Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Steam Gets Civilized

Shamus Young | 14 May 2010 21:00
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Six years ago Half-Life 2 came out as a Steam exclusive. Fans of the series got a chance to figure out what the platform was all about, and then they had to decide if they were willing to accept it, or miss out on the flagship of all FPS games. Part DRM, part digital delivery system, part store and (later on) part social network, Steam offers a very different system for buying, installing, and playing games. Some accepted Steam enthusiastically. Some (like me) grudgingly. And some walked away entirely. Now that same drama is playing out again for the Civilization series.

The news has come down that Sid Meier's Civilization V will ship with Steamworks, and there has been an outpouring of outrage from longtime Civilization fans. Now the flagship of all strategy games is going Steam, and the hardcore strategy crowd is coming to terms with this new world order of Steam based gaming.

I get the sense that a good portion of the Civilization fans are pretty much hardcore strategy types, with a preference for old-school depth and turn-based gameplay. They don't seem to go in for shooters and other action games, which explains why they're just now becoming aware of Steam. The thread I linked above has all the same debates we've seen played out a thousand times already:

1) The hassle of online activation vs. the convenience of auto-patching.
2) "Steam is a stable lightweight client" vs. "Steam is a crash-prone resource-hungry virus."
3) Concerns over never owning or controlling the game vs. the convenience of never needing the disk again.

And so on. We've been there, done all that. I've said before that Steam is a tradeoff where you give up a bunch of rights and privileges in exchange for a bunch of convenience. A deal like that will appeal to some and repel others, and I don't have anything against either the Steam fans or haters.

But it's worth noting what a huge step forward this is for 2k Games. They were early to the party when it came to the activation-based DRM that has all of the drawbacks of Steam and none of the advantages. At the release of BioShock, people were screaming at 2k Games to give up this mad nonsense and just use Steam. It took them a few years, but the publisher has finally done that.

But while this is a step forward for 2k Games, it no doubt feels like a draconian policy to longtime Civilization fans. If they want to play the game they must install Steam, even if they don't want to play multiplayer. Even if they bought retail. As far as they can tell, Steam doesn't have anything to offer them. (And for many, this is true. Steam fans go wild for Valve's insane weekend price cuts, but if this group of hardcore number-crunching gamers doesn't care about 99% of the games in the store, what then? If they don't want the store, don't need the matchmaking, and don't care about Steam's auto-patching, then Steam has nothing to offer them but hassle.)

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