The Adventures of a New PC Owner - The Joys and Terrors of Steam

Lord, what have I gotten myself into?

I've heard the stories. I'm an avid listener of the Bombcast and many times I've heard the crew (especially Vinny) talking about the ridiculous amount of stuff they buy on Steam, especially when the sales roll around. I was determined I wasn't going to fall into the same trap. No, I said, I will only buy games I know I want and will actually play. So how did that work out? Well I now own Frontlines: Fuel of War, a game I knew practically nothing about before buying it. I may never actually play this game, but considering it was on sale and cost me a whopping £1.49, I can't really say I got screwed.
 
But it's the slipperiest of slopes.
 
That said, Steam is amazing. It's easy to look at it very cynically as it's basically a DRM hub for your games. Of course many people are still banging the drum of needing to own physical copies of stuff. My cousin, a noted pirate, has voiced his disdain for Steam's anti-piracy system and control of your gaming life. But you know what, I don't feel inclined to own physical copies of things, and I am in no way a pirate, so Steam is absolutely perfect for someone like me. And that's before we get into the excellent cloud support, the very streamlined patching and downloads and the good community functionality.
 
Steam is already a pretty delicious cake, but the sales are such immaculate icing.
 
Seriously, how can you not be suckered in by them? I mean sure it would be concerning if you were buying "bad" games, but show me a man who would pass up paying £5 for Supreme Commander 2 and I will show you a fool. Oh, don't like RTS games, huh? Then how about Metro 2033 for less than £10, or two of the three STALKER games for less than £20? I mean for Darwin's sake, I paid £1.49 for the GOTY edition of Plants vs. Zombies (aside - who the hell voted PVZ as GotY? I'm not even it would be downloadable GotY. It's still fun mind, but really, c'mon). I mean I'm sure there must be some business logic to charging so little for some truly great content, but it still boggles the mind that the publishers of Frontlines: Fuel or War, who spent many thousands helping finance development and market this game would then be content to sell it for the price of a cup of coffee.
 
However, there is a problem with Steam. Well when I say there's a problem with Steam, that's not really accurate. When it comes to this matter, it really is a question of "it's not you, it's me".
 
I've been having problems managing my gaming related expenditure recently. 2010 has not been a good year for this, considering this year saw me purchase my Playstation 3 in July, then come October I dish out yet more cash for a PC. Since I got my PS3 I have spent a fair amount of time with it; I've played quite a few downloadable titles, many of which I got free/discounted with my Playstation Plus membership. But in terms of actual full-on disc based games I've played to conclusion in my four months of PS3 ownership? Two. Yes, two. inFamous and Red Dead Redemption. Only one of those is PS3-exclusive. Now I'm not saying I regret getting a PS3, because the truth is I haven't tapped into the true functionality of it; I've yet to get invested in the Blu Ray technology, and for UK PS3 owners LoveFilm, ostensibly a UK equivalent of Netflix, is coming in a few months or so.
 
But I have at least five sealed PS3 games I haven't gotten round to playing since July. That may not sound like a lot, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.
 
A stroll over to my lists will reveal I already have a fairly substantial backlog of games, almost entirely Xbox 360 games. I was solely a 360 owner for nearly three years, and have a ton of completed games for it, but my insatiable appetite for buying cheap 360 games on Amazon is what began my perilous journey into my backlog. Two years Condemned 2 has sat unplayed on my shelf. Red Faction Guerrilla is still in the wrapping, as are WET, Mirrors Edge and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. There are several games that I began, lost interest in and have had a terrible time getting back into - most notable among these are Resident Evil 5, Bayonetta and Far Cry 2. So why did I buy them and not play them? Well I bought them because most of them were seriously cheap - Mirror's Edge was £5 - and I haven't played them because by the time they got close to the top of my list, something new had come along. You might say that well some of those games are mediocre, or at least not outstanding. Well explain why my copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum remains unplayed whereas I did play through Tom Clancy's HAWX?
 
