Experienced Points: The Achilles' Heel of Steam

Experienced Points: The Achilles' Heel of Steam

Having a single supplier is bad, and so is having a single distributor. But worse than either of these nightmare scenarios is the one where you're at the mercy of a company that is neither a supplier nor a distributor.

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If I had a magic wand to make anything happen I would uncouple video game library and storefront, this would get around the problem highlighted in this article (if Microsoft decide to screw steam you can just take your library to another system that wasn't screwed or to another OS) but also the similar problem that game dev are essentially completely reliant on valve/steam to distribute games (although valve isn't really a game developer anymore).

Plus I plain don't like steam, it's still really clunky after all those years, the UI is just awful, all the new service they make seems poorly planned with obvious problem, half the time I get on it seems to have forgotten who I am (for example, its telling me there's 3 new item in my inventory, but if I try to access it, steam tell me "this user inventory is private") I got craploads of card that apparently people are willing to pay money for but selling them is such a pain in the ass that I don't even bother to. I just stay because they have my library and rebuilding it to another service would be both impossible and far too expensive.

I own an Alienware Steam Machine. And those basically failed because The Steam Controller sucks. If you "Visit the website" it sends you to the Alienware Alpha which runs Windows; Not Linux.

Jacked Assassin:
The Steam Controller sucks.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it sucks. I'm no fan of them, but I think the idea, even the execution, was fine. It was just trying to do too many things at once. The Steam Controller fell into the trap of trying to say "this ONE peripheral can do EVERY game PERFECTLY!!!1!". Well, i'm sorry, it can't. By trying to do everything, it succeeds at nothing, because all the experiences are compromised.

I would say its nicer to play a M+K focused game on the Steam Controller than a regular, Xbone/PS4 style controller, and in that respect it succeeds. However, this misses the point that such games are still better played with an M+K and no amount of HD Haptic Feedback(tm) fill fix that. Equally, it fails to properly emulate a regular controller, so for games best played on a controller it is also subpar. The less said about games best played with a wheel or joystick, the better.

What it really needed was games specifically designed for it, to fit its strengths and control schemes perfectly, but in practice that never happened because by is very nature - and the way Valve promoted it - encouraged people and developers to think of it as plug-and-play: you don't need to make your game "compatible", it'll just work!

OT: It will take a monumental amount of effort from one side or both to change the status quo. Microsoft are incapable of catering properly to the PC Gaming Market, because they simply don't understand it, and demonstrate this on a regular basis. They want to turn it into an extension of Xbox and treat it in a similar vein (locked down, our-way-or-the-highway, no mods, walled-garden, etc), preferably get us all playing on Xboxes and be done with it. Steam trying to broaden out into more OSes is a very good idea on paper, but it misses the fact that 90% of their library - and therefore 90% of all the games people care about - simply do not run on other OSes. Unless someone is a hardened Anti-Microsofter, they're not going to abandon most of their games library simply because Valve wants them to, and it doesn't make much sense for developers to port their games because of the tiny market, leading to a vicious cycle. Personally, I loathe MS and what Windows (especially 10) has become, and I would dearly love to jettison Windows, but I accept that eventually I shall have to stop clinging and "upgrade" to 10 if I want to keep on gaming. Such is life.

I think you're looking at this from a too narrow perspective. If Microsoft tried to harm PC games in the way you describe, then publishers, developers and PC component manufactures would fight back (either with patches and drivers that fix the issues, or by a more direct action if that doesn't work). You are also restricting your view at games with top-tier graphics. Those titles are neither exclusive for PC nor the most profitable ones for Steam; and Microsoft has too little influence over the owners of those IPs to orchestrate a game exodus from Steam to Windows 10 Store or XBOX One without severely hurting the entire business software industry too.

Proton isn't the way to thrive away from the Windows ecosystem; because that ecosystem was build by the developers choosing Windows as their platform, and Proton doesn't encourage developers to abandon Windows. And on the other end, moving from Windows to Linux is an intimidating endeavor for the mainstream PC gamers. All the odds are stacked against it.

Never under-estimate the ability of Microsoft to be massively incompetent.

The first and most important point I would bring up is that Microsoft cannot afford to alienate gamers, because it cannot afford to lose such a large share of a market that is already threatened.. Shamus mentions the idea that

The vast majority of PCs are sitting in office environments or are used at home for non-gaming things like web surfing and word processing.

But Windows' hold on devices for "non-gaming things like web surfing and word processing" is in serious danger. Tablets can do such tasks quite well, with the added benefits of faster accessibility, fewer updates, less physical space, and (often) lower prices. Chromebooks can bridge the gap for those who want more dedicated PC-like hardware, and as screen-broadcasting technology gets better and better, needing a device that doesn't have a small screen for ease of viewing or making presentations becomes less and less of an issue. Microsoft's share of the mobile market is utterly pathetic, and the murmurs of "Windows Desktop as a Service" have as much to do with businesses' fury at the haphazard and sometimes self-sabotaging way Windows 10 handles updates to the machines on which people are conducting work as anything. Microsoft's attempts to make their full-scale computers more tablet-like, like the Surface, have both plenty of competition and their own issues with reliability.

