Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

So What Happens After Steam Opens the Floodgates?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 28, 2013

So Steam’s Greenlight was a failure.

That may be a pretty harsh thing to say. For many developers and fans, Greenlight was pretty awesome. But as Valve founder Gabe Newell explained recently, “[Steam] should stop being a dictator and move towards much more participatory, peer-based methods of sanctioning player behavior. Greenlight is a bad example of an election process. We came to the conclusion pretty quickly that we could just do away with Greenlight completely, because it was a bottleneck rather than a way for people to communicate choice.”

By the sounds of it, it’s becoming more of a platform than a portal. The really funny part is that until Greenlight happened, that’s how many if not most Steam users assumed it worked. “Why don’t you just release your game on Steam?” gamers would ask endlessly, infuriating the developer who’d been turned down on Steam for reasons unknown.

And so they’ll be opening things up. A lot. Instead of user Greenlight pages, there’ll be user storefronts on Steam. This definitely scales things a bit. Will Steam become the Amazon of downloadable PC software? The “Apple Store” for all desktops & laptops? It’s clear that if Steam doesn’t move on it NOW, Microsoft is going to take over on the Windows side (but my personal opinion is that, with the direction Windows 8 is taking, Windows is taking a big step in its long, slow decline).

We’ll see. In the meantime, here are some industry experts looking into their own crystal balls to see what the future might hold:

Gamasutra Editors: Let’s Talk About Steam Opening Up

As for me, I don’t know enough details to make an accurate prediction. But I can throw out some speculation and pull guesses out of the air like anyone else.

If any game – sold through any means – can be “Steam Enabled,” and if Steam provides a way that any game could be sold on Steam if it passes minimum requirements (not be a malware vehicle, etc.) and featured on user stores… in other words, if it abdicates not only dictatorship over curation but also over monetization – then there’s not going to be anything stopping its dominance in the marketplace. Big time.

It’s that latter part that’s going to be a trick – the monetization. If they lock that up – and all games on Steam must be sold through Steam (which is actually a departure from how things run now – I play a lot of Steam-enabled games that I purchased elsewhere) – then they are going to be leaving themselves open to lots of competition. But if don’t pull a Microsoft (or, admittedly, an Apple) here and leave Steam as an “open platform” – I think just about everybody who isn’t a direct competitor will be making their games available through the Steam store anyway, just not exclusively.  Most most indies I talk to who are on Steam tell me that Steam sales almost always represent the majority of their PC sales (maybe not a majority of their revenue, but definitely the bulk of their sales), so it’s not like Steam would be losing a lot of money with that approach. In a sense, they’d be saying, “Sure, sell what you can on your own and through other portals, and it’ll still be a full-fledged Steam game. We’re cool with that. And when you are done, please consider letting use help you sell your game to the remaining 80% of the market that you missed”

It’d be a win-win.  They are the “good guys,” and there’s zero reasons for anybody to NOT be on Steam.

Now “discovery” is another issue. But this is an issue that every indie worth the label is intimately familiar with. For indie developers, and long-time indie game fans, this is pretty much part and parcel with the whole indie experience. It’s nothing new. It’s so NOT new, in fact, that it predates indie gaming, gaming, modern technology, and just about anything else – it’s been a part of the free-market experience since day one. In fact, the only way to avoid this problem is to create giant, powerful gatekeepers that are extremely difficult to successfully bypass. That’s an aberration, and (eventually) doomed to failure. That’s what the whole “indie” movement has always been about!

It’s only too many customers (and, sadly, gaming journalists) who were shocked to discover that there were far more games out there than were being marketed by TV commercials and pop-up ads on major websites.

So really, if Steam does it right, it will likely be a game-changer. It’ll be a great thing for indie gaming. It may not so great for some indies who have enjoyed something of a protected status in the past, but I doubt they’ll be hurt much by it, either.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    Just want to brag that I called it. 🙂 http://psychochild.org/?p=1157

    Here’s the problem with any sort of “app store”: eventually the gatekeepers decide they will need a bigger slice of the pie. Maybe St. Gabe is beyond the material needs of cash, but that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. Mr. Newell could get hit by a bus tomorrow (gods forbid) and then what will happen? It’s the nature of the gatekeeper to profit from that position.

    I disagree with your prediction about what happens if Steam just throws the doors open. If that happens the service will lose a lot of its usefulness. What makes Steam different from a glorified patcher if you’re fighting for attention with anyone else? The reason a gatekeeper can exploit their position is because they act as a filter. So, if Steam isn’t going to have a filter, then it’s less useful. If it filters, at what point do you stop? Any filtering will probably run into the same problem they’ve already had: too hard to deal with the flood of submissions either internally or through user review like Greenlight.

    It’ll be interesting to see, but I don’t see a fully open Steam being the irresistible force. But, I’ve been wrong before and probably will be again in the future. 🙂

  • Xenovore said,

    It’s going to depend entirely on the robustness of the filtering available to customers. Not only should there be “Newest”, “Most Popular”, “Highest Rated”, and price ranges, but game-specific things like “2D”, “3D”, “First Person”, “Third Person”, “Side Scroller”, “Top Down”, “Cartoon Style”, “Photo-Real Style”, “Single Player”, “Multiplayer Co-op”, etc. etc. so customers can easily find exactly the sort of games they want to play. And since there’s likely to be some subjectivity and overlap there, it make’s sense to also show a list of similar games; maybe the ones that only match 75%+ of the specified criteria.

    That’s been the problem with getting on Steam (somewhat mitigated by Greenlight): End customers have had no say in what’s even available to purchase. Much better to just put it all out there, and provide a flexible, full-featured way for customers to find the games they want.

  • Mephane said,

    I won’t mind as long as

    a) Steam does not get infested with hundreds of games that are advertized as free, but only provide a fraction of their content or gameplay without an additional in-game purchase*, forcing you to read the fine print on every single title that is advertized as “free” in order to determine what you actually get.

    b) user-generated stores don’t fragment the Steam landscape, where one store has everything still inside Steam, another one is just a skin over an external app store through which everything actually goes, or might have different terms of use or some other annoying gotchas. Imagine an EA store inside Steam that is effectively a mask for Origin, including the need to actually install Origin; that’s stuff for real nightmares.

    c) there are measures to prevent a plague of third party DRM and purchase schemes less convenient and user-friendly than Steam. I already hate that some games made it to Steam which have additional online activation on top of Steam, activation limits, always-online single player DRM etc.

    (*Extra bad where in-game purchases are not done directly with money, but with company-specific “points” that you can only buy in buncheres that do not fit the prices of stuff to buy, ensuring that you always have to buy more points than you actually need.)

  • scutterman said,

    I think this extra bounty of games would be okay if Steam creates a library comparison engine. It compares the games in your library and then offers suggestions based on games owned by people with similar libraries. Essentially taking the Pandora or Last.fm approach to music and making it work for games.