The PS3 made the backlog problem worse. Steam has the potential to turn it into a crisis.
 
What the hell as I supposed to do? Should I actually made a pact with myself to sit down every weekend and play through one of my backlog games? Because I'm really not sure I have that amount of self control, not when I have only just cracked open Fable III, and I've still got two Alan Wake chapters to finish. Maybe I should just sell the backlog console games and cut my losses. eBay has been a good friend to me in terms of getting rid of unwanted games, but so many of them are legitimately good games that I feel like I'll be missing out by saying goodbye to them. Perhaps I could rent them down the line if I need to, but considering the amount of games in my LoveFilm queue (yes, LoveFilm do games as well, and extremely well. Deal with it) I doubt I'll be able to see that through either.
 
Not to mention that I am actually supposed to have a life outside of video games. Right?
 
My biggest concern regarding Steam's place in my backlog nightmare is that the option to simply pass the game on to someone else doesn't exist. I'm stuck with Frontlines: Fuel of War. I paid £1.49 for this bed and I'm going to lie in it. That's why Steam scares me so much. Yes, the ridiculously cheap games are incredibly inticing, but unlike buying cheap console games there is no safety net. I'm bungee jumping without a bungee.
 
There is another problem here, too. The biggest reason why I don't get invested in so many games I have purchased is really quite simple. There is only one passion in my life that supercedes my love of video games, and that is my love for music. I listen to about 5-8 albums a day, and more often than not I'll be playing a game while wearing my headphones and listening to my tunes. The problem therefore is whether I can actually play through a story based game without sound. So many of my backlog is story based games, and as a rule I don't like to play any game without sound unless I've seen it before. But because my love of music comes first, I get stuck in this pattern of just playing games without the sound. This has led me to putting 50 hours into Borderlands, a game I've already beaten, when I got scads and scads of unplayed games. This appetite is also satiated by simple downloadable games - my recent addiction to tower defence games such as Fieldrunners and PixelJunk Monsters can be explains by my music-game multitasking - and by handheld games, especially my current obsession Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution.
 
What I need then is more time to play the games that need my undivided attention, and more games that can appease my desire to play them while doing something else. In the past week, this need has led me to play Plants vs. Zombies, RISK Factions, lots more Civ Rev for DS, and plenty of a game that I will discuss in greater detail in my next blog entry. There are games in my backlog that could be played with headphones - Supreme Commander 2 comes to mind - but I have to make that intial investment to play it and get a feel for it before I'm comfortable playing without soundI am most wary of the upcoming Steam sales for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but will have to just be aware of my expenditure and how new purchases will affect my backlog, because if I buy too many more games, I may literally never get around to playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or Warhammer 40K Dawn of War II.
 
"If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you." - Friedrich Nietzsche
 
Next time on The Adventures of a New PC Owner - On Fortresses, Teamwork. and Playing Against AI.

11 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by Atlas

Lord, what have I gotten myself into?

I've heard the stories. I'm an avid listener of the Bombcast and many times I've heard the crew (especially Vinny) talking about the ridiculous amount of stuff they buy on Steam, especially when the sales roll around. I was determined I wasn't going to fall into the same trap. No, I said, I will only buy games I know I want and will actually play. So how did that work out? Well I now own Frontlines: Fuel of War, a game I knew practically nothing about before buying it. I may never actually play this game, but considering it was on sale and cost me a whopping £1.49, I can't really say I got screwed.
 
But it's the slipperiest of slopes.
 
That said, Steam is amazing. It's easy to look at it very cynically as it's basically a DRM hub for your games. Of course many people are still banging the drum of needing to own physical copies of stuff. My cousin, a noted pirate, has voiced his disdain for Steam's anti-piracy system and control of your gaming life. But you know what, I don't feel inclined to own physical copies of things, and I am in no way a pirate, so Steam is absolutely perfect for someone like me. And that's before we get into the excellent cloud support, the very streamlined patching and downloads and the good community functionality.
 
