When Steam debuted back in 2003, it was little more than a way to ensure that nobody could play Half-Life 2 when it launched. It’s come a long way since those dark days and today it’s widely recognized as the most successful independent digital distribution platform on the face of the Earth. But with great power comes the ability to put the screws to people in a big way and Perry is worried that some day soon, Valve may wield an awful lot of power over other developers.
“When you outsource your digital strategy you are giving away your customers. Like iTunes, Steam has made it so easy and they have lots of users. So if you give them your product then you will start receiving checks from them. And that’s very convenient,” he told MCV. “But now people are starting to think about their own digital future. How long do you wait before you take control of your own digital strategy? Would you say, ‘Here, take my digital customers, and I’ll see you later?'”
“Like with iTunes, at some point it is going to be too late. Just try and negotiate your royalty rates now with Steve Jobs,” he continued. “At some point I think the same thing is going to happen with Steam. Steam is growing and it is growing fast, and they are making it easier and easier. But it’ll be interesting to hear what the publishers do.”
Now let’s be fair: Perry is the big brain behind Gaikai, a different type of online gaming platform that will nonetheless be competing, to some extent, with Steam. That fact alone makes it easy to dismiss his remarks as self-serving, but does he have a point? It’s impossible to argue that Valve doesn’t dominate the digital PC market while other platforms battle it out for the scraps. But is a concentration of resources an inherently bad thing? And how many customers are small studios really giving away when they’re coming up with them mainly thanks to Steam in the first place? I don’t see Perry’s comments as entirely self-serving but I’m not convinced that the situation is quite as dire as he portrays it, either.