245: Steam: A Monopoly In the Making

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Here's the thing, Steam is not the only company out there controlling programs you need to play games. Consoles physically limit you to using a companies products if you want to play certain games, and I honestly see very little difference between that and steam except that you can put steam on any standard PC where you are restricted to a specific companies hardware otherwise.

The main problem I think the other distribution platforms have is a lack of killer apps. Sure, Impulse does have Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilisations and Total Annihilation, but they aren't ever going to be as popular as a Left 4 Dead or a Counter Strike. Look at the sales charts: in both Steam and Impulse exclusives make an extremely strong showing.

Basically, what Stardock needs to do is to create (or buy out) a very, very popular game, and get them to require the Impulse client in some form. Which leads to the second problem: Stardock doesn't like making the client manitory for retail games. Whichis noble of them, but it also makes it less likely for the end user to install and use Impulse.

Right now, the only other distribution platform with access to such large, popular exclusives is Games for Windows Live, thus is most likely to become the Steam challenger. Which sucks.

[Edit] Scratch Total Annihilation from the list of Impulse exclusives, it's now on GamersGate.

I think theres one comparison missing here. The comparison to Apple and the fact that users are forced to use Itunes, removing opportunities for competing MP3 stores to really get any exposure. I would think Apples monopoly of digitally disributed music would be an almost perfect comparison to Steam and its 'shop in a trojan horse' ways.

But nooo everybody loves Apple (sorry couldnt help myself! damn Internet Anonymity Theory)

i love steam. VALVE FTW lolage

Another point. I compared Impulse, Gamersgate, Direct 2 Drive, GOG and (for the lols) Telltale Games' websites on Alexa. Over the last 3 months, Direct 2 Drive has consistently higher hit rates than all of the rest, and GOG, GamersGate (and Telltale Games) trading blows with each other. Impulse was pretty consistently in last place.

this saddens me because I hate steam (and valve in general... but mostly I hate steam). I hate it because my internet sometimes hick ups. When it does that during certain parts of games (like when it auto saves), the games files on the steam server corrupt. Long story short is that I have to buy the game again to get it working.

I've also had about $200 worth of games revert to "Pre-Load" or something like that. or in otherwords, it was downloaded to my computer, but Steam didn't recognize that I had bought it yet...... even though I bought it anywhere from a few weeks to almost a year before.

Valve has completely ruined my faith in them.

Crappy games.

Crappy services.

They equal a crappy company. And one pist off customer.

capacollo:
Why not create a committee to derive a standard, with accompanying API, for digital distribution management that can provide the ability for multiple back-end digital distribution channels to provide content. In this way software teams need only interface to one standard compliant plug-in but can easily include multiple distribution channels such as Steam and others for their content. Everybody wins especially the consumers in this case.

In this case, the customers and developers win, but the distributors lose because they become a commodity.

Who makes the gas you put in your car or the milk that you drink? These are commodity goods. Customers don't care who they buy commodities from, as long as they are cheap and convenient. Just like Microsoft, Valve can charge a premium for their services if they can get people locked into their service, but in a commodity market, everybody offers the same service or good, so the only thing they can compete on is price. This automatically drives prices down to a minimum, leaving the producers with just enough profit margin to stay alive.

By making a standard API and allowing anybody to provide the distribution, we make distributors into a commodity. This shrinks the profit margins for all distributors, which is the last thing they want. They would never, in any rational business sense, agree to this.

That said, I think that distribution should be a commodity. After all, what value does a distributor add? They are supposed to be there to get the software from the publisher to me: no frills or gimmicks necessary. Bonus items for games, friend lists, leader boards -- these are all nice features, but not something I require of my distributor. Let there be several distributors and let them compete on speed, reliability, and selection, just like my neighborhood grocery store.

If anybody deserves to own the PC gaming market outright, VALVe is the one.

