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ESD Publishers Boycott Valve’s Steam Service. Seriously?
by Derek Smart on 11/08/09 11:38:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

[This post is also available on my personal blog, DerekSmart.com, as 'ESD Publishers Boycott Valve’s Steam Service. Seriously?]

A few days ago, it was widely reported that several Electronic Software Distribution (a.k.a. online distribution) vendors such a IGN’s Direct2Drive (owned by Fox – a News Corp entity), Gamers Gate (owned by Paradox Interactive, a software publisher) and Impulse (owned by Stardock, a software publisher) announced that they were not going to carry Infinity Ward’s latest blockbluster game, Call Of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 (a.k.a. MW2) – a title that is being published by the studio owner, Activision.

If you are reading this and don’t know why these events are very important to the industry, let me bring you up to speed. This is a very long read and is not recommended for those of you with a limited attention span.

A CRASH COURSE INTRO

MW2 is one of the most anticipated holiday titles since Halo 3 and is on track to break all kinds of records. In fact, according to an article in USA Today, it has already broken pre-order records at retailer GameStop.

For all intent and purposes, this game – unlike Halo 3 which was an XBox 360 exclusive – is going to be a sales juggernaut this Thanksgiving and Christmas season for anyone selling it. That includes traditional retailers (e.g. Best Buy) as well as ESD sites (e.g. Direct2Drive).

The game releases on Nov 10th and some retailers actually have midnight opening shindigs.

So what is this furor over Valve’s Steam service? Well, to fully understand the implications, you need a primer on how ESD actually works, who the top players are and what the frak is really going on behind the scenes.

THE TOP ESD PLAYERS

According to CB Estimates from mid-2009, the top ESD sites are rated as follows:

  1. Valve’s Steam (40%)
  2. Metaboli / GameTap (+15%) *
  3. Digital River (12%) *
  4. Real Networks Trymedia (+9%) *
  5. IGN’s Direct2Drive (9%)
  6. GamesGate (3.5%)
  7. Everyone else (Stardock’s Impulse, Boonty/Nexway, GameStreamers, Ztorm, Gamesload etc): 11.5% *

* These have White Label partners (e.g. GameStop, Yahoo! Games etc) who they provide games for. The way this works is that aggregator (e.g. Real Networks, Game Streamer etc) acquires the games, then makes them available to a site’s storefront – usually powered by the aggregator’s backend services. So if Real Networks signs a game, that game will automatically appear on GameStop’s website for purchase. The “per unit” sale of each game is split between the publisher/developer, aggregator and the site selling it. The downside is that the developer/publisher makes less royalties per unit, but that in some cases can be offset due to the vast number of sites carrying the game. This is similar to how Digital River and other large sites handle affliliate sites that sell digital goods licensed by Digital River. Real Networks is currently the largest “game specific” network – with over 700+ affiliate sites selling games they source.

Steam, the current #1 ESD site has in excess of twenty MEEELION!! subscribers. Others – most of which were in business long before Steam was even an idea at Valve – are trailing Steam. By a rather large margin. A margin that is just getting wider as Steam continues to be the #1 ESD sales target.

How did that happen? Well thats the rather astonishing part. Most of it can be found on the Wikipedia Steam page. The short version goes like this.

Apparently the brain trust at Valve, sometime before 2002 “Valve Time”, decided to hatch this hare brain scheme that would revolutionize (!) online game content delivery. Of course everyone thought that they were, well, quite mad. Then again, if you’ve actually followed Valve’s games, history or industry shenanigans, you’d be hard pressed to think that anyone over there was actually sane. To wit: Chet Faliszek of Old Man Murray fame, got a job working there. The phrase hilarity ensues should probably spring to mind right about now. Anyway, you get the picture.

Valve decided to use its own highly popular games to push Steam – which at the time was, again, just a content delivery system.

Over the years Steam evolved from a mere content delivery system to, well, a full fledged store front that not only sells Valve’s own games, but also handpicked (by the Valve brain trust) games from other publishers and developers alike.

For the most part, Valve – through Steam – empowered developers, great and small to reach a larger audience and in most cases, help them completely sever the ties to “leech like” publishers. Many a success story has come out of Steam and apart from the much loved Valve itself, you’d be hard pressed to not like working with them, let alone not play their games.

All this came to a head at a time when PC gaming was going through its largest decline in the history of the industry, publishers and developers folding left and right, retailers pulling every trick in the [strong arming] book to make the barrier of entry for smaller players not even worth it etc. In other words, retail was becoming a bust for all but the top players with more money to burn on marketing a game than on the game’s own development. So the harder it got for developers and publishers to get their game out at retail, the faster the adoption of ESD (on both consoles and the PC) took off.

The story of Valve’s entry into the fray would be quite boring if it ended there. Oh no, it didn’t just end with digital distribution content delivery and a fancy store front – that would be too easy.

Enter the finishing touch, SteamWorks – a full blown suite of technologies that helps developers (most of whom found themselves being publishers with the dawn of ESD) and publishers to not only bring games to Steam but also tailor them specifically for the platform and its community using a variety of FREE technologies.

If you’ve been in the industry for as long as I have, you’d be right in thinking that GameSpy (owned by IGN) does the same thing. As does Microsoft’s Games For Windows Live initiative. The thing to remember here is that GameSpy comprises of mostly bloated legacy technology – hated by almost any gamer you happen to mention it too. Games For Windows Live (not to be confused with Games For Windows branding!) on the other hand, apart from being the most reviled (seriously, it took the crown from Vista OS) piece of tech ever to be unleashed on gamers, is well, for the most part – just pure rubbish in comparison to either of those two.

What happens when you bundle a mature content delivery app such as Steam with a highly anticipated game sequel such as Half-Life 2? What drives the usage and adoption of that app? If you said the game’s install numbers, you’d be correct. The idea here is that if Valve has sold (which it probably has) thirty million copies of its games – which you cannot install or play without their Steam client app – you’d have thirty million gamers now using Steam.

