Monday, 18 September 2017

The State of Steam

Anyone watching my videos is presumably already familiar enough with the current state and reputation of Steam. Steam is often described as a dumping ground with little-to-no curation or care as to what gets shoved to the storefront.

This comes as no surprise since let's face it- that's exactly what Steam is and has been for the past few years.

For context to what I'm about to say, I'll give a brief background into Steam.

Steam launched in 2003, and it was pretty humble. Initially only sporting Valve's own titles, the platform carried on for a while and gradually accrued more and more games. The submission process was manual and personal. A developer would have to speak to a real representative of a real company in order to get their game considered for release on Steam.

Getting something on Steam was a serious mark of prestige, where it would have been sold alongside Valve's own titles as well as the best the industry had to offer.

However, in 2012 Steam made a radical change to how their store worked. They introduced Greenlight. A year later, Steam's prestigious status on the industry had all but disappeared and getting a game on Steam was practically commonplace for any realistically competitive product.

The reason that I explain all this is because Steam has greatly changed as a service. The Steam that was a prestigious place for reliably high-quality games is gone, and little trace of it remains today. The Steam that has taken its place is what some people would call a dumpster fire full of snakes and vomit.

So why on earth did they do that? They ruined their own service and reputation, right?

In February 2013 - or about 7 months after Greenlight launched - Gabe Newell expressed his desire to make Steam a "networking API" rather than a "curated process". He spoke of his boredom with the Steam store, calling it a "middle-ground marketing thing".

Clearly, Gabe Newell's vision for Steam has evolved since 2003. Steam appears to be going in the direction of a kind of open marketplace for games. A massively more popular and consumer-friendly version of itch.io, if you like.

Steam is moving away from being its own ecosystem for games to be sold, bought, discussed and critiqued. It has become a centralized platform for the distribution and purchase of games and little more. Marketing today is primarily done outside of Steam, whereas in 2010 having your game on Steam was marketing in itself.

Communities are primarily built on external forums, chatrooms, or in my case a YouTube channel.

Steam no longer wants to be a one-stop shop for all things developer-related. Steam wants to be a smaller part in a larger and more varied toolkit.

Of course, the motivation for this change is very likely because they want money. They're definitely making a lot more money as a distribution middle-man than they would have been as a prestigious curator.

However, this makes being an indie developer a lot harder in the process. The advent of the asset flipper and associated low effort or low quality games on Steam makes getting noticed a lot harder than it was in previous years.

Independent developers are in a tricky spot right now. We have Steam and Google Play which are both great for distribution, but we're at a loss for a curated platform. Getting a game noticed is hard and only getting harder, both due to market saturation and large players in the field taking a back seat.

Currently, sites such as GOG need to be successful in order for indies to be successful. GOG is currently what Steam was 7 years ago, minus a whole lot of DRM.

The Humble Store is also making good progress to shutting out the gutter-trash masquerading as video games that pollutes the Steam store.

In short, yeah, Steam isn't what it was and has ceased to make things easy for indie developers. Now, they're something entirely different but useful in its own right, for the limited scope of problem they're intent on solving. It's been a long, gruelling gauntlet of a changeover but Valve are closer than ever to making it a reality with Steam Direct.

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for more videos, either scripted, unscripted, whatever, I don't know. I even scripted this last little bit at the end, that's how scripted this video is. God, script-writing is a pain.

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