The Real Problem With Steam
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The Real Problem With Steam

January 28, 2020

Hi, I’m Hamish Black and welcome to Writing
on Games. First off, I’m not trying to attack anyone
here. If I mention names, I’m not angrily singling
anyone out, they’re perhaps just the most relevant to or prevalent in this particular
situation. I’m going to criticise some of Jim Sterling’s
ideas, for example, but he’s not guilty of everything I talk about here. I also think that dude seems cool and I could
see him being very fun to hang out with, so on the off-chance you’re watching this Jim,
I assure you it isn’t personal. Cool? Cool. So yeah, Steam has been kind of broken for
a while. As many before me have pointed out, the mere
presence of a game on Steam used to be a marker of quality. In the past, it led me to trawl the platform
constantly to see what new games had been released. Cut to a few years later, a tradition of hyper-reduced
sales prices leading to a library full of games I will likely never play and an opening
of the floodgates to any shmuck with an executable to throw up on the store and, well, yeah. Not so interested in that anymore. For some people, however, it’s far more
than just a lack of interest. People are legitimately angry about the state
of the platform, with some people more or less dedicating their careers to trying to
get things fixed. Notable problems include the ways in which
Valve has let curation slip; that they’ve foisted responsibility for managing it onto
consumers and algorithms. This leads to games that used to get visibility
from their presence on Steam now being completely buried. There’s also systems like Greenlight which
have been gamed by rogue developers to get their games on the service illegitimately,
as well as the ever-irritating asset flip (where store-bought assets and Unity tutorials
are uploaded to the platform without any creative input to try and make a quick buck). Each has become more prevalent over the years,
as well as gradually lowering Steam in the eyes of its customer base. As a result, a lot of things have been shouted
very loudly again and again that Steam needs to stop letting bad games onto their service
and start giving us good games, damnit! And at least on the surface, anyway, it seems
that the years of shouting have worked. Steam has already announced that they’re
ditching Greenlight in favour of Direct – a system which introduces a paywall in an attempt
to stop devs abusing the platform. In a somewhat more surprising move, however,
Valve recently flew consumer advocate YouTubers Jim Sterling and John Bane (otherwise known
as TotalBiscuit) over to their offices to consult on plans to improve the service. The result? Well, unfortunately, a lot of it boils down
to a more concentrated focus on what they’ve already been doing: doubling down on algorithms
and crowdsourcing curation (hey, wanna do some free PR work for these devs? You can call yourself an Explorer if ya want,
buddy!), and I guess sating the weird desire of your TotalBiscuits to have everything perfectly
categorised. A good few minutes of TB’s video is spent
lamenting the ever-so-urgent problem of Steam that they didn’t recognise your specific
distinction between the terms Rogue-like and Roguelite. This platform is really going places! As you can probably tell, I don’t think
any of this is very convincing. In fact, I don’t get the feeling Jim and
John are particularly convinced either. Maybe of the fact that that Valve is aware
of its image problem? Who knows. It doesn’t mean they’re going to enact
any kind of meaningful fixes however. Even flying the guys out there is more of
a symbolic gesture than anything else. More importantly, I don’t think it’s possible
for anything to come out of those meetings to actually solve the issue. That’s because the issue itself is far bigger
than just fixing Steam’s front page. And that’s just it – these people, these consumer
advocates, were brought out to fix Valve’s image problem. A problem Valve caused for themselves through
their desire to control as much of the PC market as possible with little regard for
how they were going to manage that eventuality. The problem is that we’re viewing this in
terms as black-and-white as “once we fix Steam, we fix the PC gaming landscape!” It ignores the more uncomfortable reality;
that Steam is kind of a monopoly, and these acts of contrition afforded to very specific
(if vocal) YouTube communities all amount to how they can maintain that absolute control. But why is that bad, you ask? All my games are in one place, so obviously
I want that platform to thrive for the sake of convenience. I don’t want a million Uplays and Origins
clogging up my desktop, confusing my flow of gaming. I get that, I do. It’s the age we live in, where we’re constantly
seeking out new ways to condense as far as possible the ways we consume media. The problem is that it gives Valve no real
reason to improve. Game devs are making far less sales, customer