And that is how Valve seeded Steam. Using their own highly popular games. And totally blindsided every other ESD site on the planet. Seemingly overnight. See how GameStop is now frantically rushing to get on the ESD bandwagon due to the days of retail games sales being numbered, due to ESD? Its like that now in the ESD world.

And if you’re thinking Microsoft and that Internet Explorer bundled with the OS furor, well, so is every other ESD vendor. Which brings me to how this whole ESD thing works.

HOW ESD WORKS

The basic principle is quite simple. You have goods – in this case a game that you want to sell online via ESD. You can either sell it direct from your own website or through other websites, thus tapping into their install base, popularity etc. Simple straightforward stuff.

Oh, and forget about getting it into retail. For reasons that would take up a whole other blog post, I’d rather not get into that discussion.

Anyway, as with all things digital, you have to think of protection for your game using various forms of DRM. Most of the leading sites only support a few DRM schemes. These range from Sony’s much maligned SecuROM, to simple fares like Software Passport/Armadillo.

On the big sites such as Direct2Drive, Gamers Gate, Real Networks (with its 700+ White Label partner sites), Metaboli/GameTap, GameStreamer etc – you have a choice of which DRM scheme to use – if any. The most popular being SecuROM. These ESD vendors all have licensed (from Sony DADC, Starforce etc) backend which allows them to authenticate and generate serial numbers. They pay a per unit royalty to Sony, Starforce etc. Those fees are reconciled into each copy of the game that they sell. So if you have a $19.99 game on an ESD site and you get for example a 50% royalty cut per unit, you get $9.99 for each copy they sell. The cost of DRM – if any – is factored into their cut and you don’t pay anything extra.

This works the same way on Steam and Impulse, but with some variations.

On Impulse – which is like Steam without all the kewl SteamWorks stuff – extra work has to be done in order to have your game sold through them. The reason being that the work goes beyond just doing a DRM implementation. You have to “wrap” the game around API that makes it possible for the game to be bought, sold, patched, tracked and played on those networks. This API is provided by these two vendors – free of charge.

ALL developers and publishers who want their games on ESD vendor sites, HAVE to adhere to the standards set by those vendors or they can’t (or won’t) carry your game. For example, you can’t insist on using SecuRom on a publisher site that does not support it. You have to use what they support or your game won’t be sold there. This is no different from Walmart telling you that it won’t take your game if it has a non-standard box, is rated AO etc. So you have to be in compliance or they won’t sell your game. Of course nothing is stopping you from selling it yourself and from your own site – but thats not the point here.

Basically if your game uses SecuROM, you can sell it on any ESD site that supports SecuROM. If the site does not support SecuROM – but you have your own Sony DADC activation server – you can still sell your game, and to any vendor willing to carry it. Having a DRM activation server (in the case of online activation DRM) is the key here.

STEAM – THE ESD VENDOR’S QUAGMIRE

With Steam, the API wrapper is tightly integrated into their Steam delivery client in order to provide the ability to buy and sell the game from within Steam, as well as to deliver, auto-patch it, track sales etc. As with all other sites, you do not have to use Valve’s own DRM, called SteamWorks CEG. So you can still have a SecuROM (or any DRM scheme) wrapped game sold on Steam.

Steam wrapped games (with or without third party DRM) can be sold at any ESD site and even on retail discs. What makes this possible is that Valve generates the serial numbers for the product, then gives it to the developer/publisher who then hands it over to the ESD site operator who adds it to their server backend so that each purchase is given a unique key. This is how come you see some Steam wrapped games (e.g. Dawn Of War 2, Fear 2 etc) on Direct2Drive. When the game is installed, the Steam client downloads it and asks for the key. In this case, the authentication is done by Steam servers.

Unlike Steam wrapped games, you cannot sell any other DRM enabled game to other sites in this manner because they would have to setup their own authentication servers (e.g. SecuROM) or rely on a third-party (in this case the DRM developers) for authentication. Steam just makes it easy and seamless. Valve handles the authentication and auto-patching automatically. All you have to do is wrap and deliver the game. Done.

So for baseline Steam wrapped games, you only have authentication and auto-patching.

But it goes even further than that. Since Steam has a full image of the game on their servers, if you wanted to sell the game direct (e.g. on yours or a partner’s website), all you have to do is give out the Steam keys. The end user then fires up the Steam client, enters the key and downloads the game. Directly from Valve. In fact, thats how we sell Steam versions of our games through BMT Micro (our store frontend) and Digital River. If you have Steam installed, it is a no-brainer. If you don’t, you have a link (in the sale confirmation email) showing you where to download the Steam client from. You install, enter key, download game. Play it.

But here is the kicker. With Steam, in the form of their SteamWorks tech suite, you the developer gets so much more stuff – FOR FREE. Plus not only is it all trivial to implement, the royalties that Valve doles out to Steam publishers is on par with what these other ESD sites give out. And those other sites have no added value service whatsover – unlike Valve which gives you all this stuff and everything you need to be successful on the platform.

Steam is huge and continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

If the publishers want to have their games on most ESD sites, they can do builds specific to those sites. For example if you wanted to sell a SecuROM game, your ESD sites choices are numerous. But what if you were to sell on sites that have various DRM requirements? Here is an example of how that picture would look like using the most common DRM schemes at each site:

Direct2Drive – SecuROM
Gamers Gate – SecuROM
Real Networks – SafeDisc
GameStreamer – SecuROM
MetaBoli – GameShield
GameTap – Exent
Yummy – GameShield
Digital River – Armadillo
Impulse – Impulse (or whatever they’re calling it)
Steam – SteamWorks CEG

As you can see, at any give moment in time, you would be looking at a different DRM scheme or API “wrapper” at all the ESD sites. And thats not even taking into account other ESD sites such as PlayFirst, Boonty / Nexway, AWOMO, WildTangent Orb etc – all of which have their own DRM (if any) scheme or API required for games to be “wrapped” for their individual networks.

