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Is Steam in Danger of Becoming a Monopoly?

| 22 Mar 2010 14:16
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Valve's Steam service is popular and convenient - but is it in danger of heading down a dark path?

Now, don't get me wrong, I like Valve's Steam digital distribution service. It's convenient and easy to use, it's remarkably non-restrictive for DRM, and I have no problem with how it is now. But as Steam's influence and power grows, M.S. Smith argues in Issue 245 of The Escapist, it's in danger of becoming what Microsoft was around the turn of the century - a monopoly.

Steamworks is an application programming interface (API) offered by Valve which allows third-party publishers to integrate their games into Steam. For publishers, this idea is the bee's knees: Using Steamworks grants access to Steam's authentication services, Steam's community features and Steam's ability to rapidly deliver patches and DLC. These are all features that publishers would ideally provide anyway, but Steam has them built and ready to go for the low price of absolutely free. As a result, such popular titles as Modern Warfare 2 and Dawn of War 2 have jumped on the Steamworks bandwagon.

There's a catch, however: Once a publisher elects to use Steamworks in one of its titles, its customers must use Steam to play it - no exceptions. Publishers don't mind this, because it's easier for customers to purchase a publisher's other titles when the Steam client is installed and ready to go by default. But for competitors to Steam, like Direct2Drive and Impulse, Steamworks is the end of days. Brad Wardell commented on Steamworks in the 2009 Stardock Customer Report, saying "Once a game requires Steamworks, it is effectively cut off from us, which limits our content." These words, however, are like honey compared to those of Direct2Drive. When Direct2Drive decided not to carry the blockbuster Modern Warfare 2, Gamasutra asked the company for comment. In reply, Direct2Drive stated, "We don't believe games should force the user to install a Trojan Horse."

To read more about the potential pitfalls marking Steam's otherwise bright path, read "Steam: A Monopoly in the Making" in Issue 245 of The Escapist.

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