Wannabes keep kicking PC gamers in the balls, then turn around and wonder why we're not tripping over ourselves to part with our dope money en masse. Is anybody paying attention to the fact that VALVe built their empire by bringing such potent novelty and entertainment to the table that it justified a $1000+ hardware investment?

Fuck the haters, fuck the doubters. The industry at large has made it clear that we're nothing but amoral consumptive animals in their eyes. But when their PC beachhead of low-rent paint-by-numbers ambush-marketed hand-me-down-cool gets pushed back out to sea, VALVe will still be here, still revered, still kicking ass. PC gamers take care of their own.

Mimsofthedawg:
this saddens me because I hate steam (and valve in general... but mostly I hate steam). I hate it because my internet sometimes hick ups. When it does that during certain parts of games (like when it auto saves), the games files on the steam server corrupt. Long story short is that I have to buy the game again to get it working.

I've also had about $200 worth of games revert to "Pre-Load" or something like that. or in otherwords, it was downloaded to my computer, but Steam didn't recognize that I had bought it yet...... even though I bought it anywhere from a few weeks to almost a year before.

Valve has completely ruined my faith in them.

Crappy games.

Crappy services.

They equal a crappy company. And one pist off customer.

...You seriously bought a game twice, rather than contant steam billing support? Your locally saved games were affected by your internet connection? Do you download a lot of warez or something?

-Datura-:
If anybody deserves to own the PC gaming market outright, VALVe is the one.

Wannabes keep kicking PC gamers in the balls, then turn around and wonder why we're not tripping over ourselves to part with our dope money en masse. Is anybody paying attention to the fact that VALVe built their empire by bringing such potent novelty and entertainment to the table that it justified a $1000+ hardware investment?

Fuck the haters, fuck the doubters. The industry at large has made it clear that we're nothing but amoral consumptive animals in their eyes. But when their PC beachhead of low-rent paint-by-numbers ambush-marketed hand-me-down-cool gets pushed back out to sea, VALVe will still be here, still revered, still kicking ass. PC gamers take care of their own.

I like this post. I don't think Valve is entitled to own the PC games market, but I can't say I'm unhappy with the service of Steam.

This is totally different than the IE debacle, and frankly smacks of alarmist BS from someone who doesn't understand software very well. There is nothing about Steam that prevents other services from being used or that promotes anti-competitive practices. Developers can spend a minimal amount of effort to abstract away everything Steamworks does and easily swap in another service. This would make it possible for one game to be compatible with multiple communication and distribution services.

the_carrot:

Mimsofthedawg:
this saddens me because I hate steam (and valve in general... but mostly I hate steam). I hate it because my internet sometimes hick ups. When it does that during certain parts of games (like when it auto saves), the games files on the steam server corrupt. Long story short is that I have to buy the game again to get it working.

I've also had about $200 worth of games revert to "Pre-Load" or something like that. or in otherwords, it was downloaded to my computer, but Steam didn't recognize that I had bought it yet...... even though I bought it anywhere from a few weeks to almost a year before.

Valve has completely ruined my faith in them.

Crappy games.

Crappy services.

They equal a crappy company. And one pist off customer.

...You seriously bought a game twice, rather than contant steam billing support? Your locally saved games were affected by your internet connection? Do you download a lot of warez or something?

my computer's being crappy so I'm going to make this short and sweet. I didn't buy the game twice, the saved game issue is more complicated than that, I don't know what warez are, I contacted support, and the conclusion of everything is that Steam told me I was fucked (after waiting for three months for a response) and now I hate them.

It'd be the tiniest monopoly ever seeing as how computer game digital distribution is only 5% of the entire computer game market. While I admit the possibility is certainly there, Direct2Drive is still around, Impulse is still around, and so is GOG. Impulse and GOG, the other two digital content distribution formats I have experience with, have actually grown in the last year. I wouldn't say that Steam has intentionally been crippling the competition. Maybe making things more difficult, but that's the (somewhat unfortunate) nature of competition in a capitalist environment.