Steam is already a pretty delicious cake, but the sales are such immaculate icing.
 
Seriously, how can you not be suckered in by them? I mean sure it would be concerning if you were buying "bad" games, but show me a man who would pass up paying £5 for Supreme Commander 2 and I will show you a fool. Oh, don't like RTS games, huh? Then how about Metro 2033 for less than £10, or two of the three STALKER games for less than £20? I mean for Darwin's sake, I paid £1.49 for the GOTY edition of Plants vs. Zombies (aside - who the hell voted PVZ as GotY? I'm not even it would be downloadable GotY. It's still fun mind, but really, c'mon). I mean I'm sure there must be some business logic to charging so little for some truly great content, but it still boggles the mind that the publishers of Frontlines: Fuel or War, who spent many thousands helping finance development and market this game would then be content to sell it for the price of a cup of coffee.
 
However, there is a problem with Steam. Well when I say there's a problem with Steam, that's not really accurate. When it comes to this matter, it really is a question of "it's not you, it's me".
 
I've been having problems managing my gaming related expenditure recently. 2010 has not been a good year for this, considering this year saw me purchase my Playstation 3 in July, then come October I dish out yet more cash for a PC. Since I got my PS3 I have spent a fair amount of time with it; I've played quite a few downloadable titles, many of which I got free/discounted with my Playstation Plus membership. But in terms of actual full-on disc based games I've played to conclusion in my four months of PS3 ownership? Two. Yes, two. inFamous and Red Dead Redemption. Only one of those is PS3-exclusive. Now I'm not saying I regret getting a PS3, because the truth is I haven't tapped into the true functionality of it; I've yet to get invested in the Blu Ray technology, and for UK PS3 owners LoveFilm, ostensibly a UK equivalent of Netflix, is coming in a few months or so.
 
But I have at least five sealed PS3 games I haven't gotten round to playing since July. That may not sound like a lot, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.
 
A stroll over to my lists will reveal I already have a fairly substantial backlog of games, almost entirely Xbox 360 games. I was solely a 360 owner for nearly three years, and have a ton of completed games for it, but my insatiable appetite for buying cheap 360 games on Amazon is what began my perilous journey into my backlog. Two years Condemned 2 has sat unplayed on my shelf. Red Faction Guerrilla is still in the wrapping, as are WET, Mirrors Edge and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. There are several games that I began, lost interest in and have had a terrible time getting back into - most notable among these are Resident Evil 5, Bayonetta and Far Cry 2. So why did I buy them and not play them? Well I bought them because most of them were seriously cheap - Mirror's Edge was £5 - and I haven't played them because by the time they got close to the top of my list, something new had come along. You might say that well some of those games are mediocre, or at least not outstanding. Well explain why my copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum remains unplayed whereas I did play through Tom Clancy's HAWX?
 
The PS3 made the backlog problem worse. Steam has the potential to turn it into a crisis.
 
What the hell as I supposed to do? Should I actually made a pact with myself to sit down every weekend and play through one of my backlog games? Because I'm really not sure I have that amount of self control, not when I have only just cracked open Fable III, and I've still got two Alan Wake chapters to finish. Maybe I should just sell the backlog console games and cut my losses. eBay has been a good friend to me in terms of getting rid of unwanted games, but so many of them are legitimately good games that I feel like I'll be missing out by saying goodbye to them. Perhaps I could rent them down the line if I need to, but considering the amount of games in my LoveFilm queue (yes, LoveFilm do games as well, and extremely well. Deal with it) I doubt I'll be able to see that through either.
 
Not to mention that I am actually supposed to have a life outside of video games. Right?
 
My biggest concern regarding Steam's place in my backlog nightmare is that the option to simply pass the game on to someone else doesn't exist. I'm stuck with Frontlines: Fuel of War. I paid £1.49 for this bed and I'm going to lie in it. That's why Steam scares me so much. Yes, the ridiculously cheap games are incredibly inticing, but unlike buying cheap console games there is no safety net. I'm bungee jumping without a bungee.
 