Anecdotally speaking, I already know people who used to use computers all the time and never turn them on, but are constantly buried in their phones or tablets. Also people in academia who curse the day they upgraded to Windows 10 and its bloated, bandwidth-hogging, "I'm taking over your computer in the middle of what you're trying to do" attitude.

And then there's Apple, which still has its own computer division, iPads aside. Apple is already beloved by many in arts and academia, many of the popular file formats are cross-compatible, and they aren't subject to nearly as many updates or viruses; how much of a push would it take for businesses to decide a sleek Macbook was their work computer of choice?

The bottom line is that Microsoft is on thin ice with a lot of people; even if Steam gamers only make up, say, 10% of their market, it's a large enough segment that they would be foolish to alienate. Especially as gamers have garnered a reputation for being famously irascible; if 10% of your market goes on to their schools and jobs and blows steam out their ears (no pun intended) on seeing the windows logo on their monitors, that could have a very real cascade effect. You don't start stomping when you're already on thin ice.

The second point I would make is that Microsoft's market and UWPs are terrible, as Shawn noted, but they're also terrible in all the ways that are so typical for Microsoft: The "make a product that's not as good, bundle it with the system, and hope that people saddled with it will play along" approach. Internet Explorer? Games For Windows? "Always On" Internet that locks your XBox One games to their system? The freaking power button and start menu in Windows 8?

Yes, Microsoft could make a games market that competes with Steam on both features and game availability. But it's far more likely that they'll do what they usually do: design from the top-down with the goal of exerting control and the idea that their people know what the end user should want better than the user does, discover exactly how mistaken they are, and backpedal with about as much speed and grace as a multi-billion dollar behemoth can.

Unless they essentially had a moonshot- a crack internal team with the wherewithal and freedom to design a Steam competitor without interference- Microsoft is unlikely to produce something that can compete with Steam head-to-head. And given what they actually seem willing to throw at the project, viz. the Windows Market, UWPs, and bundling- putting more resources into the same lousy tactics has to seem like throwing good money after bad. At least to the usually results-driven people who decide where to put the budget.

My third point is that Microsoft actually seems to be moving in the opposite direction- making their console games available to PCs rather than trying to push PC users onto consoles to do away with a "troublesome" market sector. Little wonder; the XBox One attracted a lot of ill-will on its release, and remains third in the wake of the Switch and Playstation 4 in recent sales, despite the push of the most powerful console on the market, the only truly 4K console, yatta yatta yatta... If nothing else, it speaks of a publisher that would rather see its games available on both XB1 and PC to maximize sales and take advantage of a uniquely poised ability to efficiently create multi-platform releases (and might even be under some pressure from third parties to make such a broad market available).

That Valve would like to move Steam away from Windows, I have no doubt. And there may well be people within Valve with similar thoughts as Shawn's. But I also have to seriously wonder if there aren't people who are less afraid of Microsoft's attempts to control the market than Microsoft's potential to bring down the whole ship before they can launch the lifeboats.

Wait, why is Valve the good guy here? If Microsoft should be denied a certain level of control over our gaming as the article says, should that principle not apply to all companies, including Valve?

Wait, why is Valve the good guy here? If Microsoft should be denied a certain level of control over our gaming as the article says, should that principle not apply to all companies, including Valve?

Yes, definitely, and Steam's virtual monopoly is not a good thing. However, Microsoft is unique as a steam-competitor in that it can exert control on the underlying platform that Steam is dependent on, something Valve cannot do. Its difficult to launch a PC game successfully without Steam, yes, but it is possible. Good luck launching a successful PC game without Windows. This wouldn't be an issue if Microsoft wasn't a direct competitor, but it is, so there's the issue that this article to talking about.

Wait, why is Valve the good guy here? If Microsoft should be denied a certain level of control over our gaming as the article says, should that principle not apply to all companies, including Valve?

Microsoft has a really long record of being really shady when holding a monopoly, to the point that they even were sent to court in 2001 for anti-competitive practices.

In theory, if Steam breaks, PC game developers are heavily impacted, but still have other distribution means for their games on PC (they did it for decades before Steam was created). But if Windows breaks, PC game developers would be much more impacted, and much less likely to jump to another PC OS than to jump merely from Steam.

lt;dr: Valve is the "good guy" on virtue of having a less shitty criminal record.

I mean, no one ever went broke betting on Microsoft continuing to be bad forever.

Lately I've been getting more nervous about having all of my eggs in one basket (game collection in Steam, running on Windows), so I decided to try out Ubuntu Linux and Steam+Gog on my laptop. It's been... interesting. Simple tasks like installing Steam and games downloaded from Gog aren't so simple, and only a fraction of my libraries can run on Linux, but I was pleasantly surprised how many of my 800+ Steam games are already compatible. Also, I love to see efforts like Gog Connect and Windows+Mac+Linux releases that are helping us break away from platform monoculture. My hunch is that it's just a matter of time (years, a decade or so?) before Valve or Microsoft push a -little- too far, and when that happens it'll be useful to be "that one guy" in your social circle who already knows how to navigate the new frontier.


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