Then you have to take into account the various (SecuROM, Starforce, Tages, GameShield, ByteShield, Armadillo, Software Passport etc) DRM schemes which most sites support. Even if you don’t want your game to use DRM, you still have to deal with the API wrappers in most cases. e.g. Steam, Yummy, Metaboli, GameTap etc.

Plus, even when SecuROM is the common denominator (most of the sites in the list above now support SecuROM), you still have to do a separate installer package for ALL the SecuROM enabled sites. Why? Because there is a unique SecuROM DLL that the game is required to load in order to provide sales and tracking for the game. So you have a game on five (Direct2Drive, Real Networks, Digital River, GameStreamer, Steam) SecuROM enabled sites, you’re looking at a total of five different installation packages. All of which have to be individually tested.

Yes, for the most part not only is it a mess but it is also a tech support nightmare. Have a patch to release? Great. Now you have to do multiple versions of that patch for all the different networks that have your game. Found a DRM breach (e.g. SecuROM games are notoriously easy to crack if the protection is not done at source level) and want to release a new build? Well thats a new build and thus version number. Which means – yes – you once again have to release multiple versions or things like multiplayer (which usually require version checks so that all clients are using the same version) will cease to work.

GOING SOLO

Obviously there is more value in a single solution (e.g. Steam) than in multiple solutions – but you still have to be in compliance with the ESD site. This is no different from for example, Best Buy having the exclusive on a game like Crime Craft. That can be either because Best Buy gave out concessions to have the game exclusively or because other retailers didn’t want to carry it.

So if you go solo and pick one single solution (e.g. Steam, SecuROM or whatever), there is a chance that you have pretty much limited the places where your game can be sold. So why are more and more developers (publishers – by their very nature are greedy bastards, so they’re not likely to go this route) choosing Steam as a solo platform? Well, if you read and understood everything I posted above, the reason is crystal clear.

If Steam were not such an ESD juggernaut and with all these tools made available to developers, who in their right minds would bother going Steam solo? Have you seen how much of a mess XBLA or *shudder* XBCG is? Remember when everyone and their dog was claiming how its going to be easy to get games on there, how it would open doors for everyone and such? Well that – in usual Microsoft fashion – turned out to be pure crap. So most sensible developers ended up staying on the PC, with the exception of a few brave souls who actually bet on XBLA/XBLG – and probably lost. And staying on the PC meant finding the path of least resistance for getting your game out. The same path that iPhone developers opted to choose and have now seen that getting on a popular platform doesn’t guarantee you anything.

For most developers the path of least resistance – and with more perks than you can shake a stick at – is Steam. If you can get in. In time, publishers started joining in even though they were all wary of Valve’s Steam initiative.

THE ESD PUBLISHING FUROR OVER STEAM

Which brings us to this furor over MW2 – a game that as of this writing – exclusively uses Valve’s Steam client for distribution. They decided to go solo with Steam.

When you consider that a publisher (e.g. Activision) is looking to distribute such a highly anticipated game using a single ESD method, it is bound to raise some flags. Why is why these three – all Valve competitors – are up in arms.

In my less-than-humble opinion, the concern is patently unfounded. Here’s why.

Regardless of what the delivery method is, when an ESD site sells a Steam wrapped game, that sale goes to the ESD site – not to Valve. So even if Direct2Drive were to sell MW2, they would get the sale, but Valve gets to pick up the resources and costs of activation, auto-patching – all the pre/post-release hassles etc. This of course is the Status Quo and didn’t cause a furor until now. But why now?

Well because apparently these ESD sites – seeing how major MW2 is looking to be this season – are thinking that the sheer volume of sales that it is going to generate will no doubt create additional Steam client users for Valve, thereby increasing Valve’s already massive Steam client install base.

Seriously?

Steam has in excess of twenty MEEELION!!! Steam client users. By those numbers (even if it were half that), my guess is that almost every living core gamer already has at least one Steam game installed – and so already has the Steam client on their machine. A game like MW2 is not going to turn a casual gamer – who owns no Steam enabled games – into a gun totting lunatic running around with weapons of mass destruction. It is a hard core game. Most hard core gamers already have a Steam game – and most likely a Valve game. So it is highly unlikely that MW2 is going to increase the Steam client install numbers by much, let alone cause a dent worth worrying about.

So what exactly do Direct2Drive, Gamers Gate and Impulse gain with this MW2 boycott? As much as these lads did with their boycott of Valve’s upcoming game. In a word: nothing. They gain absolutely nothing – except maybe some good, bad or ugly PR.

Oh as for those lads boycotting LD42? Well, considering that the pre-orders for the new Valve game are said to be double that of the original game (which was HUGE), I’d say they helped the game.

So anyway, even with L4D2 coming out, the issue of additional Steam client installs is also moot because that game – maybe not as big as MW2 – will also play a part in gaining some additional Steam clients. Both MW2 (Nov 10th) and L4D2 (Nov 17th) are coming out around the same time.

STEAM – MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING

What these three ESD sites are saying is basically that either Steam is well on its way to being a monopoly or they’ve finally come to realize that they simply cannot compete with what Valve has to offer.

Both of the above are silly and ludicrous of course.

To play the “M” card – if successful – would mean that Valve would have to detach the store front from the Steam client. Or worse, spin off Steam as a separate company from Valve. History suggests that neither would achieve anything other than lining the pockets of the attorneys involved.

IGN already owns GameSpy – a competing framework of technologies that are in direct competition to most of the SteamWorks subset. Why can’t they wrap their Direct2Drive store around it?

Stardock’s Impulse (which pales in comparison to Steam) pretty much has a store wrapped around its own delivery client.

Gamers Gate – the other protester – has no such tech and only runs a store front, much like all the other players.

Heck even Metaboli went out and bought GameTap from Turner (who seemingly didn’t know what to do with it), thus giving them a seamless content delivery system like Steam and Impulse.

Here’s the funny thing, ALL of the sites above – including others such as Digital River, already have a content delivery app (a.k.a. downloader) that serves the game. Gamers Gate used to have their own, but recently stopped using it – for whatever reason. All Valve did was make their content delivery more robust, seamless and easy for the end-user by linking the store backend to it.

