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This also means that other digital delivery services like Impulse and Gamers Gate won't carry Civilization V. And I don't blame them. From a business perspective, this is like releasing a game for the PS3 that requires you also own an Xbox 360 in order to to play it. Why sell a product that will strengthen your competitor? In fact, this digital distribution war is probably going to end up looking a lot like console wars. Some games will be cross-platform, but others will be platform-exclusive, and whenever an exclusive comes out gamers will have to choose to either miss out on the game or adopt yet another platform. Thankfully, digital platforms are a lot cheaper than hardware ones. 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.
A while back I talked about how different online services will dogpile on a single game, like how Grand Theft Auto IV required Games for Windows Live, Rockstar Social Club, Steam, and SecuROM in order to run. This is a very strange time and we're seeing big changes come very fast. On one side of the battlefield we have services teaming up, and on the other side we have them blocking each other with exclusives. Some services are stores, some are social networking and multiplayer matchmaking, and some are DRM. Some are a combination of these. Everyone can see that the future is digital, but nobody quite knows what it will look like and everyone is trying to hedge their bets.
For the record, I'm cheering for the underdogs. (That is, everyone that isn't Steam.) It's not that I want to see Steam do poorly. I'll admit that Valve seems like Santa today, selling games for cheap and providing free updates and new content for years after a game comes out. Imagine how other publishers would handle the endless stream of Team Fortress 2 updates. They would be trying to sell us a new $20 DLC every couple of months, and the entire community would be balkanized over who owned what and which servers supported them. It would be an expensive and horrifying mess. I'll admit that nobody but Valve is capable of delivering us the fountain of free awesome that is Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. (Although I have to give credit to Stardock for doing much the same thing for strategy gamers.)
But no matter how nice Valve is today, I don't like to see any one company grab too much of the market this early in the game. As I keep reminding the young people, having one company run the show is a bad thing for the consumer, no matter how benevolent the company seems. I want everyone to remember that Electronic Arts began life as a tiny indie art house developer before they became a cutthroat corporate juggernaut. Nobody knows what Valve (and thus Steam) will look like in ten years. Companies usually either collapse or grow, both of which change the behavior and personality of a company. Stasis is exceptionally rare and not something you should bet on.
In any case, the strategy gamers are being yanked into the world of Digitial Distribution, DLC and DRM in one abrupt move. To those gamers I say: Welcome to the zoo, folks. Do try to have some fun amidst the chaos.