Full Steam ahead?

Valve
Michael Cornelius/Flickr

In an opinion piece published today on Polygon, Tim Colwill, of Point of Clickbait, has supplied over 4,000 words of ammunition in the fight against Valve — particularly, against the Steam distribution platform.

Didn’t know there was a fight against Valve? I didn’t, either. Admittedly, I am a console gamer. My computers (aside from the fact that they are Macs) are used for writing and video editing and losing hours of my life on social media; I don’t even have Steam installed.

I won’t offer my own opinion on the matter because, hey, I don’t use Steam, but Colwill has done an excellent job of outlining the facts. Through Steam, Valve recruits unwitting volunteers to advertise its sales for free, pays artists pennies on the dollar for work they’ve created from scratch, and forces itself onto your computer under the guise of convenience and digital rights management.

This is not so inherently different from the approach other companies have taken — from Apple’s iTunes store to Uber — but Colwill argues the devil is in the details. We rightly demonize companies like Uber when they do shifty shit; but Valve has forever been gaming’s golden boy. We see Valve as the good guy, and that makes it all the worse. As Colwill writes:

This, then, is Good Guy Valve — a corporation which employs precision-engineered psychological tools to trick people into giving them money in exchange for goods they don’t legally own and may never actually use while profiting from a whole lot of unpaid labor and speculative work … but isn’t “evil.”

Companies grasp for more control while pretending to offer greater freedom all the time. But usually, the community is able to rein them in. Remember when Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One and announced that all games could be installed to the hard drive and played without needing the disk? Gamers could access their games on any Xbox through their XBL Gold account — even games they bought on disk! How convenient!

Yet it backfired miserably, mostly due to a requirement that a user’s Xbox connect to the internet once every 24-four hours — and if it didn’t, all installed games would be disabled. Under pressure from users and the media, Microsoft had to backpedal, scrapping its plans completely and just going with the tried-and-true method of requiring a disk to be in the drive to play a game.

The announcement, outcry, and reversal all happened within weeks. The collective voice of millions of frustrated gamers brought Goliath to its knees. But nobody’s crying out about Steam. Colwill thinks it’s time we should.


Also published on Medium.

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