So instead of innovating and/or coming up with their answer to Steam, they’d rather cry foul and lose even MORE money by no longer carrying Steam wrapped games?

Innovate, don’t aggravate. See what I did there?

From my perspective, the only concern that I have about Steam is that Valve gets to choose which games go on there. When you have situations like this MW2 thing happen, small devs like us can’t even pull a stunt like that because if we do – thus alienating our other ESD partners – there is a chance that they won’t carry our games. And if Valve passes on publishing our games, we’re farked on that platform. Thats the real concern that I see here regarding Steam.

For example, to have a game on most ESD sites – all I have to do is contact my a/c manager, give them the details, we discuss the royalty splits, sign a contract [amendment] etc. The game goes up when ready.

With Valve, they are more of a traditional publisher in that they get to pick and choose which games they want on Steam and which they think would do well with their subscribers.

Is this wrong? To be honest, I’m not so sure.

I personally ran into this issue a few months back because apparently Valve doesn’t feel that space games do well on Steam. Its their service and I trust that they know it better than I do. So I left it at that. After all, my space games are sold everywhere else – so if someone wants those games bad enough, they know where to go. They don’t have to be on Steam to be sold nor to be successful. I should know because my space games (all twelve of them) were being sold long before we even got on Steam with our two recent non-space games this past August.

On Steam – despite their massive install base – you’re only as successful as your game. Just because the game is on Steam doesn’t guarantee sucess. Its not like we’re comparing Walmart to Best Buy which, in those two instances, takes volume into account. With ESD, you don’t have that luxury due to the type of goods being sold.

After all you either want 1000 games on Steam, with 50% crap or you want 500 games on there with 10% crap. Valve still has to foot the bill of those crap games and they don’t ask you the publisher for anything in return.

Unlike retail publishers who can pull non-performing products from the shelf, throw them in the bargin bin, return them to the publisher etc – while issuing chargebacks to the publisher – you can’t do any of that with ESD games. So once your game is on there, thats it. The distributors (e.g. Valve) has to hope that good, bad or ugly, the game sells enough for it to a) pay for the resources it is using up b) pay Valve for hosting it

And with Steam, you get world class tools, real-time reporting, an amazing publisher support staff etc. Apart from competent support staff (I can only speak for the services that sell my games) at these other ESD sites, you get more – in terms of publishing tools and such – by going with Steam. It is a one stop shop. And thats why it is powerful and popular all at once.

Think about this for a minute. Paradox Interactive. a publisher that also owns Gamers Gate, has its own games at all the competing sites – including Steam. Same with the likes of EA, Atari, Activision etc – all of which even have their own ESD delivery store fronts. Guess why that is.

THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE

This move on the part of these three ESD sites makes no sense whatsover and it is a rather foolish move I think. All they’ve done is give Valve an exclusive to a highly anticipated game. So instead of hurting Valve in the pocket by selling the game and taking some revenue away from Valve, they decide to throw the baby out with the bath water and just give Valve most of the ESD sales revenue for MW2. Brilliant plan guys – I for one can’t wait to see what happens when the dust settles.

My guess is that between now and Nov 10th, someone is going to blink. I’m guessing it won’t be Activision. Plus I don’t think Bobby even has eyelids that move.

But never mind all that, ponder this if you will….

What if Valve were to suddenly stop selling all games that use IGN’s GameSpy technology – which competes with some components of Valve’s own SteamWorks suite – and also pulls those [GameSpy enabled] games from its store?

What if Valve made it mandatory for all games sold on Steam to use its own proprietary suite of SteamWorks technologies – including its own DRM scheme, then what?

The end result would be that you couldn’t sell any game on Steam that didn’t use Valve’s own tech. For example no SecuROM games, you have to use SteamWorks CEG or no DRM. No GameSpy networking, server browser, transport layer etc – has to be SteamWorks own versions. And so on.

And what if Valve decides that it won’t sell any game that is offered for sale on Direct2Drive, Gamers Gate or Impulse? Yes, its possible – as thats what exclusives are about. Ever wondered what is going on behind the scenes between XBox 360 and PS3 console publishers when it comes to exclusivity on those platforms? It could end up like that. Which is why you won’t be playing the excellent Uncharted 2 on XBox 360, let alone Halo 3 on the PS3.

Yes, all of the above would be a very nasty picture. Being the [current] ESD leader, they can come up with any rules as they see fit. But as history has shown, Valve is not that kind (they’re all mad over there, remember?) of company. This is not any of those “big boys” (no, I’m not naming names) voted most likely to abuse the system if given half the chance.

Let me throw the last one in there. Have you seen ANY of Stardock’s own published games for sale anywhere other than at retail or on their own Impulse ESD site? Nope. Why? The same reason that you won’t see any of Valve’s own games anywhere but at retail or on their own Steam ESD site. See where this is going?

And as they say, becareful what you wish for. What if Valve decides to spawn off Steam and they go in one or many of the aforementioned direction thereafter, then what?

As much as I love working with all my ESD partners and have no problems with them or any bad (except that some of them – apart from Valve – tend to either pay royalties late or when they bloody well feel like it) experiences thus far, this whole thing is foolish, misguided and without merit. It is the sort of thing that gets people Pink slips and sleepless nights. If any of these three “protesters” were publicly held companies (incidentally IGN is owned by Fox which is part of News Corp) they’d have to think long and hard to have to pull a stunt like this. It is the sort of thing – now more than ever – that has all the makings of a flatlined stock price.

We developers LOVE cool toys. Especially when they’re free! You want to compete with Steam? Build better toys, give them to us. And oh, while you’re at it, pay us on time. Please?

At the end of the day, stuff like this [boycott] is bad for the biz and bad for gamers; and can only lead to other problems down the road.

