Steam Is Awesome (Developers Could Learn From Valve)

After writing this text I realized that this almost became a (non-paid) shameless about Steam & Valve ad, but I think they are doing such an awesome job on so different level that you can’t but admire them – and write about them. There’s plenty of things that developers & publishers could learn.

Valve does good stuff
Not necessarily easy thing to model, but worth remembering: Valve keeps creating & publishing good games. It’s something we all should strive to do – create good content for our players.

Steam is awesome for players
Besides making good games, Valve has created an awesome system that is really a one place that offers everything that players need. Their Steam system offers a variety of different ways how players can benefit from their service:

  • Store – the Steam store offers new (and old) games from variety of publishers. There’s casual, indie, AAA and other titles available. There’s demos, videos, screenshots, review ratings and so on. You can buy things with just a few mouse clicks. Steam is nowadays pretty much the only place I buy games.
  • Steam community: players can create their own groups (like Dead Wake Steam group here) and interact with other players. The in-game chat system works even for non-steam games (Yeh, I realized that I can use Steam’s chat system even when I’m playing my Dead Wake zombie game)
  • Easy DRM: When I got my new computer and had to re-install Steam, I had no problems in getting the games I had bought. I simply went to my control panel’s “games” section and clicked “download”. Steam started downloading me the game I had bought earlier. No stupid DRM stuff that would have made this difficult, just click & go.

I think Steam (and Valve) offer many, many things that are worth learning from: they make products worth using, and make sure users have no trouble buying the products.

So, what could they do better?
Of course there’s always room for improvements.

On marketing side, I must say that I’m bit amazed that Valve isn’t offering affiliate/partner programs for those who want to advertise & sell their games. They are spending huge amount of money to promote their newest games (at the time of writing you can see Left 4 Dead game ads plastered all over the Internet), but they aren’t considering rewarding players for promoting their products?

If Steam could introduce affiliate system (paying royalties like Big Fish Games ) I think they could leverage their current system. It would provide a solid way for marketers (and players) to generate income. Players could then perhaps use these credits to get more games from Steam…

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Steam is more hacked than a somalin rain forest and full of childlike console players.
    and who wants to pay 60$ to rent a game from steam? and never own it or play it years from now?
    monopolies stifle inovation, proven fact.

  2. @Nick
    There are many probable scenarios that could lead to the end of Steam. Just a few I can think of right now:
    – If Valve gets aquired, the new owner may focus on Valve’s IP and dump Steam.
    – Valve may decide to concentrate on its “core competence”, i.e. create games.
    – Valve may go bankrupt and no longer have the means to run the DRM servers.

    All these scenarios happen regularly to companies even bigger than Valve. In either case I don’t see how Valve would be able to provide means to continue using games as they would need to provide cracks to every game, which I doubt is even possible legally.

    Several big DRM-music sellers already turned off their DRM servers or will do so in the future (Microsoft, Yahoo, Walmart to name a few). They all left it up to the user to ensure they can use their paid-for products in the future.

    As for backups, they are worthless if Steam turns of their DRM servers. Point 1. of how to restore backups says “Install Steam and log in to your account…”. So, no DRM server no restoring your backups.

    Buying games from Steam-like stores is nothing but renting games for an undetermined amount of time, from a players perspective. All the “developer friendly” talk with these DRM stores is nice and well, but they aren’t “customer friendly”. Still, people seem to accept Steam’s activation-DRM better than EA’s :D

  3. …ahhh and I did forget the fact that you can already backup your games proactively via the Steam client software. So notice of a shutdown will likely occur some 60+ days in advance with plenty of time to backup (for play offline). So if there’s really any concern at all of the future of the Steam service… Buy a pack of DVDs, backup a copy of the steam installer and each of your games.

    Ok NOW I’m done. For real this time!


    Nick the Ever-Rambling!

  4. I actually find myself buying games from Steam whenever I’m given the option of doing so. There’s a real advantage in being able to delete a game and get it back whenever you want. The new Steam “cloud” product (a.k.a. server-side game preferences and save-games) will only increase it’s value. Is it perfect? No, but it’s sure come a long way!