satisfaction is through the floor, but Gabe Newell’s net worth is the highest it’s ever
been. Even if individual games are selling less,
Valve is making just as much across a larger number of titles. And now there’s going to be a ubiquitous
paywall I guess, locking out even genuine devs who might not have the money. It just doesn’t work, because there’s
no competition. The solution is not to congratulate Steam
on the appearance of contrition, of their supposed catering to the specific whims of
the audiences of two specific YouTubers. The solution is to perhaps forego some of
that unity of experience, for the sake of supporting other platforms offering different
services. Whilst Uplay and Origin offer little in the
way of unique selling points other than “you get to launch this launcher from Steam, which
is itself a launcher”, there are other similar, but bespoke platforms that are worth examining. For example, instead of trying to find that
tiny indie diamond in the gargantuan pile of shoddy mobile ports that is Steam, why
not look for that experience on somewhere like It’s a service curated by actual human beings
which offers smaller developers the means to distribute their unique, fun and experimental
experiences that they might not be able to distribute on Steam. It’s so different from Steam that its founder
Leaf Corcoran has in the past altered things on the backend to accommodate the quirks of
specific games, for instance. This is a platform that really cares about
a specific kind of experience. With Steam’s upcoming paywall, you’ll
probably see a lot more devs gravitating to this service, with the human curation and
a genuine wish to support genuine devs stopping your Digital Homicides in their tracks. You can support the work of these devs by
supporting the platform that cares about them. It’s the same with GOG. You go there for old games, many of which
fall into that somewhat ephemeral “middle tier” of development that can’t really
exist now because anything other than AAA mega corp or scrappy garage programmer just
isn’t sustainable on a platform like Steam. It’s also totally DRM free, whereas Steam
itself is DRM, giving you more choice in how you play and control your purchases. I’d say having multiple libraries is a small
price to pay for each one having its own purpose, giving devs a choice of the platforms that
suit their interests, each service being able to foreground the best of its specialty as
a result, leading to a better landscape for the consumer. It’s supply and demand – you support these
carefully curated experiences on each platform, and that curation suddenly becomes a lot easier
and more effective. More choice is better for everyone, and Valve
controlling nearly 100% of all PC gaming purchases does not allow for that. Ultimately it’s you who has to realise that
though, and perhaps consider sacrificing some convenience in favour of supporting a competitive
marketplace. But hey, I guess John giving Valve a good
talkin’ to about algorithms will have to suffice for now. Which brings me onto my larger problem with
so-called “pro-consumer” punditry on the industry, and this is far from just John and
Jim. There’s nuance to every situation in the
games industry that I feel is often lacking in the way these people represent it. Everything is always the fault of big bad
publishers and lazy devs trying to make bad, incomplete experiences to irritate the poor,
innocent consumer who can seemingly do no wrong, but also just can’t stop buying those
dang bad games. Essentially, the customer isn’t always right,
and these commentators rarely if ever point that out. It’s how you get to situations like the
Mass Effect Andromeda thing where people are shouting about lazy devs, when in order to
get to their position, you have to be anything but. No one considers the fact that, well, games
are hard to make especially within a large company, so you talk to other devs and they’ll
tell you it’s a miracle anything gets shipped. No one considers that the devs perhaps didn’t
want to put the game out in that state. No one considers the fact that it was the
end of the tax year, so EA weren’t going to push that back, instead forcing already
pressured devs to work harder and release something that they perhaps wanted to work
further on. But nope, a continuous, reductive commentary
on “lazy devs” (which is itself real lazy) and intentionally bad games leads to people
getting harassed by those who have no idea how complex this process can be (or who was
even involved). These people are now going to be the Explorers,
choosing which games get surfaced and which get buried. All for the sake of fixing Valve’s image
problem. Sounds great, right? Ya just gotta have the good games be on Steam’s
front page and the bad games be catapulted into the sun! What I’m saying is that being pro-consumer
means so much more than breaking things down into “good games” and “bad games”
(something you see a lot of especially in John’s video). This is a problem for a number of reasons;