The other thing is that if Steam wanted to truly be a monopoly of digital distribution they'd have to do music sales too. Which they do not, but iTunes does and nobody ever complains about them being a monopoly, which is an interesting double standard I think (I can't really name any other online music sales format like iTunes). In fact Apple always seems to mysteriously get a free pass on being a monopoly despite them being even more proprietary and price-gouging than Mircosoft. Also more evil.

Anyway Steam has never done me any wrong personally so I can't find any fault with them or Valve for the service they offer. I know that for others it is not the same case but I've found the valid complaints to be far outweighed by completely outlandish ones.

Install Steam or don't play the game - those are the only choices.

No words can better sum up why I so despise Steam, and Valve for creating it and forcing it upon my computer.

Anyone on the Escapist who knows me, knows I hate Steam for a multitude of reasons, ranging from totally valid to petty and absurd. I won't go into a thousand-word rant on it because it's something I've said many times before, but I will say it is nice to see an article by someone else which highlights some of the flaws in Valve's abominable DRM/Malware "service".

Really, Intel was your best choice as a "good" monopoly? What, with all their business dealings in order to persuade/coerce vendors to stock Intel processors instead of AMD through big rebates, even during the time when Athlon XP easily handed Pentium 4 its ass on a silver platter? Then again, ATI/Nvidia were in a price fixing scandal a year or two ago so none of the three companies are clean.

Oh yeah, and one of the reasons I hate Steam is because you can't resell a game that uses Steam. Even if its a retail copy. For example, I bought Supreme Commander 2 retail 2 weeks ago, and promptly regretted it. Now, I can't give the game back due to using the Steam code. Wonderful.

Urk. Double post.

Edit: Double post. Servers seem to be acting up.

Superlordbasil:
regardless the ethics and possible problems a round of applause to valve for perhaps grabbing what could be one of the biggest gaming money bags in its history. If the vast majority of PC gamers went steam wards valve would literally become the PC market and if there was anyway to replicate this in the console market one day then the skies the limit

Last time I checked, LIVE offers digital sales to the 360, and not just small games. So I am going to guess that you already got your wish. Happy birthday!

Overlord59:
It does seem as though the market is heading towards a Steam based monopoly. While I like Steam and use it (very) regularly I do use Impulse as well. I feel it is a shame that it seems as though Steam (and Valve) will control this because in my opinion Impulse and Stardock provide an excellent service which is just as good. Although, as shown from the article, this does not apply to the publishing side of things but the fact that this is a deciding factor for digital downloads to everyday people seems unfair to Valve's competitors.

What the article is missing, and merely conjecturizing, is that Steam is out to control the market. Several Valve execs have openly expressed desire for competition. Perhaps Steamworks is offered freely to all developers and publishers. So what? It doesn't forbid them from also distributing to other digital services. Direct2Drive does offer many the same mainstream games that Steam does. I imagine so do others. As was mentioned in this thread, if anyone is keeping Steam at the top, it is the publishers. Try looking at it from their perspective. Direct2Drive doesn't distribute to certain countries, therefore limiting their sales area. D2D is also overdiscriminating in what they distribute. Why would you want to use them? Impulse barely has much exposure to the broader customer base. Why would you want to use them? Both of these handicaps can be overcome, which would help bring publishers to those distributors. And now we have Microsoft getting into the game with their store in Games for Windows LIVE. Though the only thing going for Microsoft there is they can throw money at that service to keep it alive. I don't expect them to put much effort into it to make it a feasible service for customers.

incal11:

samsonguy920:

You do still also have EA's use of SecuROM as well, but these days that merely limits the installs. And unless you have to reformat your hard drives often(and if you do you should just get a new hard drive or quit surfing the pron sites with malware), that shouldn't even become an issue.

Limited install is retarded , something you can't use as much as you like is not yours; you've been had, it's a rental, not something you bought.
If the game is good enough to be played again and again in the following years, that limited install scheme will hurt .
Though you can say most games using this scheme don't have much replay value.