There is another problem here, too. The biggest reason why I don't get invested in so many games I have purchased is really quite simple. There is only one passion in my life that supercedes my love of video games, and that is my love for music. I listen to about 5-8 albums a day, and more often than not I'll be playing a game while wearing my headphones and listening to my tunes. The problem therefore is whether I can actually play through a story based game without sound. So many of my backlog is story based games, and as a rule I don't like to play any game without sound unless I've seen it before. But because my love of music comes first, I get stuck in this pattern of just playing games without the sound. This has led me to putting 50 hours into Borderlands, a game I've already beaten, when I got scads and scads of unplayed games. This appetite is also satiated by simple downloadable games - my recent addiction to tower defence games such as Fieldrunners and PixelJunk Monsters can be explains by my music-game multitasking - and by handheld games, especially my current obsession Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution.
 
What I need then is more time to play the games that need my undivided attention, and more games that can appease my desire to play them while doing something else. In the past week, this need has led me to play Plants vs. Zombies, RISK Factions, lots more Civ Rev for DS, and plenty of a game that I will discuss in greater detail in my next blog entry. There are games in my backlog that could be played with headphones - Supreme Commander 2 comes to mind - but I have to make that intial investment to play it and get a feel for it before I'm comfortable playing without soundI am most wary of the upcoming Steam sales for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but will have to just be aware of my expenditure and how new purchases will affect my backlog, because if I buy too many more games, I may literally never get around to playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent, or Warhammer 40K Dawn of War II.
 
"If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you." - Friedrich Nietzsche
 
Next time on The Adventures of a New PC Owner - On Fortresses, Teamwork. and Playing Against AI.

Online
Edited by HitmanAgent47

Well, i'm sure there will be like a christmas sale and stuff like that. All games will probally be on sale during holidays. I haven't installed all my pc games either and played through them. You could sell the xbox 360 multiplatform games and get it on your rig instead. A game like red faction gureilla will never work on a dual core, however you have an i7 if I remember, with a gtx 460. Then selling those games, you can move the cataloge of games onto the pc. Then again it's your decision and only my suggestion. Steam is a DRM for sure, however it's the friendliest drm ever created. You can talk to your friends on it, buy games for cheap, download new updates, cloud support. Maybe have a list of games you want to buy from steam, then when steam sales are here, you wouldn't buy like a ton of games non stop. Also if you want a rough idea how good a game is, there is a metacritic score next to the game. Saying no to some shitty games, is like saying yes to better games later on. I'm making a reference to indie games, for the price of three lowered quality game, you could of bought one discounted good game. Buy way too many of that stuff, your going to have a ton of games that imo are a slight waste of time and money. It may seem cheap, however buy them, but don't overload on junk.
 
I also use my ps3 for watching blu ray movies alot. Well not as much anymore because I own every movie I want to watch and have way too many. I don't play games on it anymore, I just feel more confortable playing games on a pc, where you can play games, exit the window and type stuff and continue with your game.

Edited by Geno

The first time I saw a sale on Steam it's like someone drive-by-injected me with heroin. It was completely involuntary and I've been hooked since.   
 
Here's some questions that will help you with your purchasing decisions on Steam so that you don't end up bankrupt. If your answer is yes to any of them, don't buy. This is what I have learned from hundreds of Steam sales over the years.  

 
- Is this game more than 4 years old? Nothing against old games, but new games are coming out all the time that will draw your attention away from finishing them.

- Does this game score lower than 70 on Metacritic? While some games are still good even though they received low critic ratings, chances are they aren't, and you should save your money for another game instead. You don't have infinite money or time.

- Will I not be able to play and finish this game this week (assuming average length)? If you put it in your backlog "for later" it will stay there "forever", so don't buy anything you don't plan to play relatively soon.

