I don’t write much about current events because usually I don’t care, but here I go.
Recently, Valve has made some decisions concerning the sale of certain games on Steam, and I’m sure you can find out details on your own. But the important part is what it means for the sale of PC games in general.
When it comes to the distribution of artistic works, it’s hard to say what defines a “monopoly”. Being the only place where someone can legally obtain a specific movie, game, book, etc., sounds like that place is a monopoly over that specific product. Two different companies can sell a hamburger, and those two hamburgers will be different products with their own qualities, but they can both be classified as “hamburger”. But food is more product than art, so it’s hard to keep this metaphor up. If one publisher wants to sell Dante’s Divine Comedy, the book they will be selling will be the Divine Comedy. You can’t make a knock-off same-but-different version of Dante and expect to compete. Every competitor selling historical literary narrative poems is going to be selling the same text; that’s their “hamburger”. But that’s not how it always is, since there’s this thing called copyright and it’s getting in the way of everything. As of right now the only way to get EDF 4.1 on PC is through Steam. Sure, you can buy it on other sites like the Humble store, but these sites only give you a Steam key. You are required to go through Steam if you wish to legally play the game on PC. This isn’t how the hamburgers work, since there’s other places to buy the hamburger. Someone could make a shitty EDF knockoff and sell it elsewhere, but that’s not another hamburger, that’s a Doritos Locos Taco and it tastes terrible.
But that shitty EDF knockoff won’t be sold elsewhere, since Steam is the brown standard for putting your cash grab indie games that seem like (or sometimes are) flash games that would be free in 2006. So Steam not only holds the monopoly on certain large releases, they are a monopoly over many indie games as well. Unless these games release on the developers’ own sites, or alternate markets like gog.com and itch.io, they are exclusive to Steam. And “exclusive to Steam” can have some heavy implications, since all the power is given to Valve, a company which hasn’t made a good business decision since 2007.
Valve’s dominance in the PC games industry, along with the disturbing glorification of the company by its fans, is a problem I’ve been concerned of for a long while. Even ignoring the trickle of low-quality content seeping from the rapidly shrinking development studio, the massive amounts of low-quality content allowed on Steam is hurting Valve’s reputation, and trust from its consumers.
I’m not sure how to transition from here so I just put a line down. I don’t pay for my games, at least most of the time. There’s lots of reasons for people to do this, and I’ve contemplated all of them.
“Owning physical media is the only way to go”, they say. Yet that “physical media” is nothing, it’s a copy. There is nothing to that cartridge, that disc, or whatever it comes on. An infinite number of copies of this “physical media” can be made, and the price to produce it is pennies, compared to paying $60 for a copy. There is no difference between having it on a disc and downloading it to your hard drive, outside the hassle of downloading (and the hassle of storing the disc in a cool, dry place).
“Paying for games supports the developers”, they say. They’re right, if they’re talking about indie games. The developers for Fallout: New Vegas wouldn’t get a bonus unless they got a 85 on metacritic. Before that, they had already gotten paid.
Bethesda Zenimax wouldn’t have paid them whether I bought the game or not, and it’s not like the game would’ve been released in a finished state had I paid for it. Indie developers (or some good publishers) are actually paid when they get their cut from Steam purchases, hence the exception.
There are two real reasons I don’t pay for my games. The first reason is because I’m poor. That’s an exaggeration but I won’t be able to afford all the games I play. The second reason is it’s too easy to do. Even if the publishers make all games impossible to pirate, I still have 4 decades worth of content that is all easily obtained.
Also published on Medium.