I agree that Steam is a trojan, I don't want it, I will do without ...
It is a buffet where you are forced to eat for the rest of your life if you go in, and that is definitely EVIL.

This pretty much is another illustration that Steam isn't a monopoly. You pretty much illustrated that you can go to another source for your games, without feeling restricted or oppressed. Thank you sir, and have a good gaming session.
However, your arguments about the limited install do not really apply to Steam. That is an argument for the games publishers that use that mentally handicapped concept. And since Steam already applies its own DRM to the games it distributes(which doesn't limit installs, or even requires 24/7 online access), anything the publishers insist on including is merely overkill and added insult to the customers.
Though I imagine it is possible to crack Steam and use it to pirate games, one would think there are easier and more clever methods than laying your pc open to being tracked by an online system.

I just got gifted Dawn of War 2 over steam by a guy I've never seen in real life.
So I don't have anything bad to say about steam at the moment.

However, I do agree with the part about the current management retiring. There's nothing better than a good king and nothing worse than a bad one.
So far, VALVe has been a good king. Hopefully the next management will be just as awesome.

I really am not one to defend microsoft, but to call it an evil empire takes it a bit too far. I am sure the motivations of MS, intel or steam are exactly the same. Sure, it is a monopoly, and you have a point, but the are all the same, not one evil and one good. The perception is in your eyes.

While there definitely is the possibility for Valve to "go to the dark side", I have faith in them simply because it makes more business sense for them to "stay good". They, more than any other company in the industry, know that DRM and other such business practices only work in the PC market if you give the consumer equal benefits (say, offline modes, more convenience, etc). I have no doubt in my mind that if they suddenly went "Ubisoft" on us that you'd suddenly see a surge of Valve/Steamworks games being torrented...

The_root_of_all_evil:
One big problem: If a company can offer something that is better than all of it's competitors, and thus takes a huge chunk of the market - Is it actually fair to draw a line saying that the competitors must be entitled to a certain %?

This is an excellent point. Even if you consider Valve to have a monopoly on digital sales, I don't think that "automatically" makes them evil. They certainly deserve to be scrutinized a little more closely, but they pretty much got to where they are today by providing a good service and making people on both sides of the video game industry happy.

Delusibeta:
The main problem I think the other distribution platforms have is a lack of killer apps. Sure, Impulse does have Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilisations and Total Annihilation, but they aren't ever going to be as popular as a Left 4 Dead or a Counter Strike. Look at the sales charts: in both Steam and Impulse exclusives make an extremely strong showing.

Basically, what Stardock needs to do is to create (or buy out) a very, very popular game, and get them to require the Impulse client in some form. Which leads to the second problem: Stardock doesn't like making the client manitory for retail games. Whichis noble of them, but it also makes it less likely for the end user to install and use Impulse.

Right now, the only other distribution platform with access to such large, popular exclusives is Games for Windows Live, thus is most likely to become the Steam challenger. Which sucks.

[Edit] Scratch Total Annihilation from the list of Impulse exclusives, it's now on GamersGate.

They thought Demigod would be the exclusive that put them on the map. Didn't happen.

It's hard to read this as i love steam,but i do see every point in youre argument...I guess all we can really do is sit back and watch the show.I personaly don't care if steam becomes a monopoly,as long as they stay as user frindly as they are now.But if they do become a monopoly and,huge A-holes,I suspect that a new company will arise that everyone will go to,thus shifting 3rd party developers to use the new service...I hope...

American laws allow for monopoly. Monopolies are not illegal in the USA. Anti-Trust laws do not ban monopolies. Anti-Trust laws aren't there to protect bad companies. Anti-Trust laws are there to protect the consumers. As long as the monopoly doesn't hurt the consumer it will stay out of government view. In Steam case as long as it provides low prices that benefit the customer, the government will leave them alone.

