In response to “Steam: A Monopoly in the Making” from The Escapist Forum: Response: This Article Reflects an Extremely Poor Understanding of Monopolies.
First off, you need to look at the competitors. Steam may be a large digital distributor of gaming content but it is in competition not only with digital distributors but with all distributors of content. Steam competes with Wal*Mart, Gamestop, etc. Steam is a tiny tiny tiny spec of nothingness compared to the game sales of Wal*Mart. Not only is it not a monopoly, it’s really not even significant in the scheme of game distribution.
But the article posits a fear about the future. In this future Wal*Mart won’t exist and most of the gamging content will be delivered through the web. Possibly. So let’s look at this future.
For a monopoly to exist it has to be sustainable. Just growing big doesn’t work. If a big company’s competitor is small but satisfies customers better than he does, the customers will switch to the competitor and then the competitor will grow large. The reason Microsoft is a monopoly is because you can’t switch, you have no options. If you want to run the hundreds of thousands of computer programs out there you have to pay the monopolist Microsoft. Why doesn’t another company make a better Windows? Well, because there’s a barrier to entry. The barrier to entry is that it is virtually impossible to create an OS that can run all the programs that currently run on Windows just as well as Windows. Therefore, no new competitor can emerge. The monopoly is sustainable.
Now let’s turn to Steam. Where are the barriers to entry in the digital distribution market? Well, a digital product is pretty easy to create – it’s not a terribly complicated program: no barrier there. It’s also very easy to distribute, gaming companies are tacking on “extra” software such as DRM in their games already.
So, we see that Steam’s position in the market isn’t infinately sustainable at all. If Steam starts behaving in such a way that make customers want to leave it, any publisher can create a neo-Steam of their own for little capital, distribute it through their games to easily penetrate the market, and capture the value that Steam has lost.
The only reason Steam is the market leader is because there are very few companies in the market and Steam has satisfied the customer’s needs the best so customers choose and stay with Steam.
Not only do I predict that Steam will in no way ever be a monopoly, but I bet we will see the opposite. I bet that the digital distribution market becomes very profitible that every publisher will force their own version of Steam onto consumers and demand they instal Ubisoft-Steam and EA-Steam and run it in the background to make the game play. All the publishers will try to create their own product and force customers to instal it and use it in the hopes of capturing a share of the money for themselves.
If only customers could be so lucky as for Steam to be a monopolist…
Considering how few of Steam’s games actually use Steamworks right now, that must be 70% of a very small market. Heck, one of my big problems with Steam is that they openly allow third party DRM systems, including the absurdly restrictive ones. On the other hand, it also means I could theoretically move some of my non-Valve games (such as Bioshock) over to a Steam-free machine and still play them. So it’s give-and-take.
I like Dizko’s comment about Steam as a platform. We’re already starting to see the beginnings of this concept — Steam is going cross-platform, and Games for Windows Live is technically Xbox Live for PC. I could see this being taken to its logical conclusion, with the same game being sold in two versions for the same system: the Steam-free retail version that uses maybe Games for Windows Live for multiplayer and achievements, and the Steam version that uses Steam’s multiplayer and achievement system, has no third-party DRM, and is only available from the Steam Store. I sure wish Bioshock 2 had come out that way!
Also, technical error. Half-Life 2 didn’t come out in 2003 “alongside” Steam; it came out a year later. I don’t know what Steam was used for in the meantime, since I wasn’t in the gaming scene back then.
In response to “Bad MotherFAQers” from The Escapist Forum: I remember when the internet first started becoming a big deal, and gaming started to take off. I constantly hit up these FAQ’s for little secrets, bits I missed, or the occasional challenge I just couldn’t surpass. It truly amazed me how in depth a lot of these were, how massively large they were, and all contained within a notepad document. Of course, there were a ton of garbage walkthroughs and the such, but the good ones were truly impressive.
Oddly enough, I really can’t remember the last time I’ve had to look up such a document. It truly does say something for the state of gaming when I can’t remember looking up a single clue to a game in at least the past 3-4 years. I certainly can’t be getting any smarter, hell if anything age is taking its toll.
But yes, these people truly do deserve some sort of recognition, and at the very least, quite a bit of appreciation. Their hard work has saved me many a headache in the past.
