08 says:

        I didn’t buy Empire: Total War or its expansion because it had a Steam account requirement and I won’t buy Civilization V for the same reason.

        However, I may have erroneously made the assumption that “strategy gamers” are, for the most part, more informed, not as easily manipulated, and more self educated than the average gamer, since it is their passion for the “thinking man’s (woman’s) game” that sets them apart. I assumed that the “strategy gamer” would read and understand everything about this type of DRM automatically due to their inquisitive and problem solving nature and would naturally come to the same conclusion. The primary goal of this type of DRM is a scam used to wrestle control away from the consumer and eliminate their rights. Disguising it as anything else is called deception. The product they are selling is clearly inferior.

        The nature of business is profit. They will push until they cannot push anymore, then they will wait till the dust settles before they start the whole cycle over again. They cannot help it, for that is the nature of successful business. Profit, Profit, and more Profit. Who can blame them for wanting more profit?

        On the other hand, arming the enemy is a foolish action and that’s what the masses of people are doing. Allowing this sort of DRM to be successful paves the way for more heinous versions to follow, so consumers need to play defense to prevent the situation from getting worse. We cannot allow this measure to go unchallenged even if nothing else comes of it, for the consequences of doing nothing may be too great and then it would be too late. Remember that, deception in warfare has been a successful strategy throughout history. They paint a pretty picture to fool consumers so the consumer must initiate self defense as a necessary precautionary measure. Think!

    • Nalano says:

      Sounds like an indictment of SC2 players more than Steam customers. After all, I was introduced to E:TW from Steam, and that’s not a twitch strategy game.

  39. (LK) says:

    Steam actually has had a decline in service lately. For some customers with otherwise uninterrupted local internet service the steam service has been losing connection for minutes at a time up to 20-30 times a day.

    This disrupts the ability to utilize its’ community functions and even periodically interrupts attempts to log in to play games.

    Back when they had all their kinks ironed out and the service was more or less continuous I was very happy with it… but if it’s going to keep crapping out increasingly more often with hiccups all day long and at least two artificial 10 minute gaps in my conversations, etc… then I’m going to begin to consider it not worth the burden… because suddenly the added features begin to evaporate into instability.

    Of course, I’ve never understood why the IM protocol isn’t handled more like other Instant Messengers proper like YIM, AIM, gtalk, et al. which have a major service disruption once every… 6 months? Why should every hiccup in their centralized servers interrupt a direct communications connection between me and a single other computer at the perimeter of the network? Route 2-point IMs directly from sender to recipient ffs. Decentralization is the thesis of the entire internet, learn to apply it to your platform’s communication platform, Valve :C

  40. Nalano says:

    I dunno about being kicked off Steam all the time – I have Time Warner, which has been notorious for sudden and unexplained outages, as evidenced by continuously and chronically being booted outta World of Warcraft as well as several IM clients (my IM history basically looks like “Nalano has logged off. Nalano has logged on. Nalano has logged off. Nalano has logged on.” ad infinitum).

    That said, Steam has affected me the least of all the online clients. It doesn’t boot me outta games. It doesn’t yell at me for trying to play games offline. About the worst thing that could occur is if the game is stuck auto-updating when it happens.

    But anyway. I didn’t mean for this post to be yet another squee about Steam. I just wanted to point out that, yes, it’s dangerous for any one company (Valve) to gain too much power in the marketplace because monopolies tend to mean the consumer soon gets fucked (EA). That said, Valve’s business model is clearly superior (GfWL, anyone?) and the real issue is not that they’re potentially evil fucks, but that they’re not getting any decent competition.

    It’s a capitalism problem: Capitalism works best when there’s something of an infinitely powerful check-and-balance system what with competition, but all companies work in an inherently anti-competitive manner. To draw upon the original commenter’s point, you may need an OS, but you don’t need exclusivity to that OS. Yeah, PC game companies occasionally throw bones to the Mac community, but then, Microsoft occasionally throws bones to the PC… after the XBox had it for a year or so. Likewise with the PS3.

    None of the games for any of these platforms are inherently exclusive to those platforms. They’re just there so that anybody who fronted the gate fee for the platform is stuck having to buy what’s offered. The whole thing – buying out Bungie and making them sell XBox-exclusive games; creating a whole DLC payment scheme with Microsoft’s version of Disney Dollars with GfWL – is anti-competitive. Valve’s also guilty, though perhaps not AS guilty as some offenders.

    The whole shebang isn’t a sea change in the model of business: It’s always been that way. (EA’s gobbling up of every half-decent developer in sight; the flood of crappy console games that almost killed the whole industry 20 years back, etc.) It’s just that, as the gaming population ages, they’re getting more savvy to the whole money aspect of it all.

  41. acabaca says:

    I still haven’t played Half-life 2. The only reason for this is that I refuse to install anything that “phones home”. I want my software to come in a box that contains every part of it, no strings attached, so that I can feel like I am the master and commander of my own computer.

  42. nerdpride says:

    I can see why people really like Steam. It’s the perfect service for the intended consumer (I think the whole argument just goes along better if one side admits that the other side doesn’t have to quit using Steam, and the other side should be able to get what they want for reasonable prices without Steam, and that nothing’s perfect). I think the rows mostly come over when those consumers which Steam was not intended for (me!) feel cheated out of something great.

    What I don’t see is why people really like Valve. They add unskippable plot to traditional game types (direct reply to the common gamer input, no rocket science applied here), run a cutthroat model of business (undersell all local competition through digital distribution… almost as if they were running “piracy” servers for cash–the main difference being that they obtained legal rights first), and they popularized the “achievement” system (pretty impractical way to measure something useless, IMHO). Eh.

    Yeah, I should’ve thought of all this sooner. It kinda just splorted up after a while.

    • Nalano says:

      What you call undercutting other people would call competition. The only “undercutting” that is ethically wrong is selling at a loss in order to get market share. That is not the case here.

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