- Is this game part of a larger set? Almost inevitably, an amazing sale of a game will be topped by another amazing sale of the game in another bundle. Example: Sam and Max Bundle: $20, Telltale Everything Pack: $30 a couple months later.

- Is this deal still more than $20? As a Steam user for years, the trend has shown that after a 50% sale off the original price of the game ($50-60), the regular price of the game will almost always drop by 50% afterwards anyway. Wait for that drop, then wait for another sale of the game.  
 
 
Using those principles I have stemmed my Steam purchases from a dozen a month to only a couple. The money that you save from Steam sales can be put towards full-priced games that you really want to play. 
 
But gods help us when the Holiday Sale arrives. 

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Steam is satanic when it comes to selling you games that you will never play. Thankfully, my computer is shit, so most of the temptation I face are in games that are cheap anyways.

Posted by Geno

Oh yeah and I think the GOTY version just means it sold over a million copies or something. 

Posted by Azteck

Do what I do sometimes, play music at a somewhat low volume. Pull the music volume down in the game, and keep voices and sound effects on full, and voila!

Posted by JoelTGM

Glad you're liking it.   It's a great way to keep all your game library in one easy to access place, and with the community stuff, and the Steam cloud where your saved games and settings are tied to your account, it's incredibly convenient.
 
I also buy stuff I'll probably never play, like last night I bought that GTA Classics pack for $7.50 or something.  I just installed it all on my laptop because I have the excuse I keep telling myself that one day when I'm traveling with my laptop, I'll have all these great games to play.  Over the summer I actually played a lot of Burnout Paradise on my laptop while staying at a Cabin, so I'm not totally lying to myself. 
 
As for the argument that you can never share games with others when you're done with them, that is true but just think of it like this; you are building your game library, and never again will you lose a game or sell it to gamestop for $5.  You will always be able to download any game from your library and play it again.  With the GTA classic pack, I've owned those games all before, but over the years they were lost or sold, and it's just satisfying to have them in my collection once again.

Posted by crusader8463

 I'm getting ready to "fix" my computer, by fix I mean replace every part and build a new one form scratch, in the coming months and hope to have a few hundred left over for the orgasm inducing Steam Christmas sale that is right around the corner. The best advice I could give you is to do your best to not buy anything on Steam that isn't a weekend sale until after the big sale happens. Even newer games that are $19.99 or $29.99 tend to go on sale for $5-$10, or for $20 and all their expansion packs in some super combo pack, during the Christmas sale so you will be kicking yourself if you don't wait.
 
The only thing I despise about Steam is that they don't have every Command and Conquer game on it yet. I have literally owned almost every one of the Command and Conquer games several times, CnC 95 and Red Alert over a dozen times by now, and I always end up losing the CD keys and disks to install them with. I would gladly pay $50-$60 for an updated First Decade pack with all the Command and Conquer games on steam so I would never have to worry about losing them all again.

Posted by empfeix

Nice read here.  You should try to just turn off the music in games and keep the sound on.  You can have your own music as a soundtrack and still hear the dialogue and sound effects.  It does diminish your sole concentration on the music but its a worthwhile trade. 
 
Either that or start getting into multiplayer games, then you can crank the music all the time. 
 
@crusader8463:  sorry EA has exploited and run c&c into the ground, keep dreaming the dream... :(

Posted by Big_Fact_Hunt

Steam does do a good job of getting me to buy games the very same way. Backlog is likely to keep growing for a while yet, but at least I'll always have something to do on those rare occassions I get time off from work :)
 
@crusader8463:  C&C original games are free to download (legal too btw) anyway. You can get them here.

Posted by crusader8463
@Big_Fact_Hunt:  Thanks for the link, but I still would like to own them all in some super pack- Generals specifically as I have had a craving to play that game for a long ass time. Seeing so many of them for free though I guess that would never happen now. Oh well, here's hoping for a Second Decade pack!