Disclaimer: My games on all ESD sites, use different DRM schemes – and so, no Steam. Only our games sold on Steam and through our own web store (powered by BMT Micro and Digital River – who don’t care either way – as well as the upcoming retail releases) use the Steam version. I’m not stupid. :)

Rev 1: It must be mentioned that Gamers Gate apparently does not carry Steam enabled or Activision games (thats up to the publisher as to who they want to carry their games) and no official word of this “MW2 exclusively Steam enabled” specific boycott currently exists. I have sent an email to the Paradox/Gamers Gate CEO (a good industry friend of mine) for clarification and will update when I hear back.


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Comments


Derek Smart
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One thing I didn't mention in the [already long] article is that the day Valve decides to release SteamWorks to all devs - not just those who can publish on Steam - they will kill both GameSpy and Games For Windows Live overnight. I can guarantee it 100%.



The reason that I would like to see that happen is simply because it just makes things easier for everyone, SteamWorks is a robust suite of tech that has ZERO bloat - and just works.



Once that happens, it will be like that OGL vs DirectX all over again. Only this time, like DirectX, it is SteamWorks that becomes the de facto standard.



I've got a few "fanboi alert" emails about this blog post. My response is the same: I simply don't care about the branding. I've been a fan of Valve's since before I even came to Steam (this past August) - after MUCH pestering and running it right up the flagpole. Everything in this biz presents a barrier of entry and you just have to be persistent, do the work and be credible enough to deliver on promises instead of wasting people's time.



Ours is a very small industry - even as large as it is and everyone knows everyone. So regardless of all the banter, good or bad (e.g. Randy's rant regarding Steam), at the end of day we all have a mutual respect for one another.



So this is not about taking sides, but more about voicing opinions and hoping that those of us who are in the position to make decisions and thus effectuate change, can think about the direction stuff like this takes the industry.



Sure I'm critical of this IGN move - but that has NOTHING to do with my relationship with them as I have no problems with any of my primary ESD partners - just as I stated in the article. I love the people I work with at IGN, GG, Real Networks etc because at the end of the day, every joint venture is based on mutual trust and respect.



I have a twenty plus year career in the biz, spanning fourteen games; and given all my trials and tribulations, have earned the right to to voice an opinion based on what I see around me, good, bad or ugly. Staying silent just strengthens the Status Quo. And sadly, most of those who have the same views and/or concerns as me, are nicely locked away behind the publisher and/or marketing veil where they have to remain if they want to keep getting a paycheck.



I love what I do and God made it so that no matter how little or huge, I am rewarded for my hard work. Many of my friends - most of whom started out long before me - are out of work as I type this, and for a variety of reasons. Most of those reasons point to how the industry conducts itself and how a small group of people wield so much power that in one fell swoop can effectuate good or bad change. The sad thing is that change from these folks only comes if money is involved.



When, like me, you are in the unique position of seeing the industry from inside (as a developer/publisher) and from the outside (as a consumer/gamer), you tend to see a lot of things in a totally different light.



Everyone agrees that we need change and it is not going to come about when stuff like this move on the part of some ESD sites now refusing to carry Steam enabled games. Again, they're NOT hurting Valve or Steam - they're hurting the industry as a whole and nobody wins.



It goes all the way back to how the retail distribution works. And if it wasn't for specific moves by a few brave people, the adoption of ESD for mainstream gaming would have died a long time ago and most of us would be out of business because being unable to get your game in retail without a "leech" in the middle, means you are out of business.



And it is those changes and pioneering from us on the PC side, that caused everyone else to take notice and so the consoles followed suit. Now all of a sudden everyone has forgotten where we all came from, how we got here and what our roles should be.

Charlie Silver
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Derek,



Great article, really informative read. I'm amazed that the initial catalyst (Randy Pitchford's comment) may have led to this huge divide among digital distribution vendors. I can acknowledge that people are able to envision an element of collusion; that Steam "forces" consumers to use their service in order to play certain games (like TF2, Half Life 2 etc), but why complain if the service is outstanding? But I keep hearing testimonials from people like you and guys at Tripwire about how Steam is just a really good service for both developers and consumers.



I also agree that it probably wasn't a smart move to give up potential sales of Modern Warfare 2, just to make a stand against Steamworks. Like you mentioned, Steam probably isn't gaining many non-Steam gamers that it already doesn't have.



All in all, it'll be interesting to see how this digital distribution issue plays out.

Derek Smart
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I don't think it has anything to do with Randy's comment because that would mean that his commentary has merit enough for an entity as big as IGN to actually acknowledge it, let alone take action because of it.



The fact is that this has been brewing for a long time. To the extent that most of these ESD sites don't carry Steam enabled games anyway. e.g. Gamers Gate. Why this has come to head now is because of the whole MW2 juggernaut and the fact that a leading ESD publisher [IGN] has gone all "official" about it. The same publisher that currently has about ten or more Steam enabled games already on Direct2Drive. So for them, this is a policy shift. For others (e.g. Impulse, Gamers Gate etc) not so much. Why? Well because they're not large enough to be a going concern.



The long and short of it is that stuff like this is very bad for the industry and nothing good can or will come of it. Heck even in the cut throat industry that is Hollywood, they find a way to work together, show and/or distribute each other's shows, trade each others shows etc. Why? Because they know how bad it is if they remain unnecessarily divided when at the end of the day when it comes to money, with synergy everybody wins.



To the end-user playing a Steam game, it makes no difference as long as they get to the product they bought. Those who don't like that they need a client to play a game, have other alternatives. Which is what sites like Direct2Drive, GG etc all provide. So even if you have a store front in Steam, even though it is likely that someone already on Steam will purchase games there, they are forgetting that when you give consumers a choice, you reap the benefits. You take away that choice and you end up losing your install base.



This whole thing has nothing to do with looking out for the consumer because they [IGN] don't feel that a user should go through an app to run a game. Really? Running a game through Steam is no more different than the DRM layer wrapped around the executable.



And you DO NOT need to go through Steam's interface to run the game because each game can be executed directly by passing a parameter (the Steam app #) in the shortcut and most games (such as ours) already do that. That method calls the Steam client to run the game. Thats it. Nothing more, nothing less and is not different from the steps that a multiplayer client takes when you click on a server browser to join a multiplayer game.



