Valve is a company that is known for its mistakes. There was the Steam Greenlight flub. Its support is still largely a joke. It has never really offered defined conditions on what it does or does not consider proper content for Steam. We will probably never see Half-Life 3. Also, let’s not forget that there was a remote code execution bug in the Steam client for 10 years that could have given malicious people the opportunity to control gamers’ PCs. Now, Valve has adopted an “anything goes” approach for Steam, where all content can be on the storefront as long as it is not illegal or “straight up trolling.” What do all these problems have in common? Money.
People have a habit of developing allegiances to companies, as though they are their friends, when they are not. Over the years, since Steam was established in 2003, it seems like Valve’s mission has been to make as much money with as little effort as possible. Whenever it can, we have seen the company cut corners to ensure it profits while spending as little money as possible.
Let’s start with the company deciding that it will allow everything, unless it is illegal or trolling. Some people might try to foolishly call this a victory for all who oppose air quotes censorship, but this is a move that lets Valve absolve itself of responsibility and work. Every other major retailer offers curation and regulation, because it covers legal bases and ensures a level of quality for shoppers. This move by Valve is nothing more than a means to cut costs. Letting everything through and relying on people to report things that are wrong lets Valve avoid hiring and paying people to do that job. It allows things to get on the store faster, so the company can make more money. It means a wild west environment for shoppers, as they wonder if they can trust anyone who is not an AAA company or “known” independent developer.
Moving on to maintenance and support, this is another issue of cutting costs so Valve can maximize its profits with as little effort as possible. That malicious bug was there for 10 years. Something like that does not exist without people knowing it is there. But, Valve did nothing until it absolutely had to. With Steam Support, it can take days to get a satisfactory response sometimes, and it can feel like you are jumping through preset “answers” to “questions” before you realize you could get more insightful help from turning to fellow users on the forum or Reddit. Even the refund system, which seemed like such a good thing, is a turn towards automation. By making this easy way to return a digital game, Valve was able to cut back even further on staff. You do not need to have extra people there, costing you money, if you let users do things without human oversight.
What about Half-Life 3? Someone might wonder how Valve becoming so money-hungry could possibly impact it, as they might expect such a game to be a big money maker. Well, you have to think about the cost on Valve’s part. Half-Life 2 cost Valve over $40 million to make, according to a 2004 interview with Gabe Newell. Adjusting for inflation, let’s say that would be around $53 million today. Why would anyone expect company that has already shown it is doing all it can to cut costs by making users do its curation and cutting back on support and maintenance when it can to invest that kind of cash into game development? Yes, it is working on Artifact, a card game, right now, but it is very obvious that Artifact has not had millions of dollars poured into its development. Also, even though Artifact is said to not be a pay-to-win game, one can only imagine how easy it will be for Valve to create new card or content packs to continue monetizing it.
In general, Valve does not really care about games or customers. This is a company that cares about money. Letting everything on Steam and allowing shoppers to figure things out is about hiring fewer people so it does not have to waste money on accountability. Keeping support abysmal, automating refunds and letting dangerous exploits sit for years is about paying less for maintenance and maximizing profits. Creating a smaller, less expensive card game it could monetize via DLC instead of Half-Life 3 is another way to keep profit margins high and expenses low. The company’s latest moves are not about censorship, freedom, or doing what is best for everyone; it is all about what is easiest for Valve.