By tokyochicken 4 Comments
If you go to Gamesindustry.biz you're likely to find a news article quoting Randy Pitchford from Gearbox saying, "It's dangerous for the industry to allow valve to win". This comment is regarding to Valve's Steam service and how Randy Pitchford feels that if we continue to let a 3rd party developer be the sole owner of a major distribution model, then it will result in a dangerous future for the industry itself.
He goes on in the article by acknowledging the benefits of Steam. The main one being that it offers exposure for indie developers. But Randy feels that, while it still offers the exposure, it also exploits the makers of the game as well, "Valve is exploiting people in a way that's not totally fair. [It's] taking a larger share that it should be for the service it's providing. It's exploiting a lot of small guys." At the same time as this is stated, indie game makers that have dealt with steam have come to its defence stating, "Is Valve exploiting independent developers? In short: absolutely not. Without pulling any punches I can say with certainly that if it weren't for Steam there would be no Tripwire Interactive right now," says John Gibson, Tripwire Interactive co-founder and President.
So, even though I don't understand the inner workings of Steam and its business, I still think Randy might be taking a trip to the hyperbole theatre. I understand how odd it seems to have a 3rd developer like Valve run a big distribution model. I also understand that the potential of inner conflicts can exist in these kinds of situations. But from what I've seen,Valve has handled itself in the best way possible. Steam is something the industry needs at the moment, at some point, digital distribution will be the primary form of retail for video games. Again, he's over blowing things, more good can come out of this than bad. We've had worse things happen in the realm of digital distribution from other developers, Valve has a clean track record as it stands, besides having some technical issues from the launch of steam.
The main fear in this situation is, if Valve is a 3rd party developer then you grant the risk of them purposefully affecting a game's performance in sales because it's in direct competition with their game. Which is understandable, the main problem we've been seeing so far with DLC is it's easy to exploit people. Look at Namco and their mischievous use of “Unlock keys” to sell people content that's already on the disc. Even Microsoft ends up taking a big chunk of the profits from the sales of XBLA games from the game's creators.
But really, has that actually happened with Valve? After the 5 or 6 years that Steam has been around, have we ever heard any public outcry, from developer or consumer, that Valve was ripping anyone off? I've actually seen many positive things come out of it, unknown devs have gotten the chance to make some money and spread the word of their game ,and young amateur modders have been able to make money from a source mod they have made. Sure, Valve makes money off of this too, but the way they conduct themselves is respectable. I'd rather have Valve running this than Activision.
The final thing I want to comment on is his second last quote in the article, "The best example is that I can go to this place using Vista to buy software from Microsoft. But I can also fire up my browser, whether it's Internet Explorer or Mozilla, and I can go to any retailer in the world and purchase something.” Here he is describing his ideal future where he has the choice of many different retailers whom he can buy from online. Finishing off by saying that if we continue to “let Valve win” we will see less variety in places where we can get games digitally.
I know where he is coming from here. If we grow too dependent upon one service alone we will start to see our choices disappear. But think of it this way, through competition and the need to reach a new market, a handful of different companies will begin throwing their hats into the ring to go up against Steam. To me, Steam is laying down the groundwork here, they're trying to be an example of what we should expect in the future. When things lift off, and down loadable content becomes the big thing, people will want their piece of the pie. I doubt that everyone in the game industry would let Valve just stomp around taking in all the revenue for themselves. In this case, a company's need to make money will end up benefiting the consumer, in the end we will end up with different outlets offering the same services as Steam, maybe even better. Hell, we're already seeing stuff like that now; Good old Games, developers even offer to sell their games digitally straight from their websites.
In short, no if we let Valve “win” it wont be that dangerous. Frankly, Steam is beneficial for our industry. The people at Valve are helping develop and pass on techniques/strategies of online retail for others to learn and improve on. I'd rather have someone doing this than no one. The one thing Randy doesn't realize is that new people will come into the market when it begins to mature, everything is still in the growing state. Give it time.