not least of which because it doesn’t allow for games in the middle ground. The camp games; the ones that lack some technical
finesse, but perhaps have heart. What’s that? You want a kinda bad game to laugh at and
have fun with? Well no, you don’t get to do that, because
Jim and John’s fans-turned-Explorers have decided that that joke’s over now and those
games are all BAD. It’s downright suppressive. Even if it’s not that with these YouTubers,
things often come down to “this PC port has a bad frame rate and these controls are
bad and that’s why this business hates the consumer!” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been guilty of
reductive statements myself in the past – I’ve just never claimed to be some pro-consumer
advocate. But assure yourself of this: the idea that
devs are lazy and want to hurt the consumer is not only reductive; it distracts from real,
tangible problems about the way the game industry works. An example of this for me was back in November
last year when Ubisoft executives were accused of and fined for insider trading. Allegedly these higher-ups (including the
CEO of Ubisoft Montreal) sold stocks back in October 2013 right before substantial delays
were announced for both Watch Dogs and The Crew – delays which, according to PC Gamer,
saw shares drop by around 25%. In December 2016, the people involved were
fined a combined total of 1.27 million Euros (although they asserted their innocence and
plans to appeal). Now, not only is insider trading super, SUPER
illegal, but in games, this is the kind of business practice that has knock-on effects
on company standing, project timelines, budgets, pressure on development teams, etc. Things that lead to less than ideal products. And yet, nothing. I found out about it from a news article buried
on Gamespot, and no one was mentioning it. That seemed wild to me. I guess it got a postscript in a Jimquisition
episode in January (Nintendo’s Virtual Console Is Trash) as if this was just a simple foible
of the company when potentially it was something much, MUCH more serious. But no, because it didn’t directly translate
to “this company hates the consumer because DLC or bad frame rates”, you didn’t see
it covered. I mean, without wishing to get too conspiratorial,
I’m willing to bet the executives at Ubisoft were glad that people were continuing to comment
on things as symptomatic of the larger problem as frame rates and pre-order DLC and the like,
precisely because it distracted from that larger problem; that there’s a distinction
between the so-called “shady business practices” that amount to “bad games” and the actual
shady business practices of which the things people complain about are a result. I mean, I could talk about the failings of
this kind of punditry all day, but at some point, the onus is kind of on the consumer
to make better choices. We live in a capitalist society – big businesses
do not have your best interests at heart, and just because you loudly demand that “catering
to gamers” makes business sense, doesn’t make it so. In fact, often the opposite is true; you can
talk about F’ing Konami and how they’re going to die without Kojima and how they don’t
care about the gamers all you want, but their profits are actually up year on year. This kind of thing should be a given; it’s
the surface level. Challenge yourself to go deeper into the underlying
problems when discussing this stuff. It’s probably why a lot of this consumer
advocacy stuff falls flat with me. It’s both pointing out the blindingly obvious
whilst failing to get to the heart of the issue. Valve attempting to control 100% of the PC
gaming market is bad for developers and consumers alike, and no amount of YouTubers flown out
to talk about dumb algorithms and further crowdsourcing curation is going to change
that. The reality is that the solution to the problem
of Steam comes down to you, the consumer, giving up some of the convenience of having
one library of games in one place, in service of seeking out and supporting different platforms
offering more specialised experiences. In return, this is where you will see Steam,
and the PC gaming market in general, really start to improve. So I hope you enjoyed my take on the whole
Valve situation. If you did, why not subscribe to the channel,
hit the little bell thingy, and check out the podcast in the description. If you really want to go the extra mile, however,
please consider checking out the Patreon. You have no idea how much it means to me and
how much it helps the running of the channel. Thank you so much to all the patrons on screen
for their continued support. I’d also like to give special thanks to
Biggy, Mark B. Writing, Peter, Nico Bleackley, Artjom Vitsjuk, Justins Holderness Christian
Konemann, Thomas Coker, Nicolas Ross and Charlie Yang. And with that, I’m Hamish Black and this
has been Writing on Games. Thank you very much for watching and I’ll
see you next time.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. oh… the silly naiive nostalgia of some people sincerely thinking steam direct will solve anything… =D