No, this all has to do with the fact that there is a store in Steam - and it is getting bigger and bigger.



Another thing they FAIL to realize is that not all games are on Steam because Valve is not out there signing up everybody willy nilly as then they would end up with the likes of XBLA, XBCG, iPhone App store etc. No, they are selectively picking titles (obviously Triple-A titles are at the top of the queue for obvious reasons) which they want on the service. That is no different from how networks pick up TV shows. You're either on NBC or you're on ShowTime. There is a big difference there. If you want to watch compelling shows, as opposed to rubbish reality shows where people's self-esteem are tested, paraded and ridiculed for all to see, you know which network to watch.



Imagine what would happen if some ESD site stopped selling PopTap's games simply because they were on their parent network's competing ESD site. Better yet, imagine what would happen if Real - which owns SafeDisc - stopped carrying SecuROM enabled games. In fact, thats actually just what happened. TryMedia, previously owned by Macrovision, was SafeDisc exclusive. Where are they now? GameTap was Exent exclusive. Where are they now?



This move is BAD - no matter how the suits want to justify it and I'm expecting that someone will get fired over it because there is no excuse for this foolishness. None whatsoever.

Phil OConnor
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Great article Derek, you should write for Gamasutra more often...



And I fully agree with you.

Derek Smart
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thanks.



I love this industry and I particularly love what I do. The problem is that there are so many people in it - all too busy making money (surprise! surprise!) to notice just how many wrong things go unchecked until they become a larger and insurmountable problem that cannot be fixed.



And one of the reasons I tend not to write in any official capacity anymore is because then I have to deal with lots of email, tons of feedback etc. At least if its on my blog, I can just respond as I find time without feeling pressured to acknowledge those who take their time to actually respond. Plus we can moderate our own hosted blogs when things get out of control because as you know, some people just can't help themselves. You should see some of the rude and insulting emails and blog responses (deleted of course) I've received since this article went up. Its like people just can't argue with civility and respect. Yet they wonder why devs like us don't even bother dealing with the public anymore, but otherwise just stick closer to home in our own domain (blogs, forums etc) or on other sites that have a low tolerance threshold for abusive rubbish.



This Steam debacle (which is what it is) is a very heated subject and you wouldn't believe the number of industry folks I've communicated with just in the past day or so, including my contacts over at Gamers Gate etc. Of course those comms are priviledged and I have no intentions of divulging them. But the fact is there are many sides to this issue. However, at the end of the day it all points to one thing: Steam is no more a threat to one's business, than one competitor is to another. And the end result is that the gamers end up with fewer choices.



Of course not everybody likes Steam. That is understandable. So if you don't like Steam, don't buy a Steam enabled game. With some games, e.g. Valve's own games, games from Tripwire and a growing number that are going Steam only, you can't play those games without Steam. But at the end of the day, thats a choice you get to make and everything with choices comes with pros and cons.



To wit: Direct2Drive - up till now - has been selling Steam enabled games. They tend to indicate on each game's page what DRM (regardless of whether or not a Steam game uses DRM) it uses. So if you see a game that is Steam enabled on D2D, you have a choice of getting the non-Steam version. And if D2D does not have it, someone else (GG, Digital River, Real, GameStreamer etc) probably has it. Vote with your dollars and go to a site that caters to your choices.



But to remove the choice - in the guise of 'protecting' gamers, is just bad business. Apart from the fact that the notion is patently rubbish. Gamers don't need protecting.



IGN can't blame Activision - or any publisher - for wanting to go with a Steam only release. A LOT of work goes into developing all these various ESD methods, DRM etc etc. And at the end of the day, it becomes a support nightmare.



And if you end up using SteamWorks, GameSpy or whatever, to the extent that it forms the basis of your backend toolset, what other options do you have? Roll your own? Use GameSpy (!)? And even so, you then end up with - again - more than one solution. That is no different from supporting an OGL and DirectX rendering pipeline in your game. Or worse, having DX9 and DX10 pipelines. It is more work, no matter how you look at it. And more work means more resources which tends to cost more money.



If a vendor decides to go Steam only, let them take the risk. What do you care? If gamers don't want a Steam enabled game, they won't buy it. Period. Those who want the game bad enough to put up with Steam, will do the same. But thats their choice to make.



Its not like we're talking about something offensive or deal breaking here, like having an AO or unrated game. We're talking about a gamer's ability to vote with their dollars. And it doesn't matter if Steam has 20 million or three million unique (obviously not all subscriber numbers are unique). What matters is the ability to buy/sell games. Steam is no more a threat at 20 million unique subscribers or 2 million. All it is is a well architectured competing platform. Some will like it, some won't - and thats pretty much all there is to it.



And when you marry Steam (or any solution) to other toolsets, you end up with a LOT of problems. Just ask any gamer who has had to activate a game through Steam, only to find several other underlying layers to deal with.



In fact, look no further than the recently released Section 8 - which is not only GfWL enabled, but also the Steam version was a pain for most people to run because of GfWL. As I type this, most still can't run a game they PAID for. Thats not Steam's fault. It boils down to devs wanted to cater to various toolsets and not knowing what problems lie ahead. In this S8 instance, if they were to remove the GfWL toolset and went straight with Steam, instead of having two layers, the game would have lost its GfW certification from MS. See where this is going? And there are NUMEROUS problems with various games that have problems like this



Now compare it to recent competing games like Shattered Horizon which uses Steam and no other rubbish layer for the gamer to contend with. It just works. But of course, you won't find SH on any other site but Steam or the dev's own site for the same reasons that we're discussing here.



Now, if this nonsense continues, we're all looking to have to continue with the Status Quo of releasing different game builds in order to satisfy all these sites or they won't carry our games. How is that a good thing?

Derek Smart
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Nope. You're reading the article incorrectly. :)

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Derek Smart
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uhm, I wasn't advocating Steam to the extent that I was calling for anyone to use it. Not sure where you got that impression from.



