The so-called "Age of Steam" might not last very long, or at least that's what competitor Stardock thinks.
Earlier this week, Edge Online posted a feature chronicling the rise and present dominance of Valve's Steam digital distribution platform, remarking that gamers are living in the "Age of Steam." Brad Wardell of Stardock, the company behind Sins of a Solar Empire and Steam-competitor Impulse, thinks the Age of Steam might end a lot sooner than we all think.
"We're at the very beginning of digital distribution," Wardell wrote in an Edge guest column. "Steam may indeed become the Facebook of digital distribution but there's just as much chance it could become the next Friendster."
Remember Friendster? "Will you be my Friendster?" Nobody says that anymore, and Wardell thinks there's a good chance that people won't be saying "add me on Steam" within the next two years. "I would be very surprised if Steam continues to have such a large market share (as a percentage) even 18 months from now," Wardell proclaimed.
As Wardell sees it, Valve's platform hasn't really seen any genuine competition yet, but as services like GamersGate, Amazon and Impulse (obviously) step up to the plate, it'll be put to the test, and it's too soon to say if it'll pass with flying colors. "The real test for Steam, however, will be how it does as it faces competition as it becomes more common for titles to be released on multiple platforms at the same time," Wardell said. "It's far too soon to assume that Steam will continue to dominate five years out."
Wardell also suggested that Steam's current success isn't entirely founded on the quality of its product, pointing to the fact that Valve only got half its userbase by requiring Counter-Strike players to use Steam and by releasing games that force players to become Steam users to play. He admits that the quality of Valve's games has helped put it on top, but his point seems to be that its rise wasn't meteoric simply by virtue of how absolutely awesome Valve are.
Which, regardless of what you think of Stardock or what Wardell has to say, is a thought worth considering and a perspective worth taking. Valve isn't perfect, kids, and as much as we all love Steam, you never know what could happen. As Wardell puts it, "MySpace once looked unbeatable in the social networking world but such premature assumptions look quaint in 'the age of Facebook.'"