Game guides and FAQs are very useful and all, but I find myself turning more and more to the various gaming wikis available, rather than GameFAQs. For the linear single-player games like Painkiller, a guide is still a must for most people to find every secret available, but for branching or open-world games like Dragon Age or Fallout, using (and contributing to, while you’re at it) one of the gaming wikis is much more practical. When you look at a site like gaming.wikia.com, the guides for individual games made by one person can pale in comparison when you see the masses of information these wikis contain. You can’t really do it any other way, when you look at a game like Dragon Age: It’s near impossible for one person to cover every aspect of the game. How many people would it take? One person for each combination of sex, race, class and specialization? Not gonna happen.
So you could say that gaming wikis are an evolution of the game guide, much like wikipedia can be considered an evolution of the encyclopedia. They both have their strong and weak points regarding quality and quantity of information, and both are suited to different types of games. You’re probably going to turn to GameFAQs in order to find every landmark collectible in Prototype, and you might do the same for every bobblehead in Fallout 3. But where do you go to find the best possible weapon in STALKER? Or the most powerful build in Mass Effect?
GameFAQs are old, Escapist. Can we get more on gaming wikis? You’d be amazed at how many of them exist, they already do for every game I mentioned.
In response to “Send In the Lawyers” from The Escapist Forum: Nice quick overview of some of the great legal battles of the industry. Sad to not see Tetris, although I guess that one is hard to summarize. It’s a huge and amazing story.
Some of these are terribly interesting when looked at in more detail. The Donkey Kong suit for example was much more sinister than it sounds on the surface. Nintendo got the royalties payout because Universal was essentially bullying third parties into not working with them. Universal, especially at that time, was a feared behemoth and it’s legal team was infamously powerful, you just straight up did NOT mess with it. They were threatening Nintendo partners and killing business for them. While most companies would cave or attempt to settle, the Japanese-based Nintendo went in head-first to defend its honor. Them winning that suit was a real victory for the little guy, Universal was supposed to be undefeatable.
Ironically, over the years Nintendo is now the one with an infamously powerful legal team. They have the gods of justice on their side or something, they’ve won a lot of cases over the years that did not look favorable going in. Nintendo’s legal history, especially in the NES period, is quite interesting and I encourage anyone who’s remotely interested in the topic to read up on it.
In response to “Gunners and Gamers” from The Escapist Forum:
“They used pipe bombs and other IED devices”
IED stand for Improvised Explosive Device… so they used improvised explosive device devices?
Unless they got their hands on a standard issue, manufactured, and trademarked pipe bomb from somewhere, the pipe bombs would have been homebuilt out of various components which classifies them as IEDs. So yes, they did.
Interesting and well-written article, Russ.
Indeed, thanks for writing a good, well thought out article regarding the topic. Most of the time you only hear from the extreme far left gun fearing liberals (“A gun by itself on a table will kill three babies and a kitten in less than twelve minutes!) and the extreme far right gun worshiping conservatives (“Molôn labe!”). Its good to hear from the rational middle ground, which is where many gun owners and gamers reside.
I think emphasis on proper approach to the hobby are important. Can you get hurt or hurt others if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t take safety classes, and go down to your local gun store to buy the biggest pistol you can get your hands on? Absolutely. You could also do the same if you threw yourself down the expert slope with no experience on a set of skis or snowboard or drove off in daddy’s car without ever having learned how to drive.
I learned about firearms when I was young as a Boy Scout. Growing up, my dad owned (and still owns) over a dozen which I was exposed to, though they were always locked in a gun safe except when he pulled them out to show us in a controlled environment and taught us proper safety. I attended Basic Combat Training with the Army in 2007 where I learned even more about firearm safety and handeling of firearms (especially important as we were being trained to consistantly handle high power, loaded, automatic weapons). Even then, I still take safety / training courses as time and funds permit to keep up on my skills.
The individuals walking into a store to “get a sniper rifle” so they can “pwn noobs” are concerning. Though they also present an opportunity (if you know / meet that person) to get them into a firearm safety class (ideally one where they both learn safety skills and also get live fire time on a range) and change them from potentially worrisome overly enthusiastic hazards into responsible gun owners.