Steam is there. It is a robust ESd platform that just works. Whether a dev wants to use it or not is entirely up to them - nothing to do with me.



Screaming about Valve forcing Steam on you via HL2 is like screaming that Netflix forces you to watch streaming movies - which are subpar compared to media disks. If Netflix only has one delivery mechanism for a movie you want to watch, it your choice as to whether or not you want to subscribe or not.



If you went out and bought an XB360, you can't play a lot of very good games that are only found on the PS3. You made the choice to buy the XB360. In much the same way that if you are a PC gamer - with no consoles - you limit your access to some very good console only games. Are you now going to blame Microsoft for forcing you to buy an XB360 in order to play Halo, and now you can't play Killzone, Uncharted etc?



You had a choice and nobody forced you to buy HL2 knowing fully well - and long in advance - that it required a Steam client to work. Especially since Valve had been saying it for months.



I don't care how badly Steam started because a) it is pointless b) thats what the very notion of "progress" is all about.



And I don't see Valve telling anyone not to innovate and push out their own service. Didn't GG have their own downloader? Doesn't IGN have their own downloader? Doesn't Real have their own downloader? Doesn't Metaboli have their own? What about Digital River, GameTap, PlayExpert etc etc. Need I go on?



What has the price of the game got to do with the amount of download data? Are you serious? You can't be. FYI, Valve only sets the pricing of their own games. Everything else is up to the publisher of the title. Absolutely nothing to do with Valve. If you think you can charge $50 for a game on Steam, go ahead. AFAIK, Valve doesn't care, they get their cut of whatever you sell, regardless.



And from my experience, they do everything that they can to help you be succesful. You think all those deals, marketing and such are easy to schedule, maintain, setup etc? Do you think anyone pays Valve to have their games profiled in banners and such (something you have to pay for on most other sites)? Setup up forums (staffed btw), community tools etc. That is why Valve selects titles they are "interested" in because getting on Steam goes way - way - beyond just putting up a game for sale. Thats what VAS (Value Added Service) is about and which is not very prevalent in the industry.



Sure at the end of the day, it is all about making money - but the bottom line is that when they take your game, its not like they leave you to your own devices by giving you a signed contract, a "Live Long & Prosper" T-shirt and sending you on your merry way. Every single Steam publisher that I know of - most of whom are industry friends and colleagues of mine - know what you get when you get on Steam.



Just because a game at retail costs $50 because it has a box and such, doesn't mean that it has to be sold for less online. Quite on the contrary. The fact is that given the overhead of selling a retail game, pricing the ESD version tends to recoup some of those losses. It is the difference between a 10% profit margin and a 15% profit margin depending on how you do the math. Apart from that, selling a game online at ESD sites which btw take a cut, doesn't mean that the publisher ultimately gets a much bigger profit margin than retail. If anything, to even reconcile those differences, you'd have to sell the $50 retail title for about $49 online. Big deal. Anyway, this will be the focus of my next blog, so I'll just leave this alone for now.



And for the last time, you do NOT need to be ANYWHERE inside the Steam GUI to run your game. If you don't know that, then maybe you need to read the Steam tech support page, forums or check the shortcut for your game.



You are complaining about a benign client launcher GUI being slow? And you're running a Windows OS?



If you don't like Steam, vote with your dollars and don't buy a Steam wrapped game. What is so difficult to understand about this simple notion?



My blog article was in-depth for the simple reason that I wanted to highlight all the aspects of this issue and in order to do that, I had to explain what ESD is, what Steam is, how it got here, where we are etc. Apparently I should've added another 5000 words for some people to fully get the gist instead of just running with the same tired old "Steam is evil" chanting.



The primary point of contention here is that gamers SHOULD HAVE A CHOICE. When IGN decides - all of a sudden to not sell a highly anticipated title - it should raise some eyebrows and Red flags. Why is it not news that most other sites with stores, don't carry Steam titles? They include Gamers Gate, Real, Metaboli, GameTap, PlayExpert sites etc. Its not news. This is news now because it came out of nowhere and is even more suspect because IGN (like Real) used to carry - and as of this writing - still carries Steam titles. Most of which are recent titles btw.



Policy for the protection of one's business is one thing. Policy for the sake of policy is foolish.



The end result is that, like all the other sites, IGN will no longer carry Steam enabled titles. So publishers and developers have to continue rolling out multiple versions of their games. And if you want to use any of the robust SteamWorks features such as ladders, matchmaking, leader boards, built-in DLC purchase and delivery, network layer, voice chat etc etc - you either have to roll your own or license third party versions. All of which mean more work, more hassles for everybody and more time screwing around with game development, getting things to work etc.



I can guarantee you that every single game on Steam that has problems running with the likes of SecuROM, GameSpy, GfWL etc wouldn't have ANY of those problems if they weren't trying to mix and match all these toolsets.



For the last time, this is NOT about Steam - it is about gamer choice. If you folks want to make it about Steam, be my guest. I'm not on the Valve payroll and have nothing at stake. I just want to make my life easier because



a) Like all of us who use it, I LIKE SteamWorks



b) Like most devs who would rather go fishing, I don't particularly want to keep rolling out my games with different technologies in order to appease multiple ESD partners



c) Like most, I don't particularly want to keep paying for middleware (audio, networking, voice etc) when I can have it all for FREE because Valve was nice enough to actually spend the money, allocate the resources etc to develop them so that we can save time, money, resources etc and focus on DEVELOPING OUR GAME.



d) Like most, I don't want to allienate and lose ESD relationships I've cultivated for years, by all of a sudden going Steam exclusive and taking away gamers choice by telling them they can now only buy our games from us directly or from Steam because nobody else will carry a Steam enabled game apart from Valve.