  2. I never understood the appeal of Totalbiscuit. People think he's some kind of "enlightened intellectual with standards" and he always sends his army of angry kids to attack any games he doesn't like, and he instantly shits on everything that isn't on Steam.

  3. This video is even more relevant in 2018 with the recent trend of up and coming reviewers who literally just nitpick every AAA game whether it's bad or not.

  4. Someone need to do something
    because uh since us dollars is constantly changings is vaulve in certain country (am in thailand)
    it cause me a problem that is
    While i was about to buy a games (at that time where dollar dont mean much then suddently it become a lot)
    the vaulve changed
    and as i bought a game which according to the caculation and math it should make my account unlimited
    didnt seem to go so well
    First i did get the games Yes
    then Second my account become unlimited
    Then THIRD it become limited
    what THE FUCK

  5. I preferred the original way of 'curation', where all I needed to do to see what games were available is go to a retail store and see what's on the shelves. If the game wasn't worth publishing or just didn't find a good publisher, it wouldn't come out. Competition was everywhere, whether it's retail vs retail store, or publishers vs other publishers. Even the way games were packaged influenced their visibility and success. As for how we criticize games and such, I totally agree with you. We are spoiled, and we are far too rude and focused on the wrong 'consumer issues'. Great video!

  6. I have always thought that the problem with gaming now is that the consumers focus is on the surface level and thats about it. Thats why people like Jim gets a lot of praise even though he really doesn't touch on the details of it. Nobody really want to talk about the main issues, because that would require them to do actual work and dedicated some time on it, which they don't want to.

  7. Those saying STEAM should be the only platform are slaves of it, not realizing that it totally doesn't encourage any competition..

  8. Steam community locked discussion and banned me for kindly suggesting that it should be possible to get a refund for games that don't work.
    The most toxic community I've ever seen, and they seem to be 100% aimed at supporting scammers and incompetent gamedevs.

  9. The only real problem with steam is ripping of origin and giving games discount, Like seriously!? Discounts, in my capitalist country?! Not in my money making country's soil. EA does better with selling games in full price, than this money hating, discount making communist!

  10. This is why Steam is so bad. The Steam moderators on Steam community service are corrupts and toxics. Look at Better Business Bureau, they gave Valve a F grade. Gabe Newell, go fix it ASAP.

  11. What’s really funny is how people say steams monopoly is wrong and people “don’t have any choice”

    Yea what about Facebook google and twitter being able to block whoever they want.

  12. tsk. leaded petrol, thalidamide asbestos, and LSD were good ideas at the time Alexander, Steam is just another toxic thing we dont need

  13. The problem I had with steam is that I bought star wars battle front 2 and the controls were horrible. It also wasn't possible to use my Xbox controller. After a month of trying to get the game work properly and just being busy with work I gave up and asked for a credit, not even a refund. Steam flat out refused. I will not be buying another game on steam

  14. It's interesting watching two years on and seeing how much Jim Sterling has improved on this front. Systemic critique and serious issues now dominate the bulk of his videos, with individual bad games/instances used as examples rather than the entire video's subject matter.

  15. I am sorry man. I usually agree most of time with you. But this time I hardly agreed with 20-30% of things you said here.

  16. What you're saying basically boils down to "vote with your wallet." That's an especially naive sentiment given that Steam is essentially a monopoly (a point you admitted yourself).

    I do agree that consumers should make better choices but the onus isn't entirely on the consumers. And better consuming habits won't solve the issue with Steam.

    While you're certainly right to call out Jim Sterling for his surface level critique, he's certainly started to address the much larger issue about two years after your video, a failure to keep capitalism properly in check (you also hinted at this but failed to address this issue yourself).

    But still this is a decent video. You bring up a few good points, like suggesting niche platforms and pointing out that the sheer size of Steam is what is causing most these issues (and that algorithms can't fix it).

  17. This video is still very relevant to Watch Dogs: Legion being announced on Epic Games store and not Steam. The Steam fanboys are out in droves professing their loyalty to their platform. Some guys who have owned Steam since Half-Life 2 are saying that this was their CHOICE of games marketplace. Are people normally this unaware or do they have no memory of being required to install Steam in 2005?

  18. Steam used to represent quality? WTF? Steam has never in its entire existence represented quality. It has always been a forced install in games loved by users. The biggest problem in the video game industry.

  19. Steam needs better quality control new IP games are fine but steam may end up as a dumping ground. It would be nice to have pc ports of video games from 6th generation and older on sale like GOG.

