Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Fighting for Second Place: An Interview With Brad Wardell

M.S. Smith | 9 Apr 2010 22:00
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The war between Steam, Impulse, Direct2Drive and other digital distribution networks is heating up. The release of Modern Warfare 2 and its inclusion of Steamworks stirred a pot which is already close to boiling over. The owners of Impulse and Direct2Drive both decided not to sell the game over concerns about the game's required installation of Steam. Why, the companies asked, should they have to install a competitor's platform in order to sell a game?

Similar complaints formed the basis of Steam: A Monopoly in a Making?, an article I wrote for Issue 245 of The Escapist. There was no shortage of opinions on the article from both sides of the issue. But one person approached me whom I didn't expect: Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, the company that operates Impulse. Wardell is also a game developer, best known for the Galactic Civilizations series.

Over the course of our conversation, Wardell told me his opinions on Steam and spoke about Impulse Reactor, a free application programing interface (API) announced at this year's Games Developers Conference which competes directly with Valve's Steamworks.

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M.S. Smith: What was your initial reaction to the comments by readers of Steam: A Monopoly In the Making?

Brad Wardell: It's been a very interesting experience watching it. It's so déjà vu, because I was an OS/2 user. Back then, and this may seem incredibly quaint today, but a lot of younger people don't remember that Microsoft was absolutely beloved by its fans, because OS/2 was made by IBM and Windows was made by Microsoft, and everyone hated IBM. Everyone wanted Windows to win because they loved Microsoft. But, of course, now Microsoft isn't loved to the extent they were. There aren't a lot of Microsoft fanboys.

Now you see the same thing with Steam. There are a lot of people who don't like what we're doing and who literally don't want there to be other options on the PC because it just complicates things. And it's just an amazing thing because, you know, I watch movies online. And sometimes I buy them on my Xbox 360, and sometimes I do it through Comcast, and sometimes I do it through iTunes, and sometimes I do it through Netflix on demand. I couldn't imagine having only one option. Can you imagine if I could on get movies through Comcast?

MS: I have Comcast as well, and no, that's not something I want to imagine.

BW: And yet on the PC, because there is so much love for Valve - and I count myself amongst Valve's fans because I've been playing Valve's games since the original Half-Life - people are allowing their love of Valve to blind them. Not wanting to have competition is just amazing. Like I said, I saw it before, back when it was Microsoft against IBM. If you compare Windows during that short time it had competitive pressure, and then compare where it has gone since, it is amazing how little change there has been. There isn't any pressure on Microsoft anymore, except for the Mac, but that is minor compared to what OS/2 was ...

We see the same thing on digital distribution. Steam just celebrated its seventh birthday, but they didn't start doing weekend sales until Impulse started doing them. And from what I can tell, they didn't do holiday sales until after Impulse was doing them. And that's what competition is. It isn't that we're better or Steam's better; it's just natural growth when people are fighting for a consumer's dollar.

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