By Devise22 21 Comments
It is crazy to think that Steam initially launched roughly 12 years ago. While it has existed for over a decade, the presence of Steam as "the PC gaming platform" of choice has really only existed since roughly 2007/2008. The power of Steam as a platform has only gotten stronger and stronger every year. It is to the point that many game players, even the more hardcore ones don't even notice a game on PC unless it has been released on Steam. Having your game on Steam is pretty much make or break for most indie devs just from a sales perspective. At this stage, it has a full command over the PC gaming market.
I'm not going to debate whether I think this is a good thing or not, because honestly that is kind of irrelevant. It exists and does what it does regardless of the opinions of really any of us. However I wanted to talk about my constant love/hate relationship with Steam. There is very few things in games that really passionately push me to both support something and despise something at the very same time. Even concepts that exist inside of steam are things I find something loving and hating at the same time.
You can look no further than Early Access. I love it. But I hate it. On the one hand it is a fantastic idea to allow fans of genres, developers, and games in general to support an ongoing project and get a first hand look into the development of a project. On the other, it basically kills all momentum a game could have on release with a finished project. Very few games that exist early access get any buzz what so ever, and very few of the people who may have tried the project early on ever go back to the completed version. I have had to personally start controlling myself by merely trying out games in Early Acess and jotting them down as a "to get to when completed" just because I feel I owe it to the developers to actually play and try to finish their completed project.
There is another thing that Steam does that is both great and awful. Games. How many god damn games do you think the average steam player has in their library? I know friends with anywhere from 200-500. The numbers are staggering. Steam stales provide us with the ability to buy things at super cheap prices, load up on things we may be interested in. It is fantastic. But it also isn't. While most developers won't complain about sales, how does the gaming industry as a whole get better? Through a development system that constantly progresses. How does it progress? People play the games that are released, talk about, talk about what they like and dislike about them, and developers pay attention to that. How can people talk about things they haven't played? Again those huge Steam libraries may lead to increased sales; though at discounted prices. However so many people don't even touch half the games they buy on Steam.
Then like the entitled audience we generally are, we still complain when things don't change or progress. "How many indie platformers can we take?" "Really another survival style game?" "Oh look a puzzle game." "Another cover based shooter?" It goes on and on. Developers are releasing what sells, what tops the top of the Steam charts. Sadly audiences never really play a lot or any of what they buy. The "I dabbled in it for a few hours but I have so much to play" excuse is becoming constant.
I myself have tried to make it a mission of mine to play and beat every single game I purchase. My mind set now is if it looks like it is something I want to play, I need to give it the fair chance to actually try to complete it. There are some games that you can't actually finish. However I always try now to put enough into the game to get a grasp of what it is so I feel fair to make an opinion on it.
Ultimately my love/hate relationship with Steam stems down to a core idea that I think it both empowers and devalues games at the same time. The benefit and the damage it is doing to the industry has begun to take shape all over. A lot of people who play games have become more impatient with games. If something doesn't grab them in the first hour, they move on. However people are willing to try more and more games. Pricing for games has changed to the point where a lot of time developers and publishers now don't know what they should be pricing. Perceived value is now about more than just the experience. One the one hand some middling AAA titles are now being priced lower. On the other, games that have limited scope/experience get ragged on for being priced to high. They get forced to be compared with other games, even from different genres. The "well this game has 10 more hours of actual gameplay but is 5 dollars cheaper" style of argument you see more and more.
Games can't stand on their own any more. So many are released big or small year to year that rarely do people look at a game as singular. As one project, and evaluate it based on the merits and flaws it has. While I don't think this is the only reason, I do think this does play a part in why games seem to get more middling. Expectations play a role in that, but an inability to give proper criticism to the strengths and weaknesses of a game because it is nearly impossible now to look at a game by itself hurts future development. Feel free to share your thoughts by the way, I'm eager to see what other things Steam has done that people may love or hate.