Steam’s got a lot going for it. It’s practically become synonymous with PC gaming these days, with many people ignoring major releases unless they come out on Valve’s platform. Competitors like uPlay and Origin have emerged to mixed responses, but have largely done little to dent Steam’s market dominance. Plus, who could ignore the ever-popular Steam sales? Getting tons of games for the price of a meal is practically a reason to game on PC in its own right.
In recent times, though, I’ve started to shift, moving my business away from Steam and into other avenues like GOG where possible. Why, though? Steam is ubiquitous these days; many gamers install it before even setting up an antivirus program.
To put it simply: I’m fed up with Valve’s crap.
Remember when Valve used to be great? When they were releasing titles like Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead 2? It’s evident that that Valve is dead and gone at this point. They dangled the Half-Life 3 carrot in front of gamers for a decade, only to make it clear that it was little more than a ruse the entire time. Their announcement of a new game at The International 2017? Artifact - a DotA 2 card game. Fans have clamored for years for new installments in their favorite franchises, and yet Valve’s had neither the commitment to move production forward, nor the guts to admit that they’re not interested in continuing these series.
Instead, most of Valve’s efforts appear focused on Steam... at least in theory. You know what’s better than a new Portal game? How about the pointless, frequently glitchy minigames that go along with each major sale? Collecting stickers by feeding Valve all my money is so much more entertaining than actually playing games! The most prominent recent Steam update added histograms to product pages in the store; serious accomplishment, right there.
Then there’s the ever-popular debate over Steam’s insufficient quality control. I’m not going to dive deep into it, but I think it extends beyond the whole “free market” idea that some people align it with. I’m all for the idea of creators having a platform to distribute their content with little limitation. However, the key word there is “creators;” as someone who’s had a taste of the time and passion that goes into game development, I think that labeling the asset flippers and straight-up thieves as “creators” is giving them way too much credit. (See our recent article on Steam’s adult games for more on that.)
Hundreds of games are released on Steam each week, to the point where outlets that used to cover every new title have long since given up. Of those, so many are varying degrees of garbage, whether they’re broken and buggy, made with stolen or premade assets, or just utterly distasteful to play. Valve claimed that the removal of Steam Greenlight and launch of Steam Direct would signal a new era of higher quality game releases. Apparently not, as there’s been more titles than ever showing up, with developers not even having to buy Greenlight votes or ironically cater to current events to see their games released. Plus, once those games are up, it seems that about the only things that warrant their removal are such over-the- top actions as threatening Gabe Newell’s life or suing random Steam users.
Of course, Valve’s argued that those titles won’t be shown to people; those are the titles that should be getting buried. The “manager” of such product filtration? Why, The Algorithm, of course! Valve is obsessed with algorithms, trying to automate seemingly every portion of their company. Even their refund policy (when looked at with a cynical eye) is clearly set up so that most refund cases can be handled without players ever having to interact with someone from Steam Support. Does such a thing even exist at this point?
Besides, the whole “targeted advertising” thing only works for people who want to play similar titles. As a critic, I’m constantly looking for new things; one week, I’ll be playing an FPS, and the next will have me tackling an RTS. On a number of occasions, I’ve navigated to a product page, only to be met with a statement amounting to, “We had no idea you’d be interested in this type of game.” In other words, Valve’s algorithms couldn’t have predicted that I’d be looking at that title. Big surprise: some of my favorite gaming experiences have been ones that are completely unlike anything else I’ve played.
None of this is even getting into other faults that result from direct comparisons between Steam and other platforms. Hell, the main reason I’ve started going for DRM-free options is because I like the idea of owning my games instead of essentially renting them. DRM qualms are a whole separate issue, though, and I’m not about to write an article that simply praises GOG as the savior of PC gaming. I’ll simply close with this: Valve’s made it painfully clear that they don’t care about us, so why on Earth should we care about them?