  20. Tbh I still think that steam is really great the games are really fun and always on sale which makes my library full of games which are online and offline ( I also think the epic store is trash I bought rainbow six siege from it nothing happened but when I bought rainbow six siege from steam worked )

  21. here is one of steams mods telling me whats up

    Originally posted by LtFalcon:

    At this point I don't even know what's going on here anymore, but it's time to bring it to a stop.

    Originally posted by hamster1000:

    oh and i might add i have destroyed canadians before made them tap to me before as well so if you want to dance with me by the time your done dancing with me you will have reason to redefine the word hate you and i won a war with one of your fellow canadians in a 6th month long war in forums layout and today is your lucky day because i am always looking for someone to help me make a new record i love breaking my old records keeps me keen i love it when someone can help me keep my fighting skills up to date

    If you want to dance with someone on these forums you're going to be dancing with me, and I can tell you right now that this is not a fight that you're going to win. I don't know what your problem is with Canadians or what gave you the idea that you can go around picking fights with people, but this is not something we're going to allow here.

    Furthermore, if your response to any argument that comes your way is to ignore what other players say, repeatedly insist you're correct, and then begin insulting people who are trying explain why they believe you are wrong, you aren't going to last overly long in this forum. All users of this forum are expected to demonstrate basic levels of respect to one another, so if you can't have a discussion without being rude to people or trying to find a Canadian to fight in order to beat some personal record of yours, you simply will not be allowed to continue posting here.

    Please consider this message a warning.


    my response
    i be happy to pick a fight with you then when i get banned all of the persons that say steam is immoral and is the most toxic community in the world when it comes to there forums will ring true i won't be losing any sleep over it besides steam mods so cowardly anyways of doing

    temp bans on bully's rather then locking the threads up and warning all party's involved i don't appreciate persons trying to convert me into there mind set and then i don't appreciate it even more for persons to force me to agree to there way of thinking and rather then them taking a

    hint or a clue that i am not going to change my mind that rubs them the wrong way and they can't stand it so much they fight me tooth and nail to force me to agree to there way or else get banned and that is wrong there but don't no one give a damn so in turn i look forward to

    getting banned off of steam forever money talks to much now and days for steam anyways thats why they turn the other cheek and let the bully's do what ever they want here there is other platforms besides steam that does the same thing they do so by all do means make my day when i get banned

  22. 12:44 – The same thing happened in 2019 with Disney. The SEC started investigating Disney for major financial crimes, which of course, is bad for their stock prices. But immediately after that news broke, it got replaced with news about Disney and Sony disagreeing and pulling Spider-man from the MCU, so that's all anyone talked about. Then after everyone forgot about the SEC, they magically came to an agreement and brought him back to the MCU. ¬_¬

    You didn't mention the biggest problem that Steam causes. By making it easy for developers to push out updates, they remove the pressure that devs used to have in the past to make a game, finish it, test it, and only then, finally release it to the public, and then release the occasional small patch to fix a few bugs or a mildly larger patch to add a bit of bonus content. With Steam, they easily can do this anytime, which has lead to them constantly pushing out premature, incomplete, buggy games, getting money for a non-product, and fixing (or even finishing) it later with constant (sometimes hourly) updates which can grow to be dozens, even hundreds of gigabytes in size (sometimes much bigger than the full game). Frankly, I'm not sure what pressure there is to even bother after they've already gotten the money, especially since people never "vote with their wallets" and buy everything all the time no matter what. 😒 Then there's the fact that "pre-orders" have become much more common thanks to Steam, which leads to stupid people paying for stuff they don't even get based solely on trust, and keep doing it even if their trust was repeatedly broken. ¬_¬ Steam spoils developers and does indeed make them sloppy and lazy coders.

  23. Steam pisses me off so much. Sometimes when I try to luanch SKSE steam will launch the fucking Skyrim Launcher and its annoying. Plus Steam causes games to take forever to load. The DRM is fucking bullshit. Plus Steam is intrusive as fuck.

  24. They should just go back to CD/DVD and be done with it. Use CD/DVD. Implementing a system like console has that makes it impossible to reproduce a copy. But able to sell and resell and share freely. DRM doesn't stop piracy it encourages more piracy.

  25. This is all true, but when buying a game you know is legit and it runs like garbage on steam then it's time to move on. Good point on consumers buying everything thrown at them.

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