    Now, the two potential exit strategies of concern regarding VALVe’s Steam from a player-perspective..

    1. The company gets acquired by a larger company.

    Chances are likely at this point that there’s enough value in the digital distribution model to make this the more likely possibility. If this model is successful, some of that value is actually CUMULATIVE. a.k.a. the more games you have, the more likely you are to return and see what’s new. Thus, the chances of an acquirer making this go away is not a huge possibility in my opinion. If the acquirer were one who own/operates a competitor digital distribution mechanism and is simply seeking more market share, then chances are still likely that existing games would be accommodated and available, though possibly through different software mechanisms. Again, the cumulative value of generating repeat visits to any store, online or otherwise, is larger than you might think.

    2. Digital distribution fails entirely and VALVe decides to cease the Steam service altogether.

    I would expect that this scenario would more likely be played out via an technology acquisition vs. simply going away, but if it were to go away it remains highly likely that some level of compensation would be provided to end users via alternative services… DVD offline copies of purchased software… etc. While possible, I find it very hard to believe that VALVe would want to generate the kind of ill-will with consumers by denying them access to the games they purchased with good faith and their hard-earned cash.. particularly if the company was to remain and continue to make new games. Of course, we’re talking a failure of the digital distribution model which would mean many folks aren’t buying their games via this mechanism in the first place. Thankfully, I don’t see that happening. In fact, quite the contrary.

    The *only* scenario that is even a REMOTE possibility (and by remote I mean less than 0.00001%), VALVe could suddenly cease to exist or their servers could be rendered inoperable in some fashion, causing continued servicing of the downloading and use of purchased games to be impossible. With the whole idea of the “cloud” (implemented properly), this extremely remote possibility should be even LESS likely due to the decentralized failure-tolerant nature of the architecture.

    I could probably go on further, but something about leaving a comment that’s longer than the original post has me wondering if I should step away from the computer for a while :)



  5. If Valve closes the doors, I believe you couldn’t play those games (at least not the multiplayer mode).

    That’s the flipside of digital distribution.

  6. I still can play Monkey Island, but will i be able to play Half Life 2 in 20 Years? What happens if Valve closes the doors?

  7. As much as the Linux-user in me wants to stay away from anything remotely resembling DRM, I have to admit that Steam is doing an excellent job.

    One of my biggest concerns is what would happen if they went out of business (or something else happened) and Steam could no longer function. Hopefully they would find a way to replace Steam with another system and let people continue to play their games.

    However, Steam lets me play my games – even offline. They seem to be putting players high on their list of priorities and that is a good thing.

  8. Hmm, what if the artist prefers to get paid ‘by the result’. Instead of tracking hours he wants to keep doing a good job, and not time spending thinking what was done.

    Jake – have you considered that by requesting a log you might be focusing on hours… when in the fact you could focus on the results? If artist wants to get paid “per 3d model”, then why not accept that?

    You mention fixed prices and dishonesty, but think about it this way:
    – if you want a fancy looking background graphics, and it costs you let’s say 500 bucks. Why would you care if the artist spends 2 hours or 50 hours doing it? If it’s 500 bucks value to you, why ask for the log?
    – Also remember that people can be dishonest with logs: if they can “load their fixed prices” then of course they can “load their hourly amounts”…

  9. I’ve asked people (employees) to keep time logs before and some get on with it fine and others do not. Generally the ones who do not have failings in other areas too. If I was paying an artist and I asked them to keep a log and they did not or refused, I would not continue to hire them as they are being unprofessional. It’s in the artist’s interest anyway to get paid on an hourly basis instead of a fixed price basis in case the project lasts longer than planned, unless they load their fixed prices of course or are dishonest in some way…

    Of course I’m biased towards logs, I keep one myself so I can see how long I spend on various aspects of each game, and it also helps to motivate me when I know I haven’t put in enough hours one day or week. Also it’s satisfying seeing more time logged if you know you are being paid by the hour for it, it’s very concrete.

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