Monopolies are given out everyday except for weekends. It's called the patent office. Monopolies are in your utilities bills. How many power companies, garbage companies, water companies, etc can you chose from? One in most cases depending on where you live.

There are monopolies that just happen for one reason or another. Some market niches can only support one company because the consumer base is so small that there is no room for more then one company. Other monopolies comes from companies closing up until one is left. These companies close up for one reason or the other. Some from bad management or the market they are in can't support them anymore.

Monopolies are not illegal in the USA.

The author should have taken a broader approach. Cut the analogy to IE and Microsoft in half (I don't think it's very close to what Valve is doing) and add in comparison with digital distribution of other medaia. Hello?! Have you ever heard of music and movie distribution via iTunes? That is a much closer analogy to Steam. Take Steam, fastforward it five years and Boom! it looks like iTunes.
Otakucode and Whispering Death mentioned iTunes on this forum. Once you have a good chunk of users in your monopoly, you can dictate terms (pricing, DRM) even over publishers.

It works offline. My brother plays with my account when I'm not using it. It's DRM, but it's not draconian DRM, so I'm totally fine with it. Plus, you get to do shit like buying Team Fortress 2 for 5 bucks when those crazy sales happen. Steam is a monopoly because the competitors suck ass, they're not predatory and anti competition.

As long as Valve owns Steam, I am not worried.

I'm tired of people saying "offline mode, blablabla... and so yeah"
It still requires me to install a bloatware on my pc and Requires internet access at least once; that is too much for me, I respect only the publishers who put NO DRM at all (and won't give in to steam either).

The European version of Steam is basically a scam to get people to buy games at 200% the cost.

And people need to read the fine print and realize that Valve can terminate your Steam account at any time, for whatever reason they choose, and cause you to permanently lose your entire Steam game library, which could be worth thousands.

Then there's the pressure they put on publishers to snub other digital download platforms in favor of being Steam exclusive. (Hello Modern Warfare 2).

Steam is highly immoral and more detrimental to the gaming community in the long run than piracy is.

Sweet. Is TF2 going to be like Mayfair?

Really, I think they have been the only good digital distributor for a long time, many of the other big ones ive heard of are very unreliable.

image
All according to plan...

ark123:
Plus, you get to do shit like buying Team Fortress 2 for 5 bucks when those crazy sales happen. Steam is a monopoly because the competitors suck ass.

You can thank Impulse for that, ever since they started doing weekly sales steam and the other platforms jumped on the bandwagon

I hope Gaikai and Onlive are competitive enough to be considered competition. I don't really use steam if I can help it (as long as we're paying for it, I prefer getting physical media: if steam were cheaper than retail as it should be, I would use it more) but I know a lot of other gamers who do use it a lot.
However, I think it would be better if it had some honest to goodness competition rather than relying on loopholes like most industries use.

Dizko:
This is one of those topics that annoys the begeezes out of me.

There are two sides of the coin here, people need to think of Steam as a platform, not simply a digital distribution model, because that's what it is, a platform.

No one complains about the Xbox 360 being a closed platform, where Microsoft has absolute control. Should I be allowed to run software on my 360 to allow me to play PS3 games on it? Of course not, that's absurd. But we're quick to condemn anything that's even remotely similar on the PC. No one ever complains about Microsoft having a monopoly over Xbox 360 or Sony having one over Playstation.

- snip -

What going to say something similar. This post is Win. There are lots of PS/360 only games, why should we be surprised that there are... Steam only games? I enjoy the steam platform a lot and they are a lot LESS restrictive than PS3/360. Such as I can edit files, saved games, make backups, and redownload on ANY* logged in PC I'm not.

*Note I have yet to find a cap on number of activations for my steam account. Except only 1 active login at a time.

Well, as a user, I am very satisfied with Steam. I have heard they are also very good to indie developers, though I have no actual facts to back that statement. So any competitors obviously have to offer much better service, which I as a steam user, don't really care that much about.

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