These folks are trying to squeeze Valve into God only knows what, limit consumer choice etc. And as I've said before, nothing good will come from this when the dust settles. And only when leading companies like Activision, EA, UBI etc - who have the clout - take a stance, will these ESD sites fully realize the gravity of the situation. If NONE of these sites had access to triple-A branded games because they were Steam only, they'd quickly change their tune. From what I can tell, it is only a matter of time before this glass house they're building around this farce, comes crashing down. And those of you reading this will remember this blog post in the years to come.

Brad Wardell
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This article would be almost relevant if Derek had spent a minute or two doing some basic research on the issue at hand.



There's almost nothing in this article that could be described as accurate.



The millions of users who use Impulse are no more going to be subjected to installing a third-party store client and create an account for than Valve would tolerate a third party game installing Impulse and making the user create an Impulse account and have it loaded to play.



Luckily, publishers do have an alternative to Steamworks called Impulse Reactor which Paradox, Ubisoft, THQ, and others have already started to adopt and does NOT require the Impulse client to be installed nor does it require an Impulse account to be created to use.



Direct2Drive, GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Gamers Gate and the rest -- right now -- carry games that use Impulse Reactor and do so without it competing against them.



Of course, you'd know that if you'd researched the issue you were venting about.

Luis Guimaraes
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Well,



http://www.submarino.com.br/produto/12/21573838/pre-venda:+game+m
odern+warfare+2++-+ps3

Derek Smart
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Brad,



I don't have to do research when I'm dealing with stuff that I am fully familiar with.



This has nothing to do with Impulse Reactor. If it did, I'd have documented how it and others work compared to Steam. That was not the point.



The point - again - is that a single solution that works is best for everyone. If you go with that single solution (in this case Steam) and primary ESD sites refuse to sell the game, you have to keep rolling out multiple versions of games. In addition to that, you take away consumer choice.



But despite the fact that all these ESD sites - according to you - are selling Impulse Reactor games, your install base and sales (yes, you already know that it is a small industry and we all know each other) figures pale in comparison to the same games sold on Steam.



Naturally, as with Valve's own games sold on Steam, Stardock published games on Impulse Reactor will tend to perform better since they are seeded with and require the specific platform. Did you bother to ask your install base if they actually wanted - yet another - wrapper client? No, you didn't.



You scrapped TotalGaming (after that failed) - which you were touting as you are doing Impulse Reactor now - and you guys came up with Impulse Reactor. All within Steam's lifespan.



I'm not interested in any "mine is bigger than yours" debate because I have nothing at stake. As such, I will continue to roll out multiple client versions of my games in order to keep working with my ESD partners. Why? Because it is good business and these are people I've worked with for years. Would it be nice to stick to one platform? Yes, of course. And if that wasn't the case, why are you peddling Impulse Reactor? Because you believe that you have a better mouse trap? Well, isn't that what competition is about?



ALL those retailers you cited, carry Steam games as well. So I fail to see your point. Having a game on Impulse and Steam is no different from having a retail game at Best Buy and Walmart. You have to get your product out in as many avenues as possible in order to reap the benefits. The only difference with retail is that you don't need a different box for each retailer. In the case of competing ESD standards and platforms, you need a different wrapper - for the same product.



I fail to see how a Steam enabled store competes against the vendors selling games. If that were the case, you would only find Valve games on Steam. Thats like saying we shouldn't develop PC or XB360 games because we're competing with Microsoft on the plaform. It is a silly argument and one that has no merit or basis in reality.



As to the client, creating an account for Steam is no different from creating an account for Impulse Reactor. A Impulse client has access to the Stardock store, as do Steam clients to the Valve store.



Comparing Stardock (Impulse) to Valve (Steam) is only relevant to the extent that both companies have competing platforms. It just so happens that both also have their own titles. So naturally - as direct competitors - neither will allow another's platform to run on their network. That has NOTHING to do with third-parties (e.g. Activision) caught in the middle of a pointless food fight. If a publisher wants to standardize on a platform (e.g. Steam) it is up to them. Sure a Steam enabled game is not going to be sold on the Impulse platform or vice versa because Stardock and Valve are COMPETITORS. Activision and Valve or Activision and Stardock are not platform competitors.



Obviously, as far as MW2 (the focus of this blog post) is concerned, Activision didn't put much - if any - value in Impulse or we wouldn't be talking about Steam and you'd be on the other side of the fence.



And the fact that we're actually having this discussion just proves my point. NOTHING good will come from this if the industry keeps going in this direction. History has - time and time again - shown that with competiting platforms that refuse to co-exist, there can only be one winner - otherwise all we have left are disparate competing platforms. Which is why this whole Steam vs Impulse vs PlayExpert etc is even a point of discussion. IGN doesn't come into play because (apart from the fact that GameSpy can't compete with SteamWorks in any regard) they don't have a competing platform that is on par with either Impulse or Steam.



At the end of the day, IGN not carrying a Steam enabled game (e.g. MW2), has nothing to do with whether or not Valve allows an Impulse wrapped game on their network. Apples to Oranges.



ps: For the record, If this farce was related to Activision using Impulse (or whatever) exclusively and IGN not carrying MW2 as a result, the context of my blog would be the same. Except that I wouldn't have a slant toward Impulse since I don't use it.

Brad Wardell
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Derek, it's pretty clear you don't know what Impulse Reactor is.



If a movie publisher started requiring people to subscribe to Netflix in order to watch the movie, would you seriously argue that Block Buster, iTunes, and Best Buy should sell that movie in their stores? Really?



I should also point out that Impulse has never carried games that require the installation of the Steam client. This isn't new. THQ used Steamworks for Dawn of War 2. THQ switched to Impulse Reactor for Red Faction: Guerrilla because unlike Steamworks, it's vendor neutral.

Derek Smart
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Brad,



I know what IR is and how it works. Why do you keep on insisting that I don't? I mean its not like it is a big secret. This whole thing reeks of our past disagreement as to what DRM is. You still maintain that IR is not DRM, when by its very nature it behaves, operates and performs as one - intrusive or not. You can't run an IR game without the IR client. If you could, there would be no need for IR to begin with.



The Netflix comparison you make is not the same now is it? But again, you are missing the point. Sure you have to subscribe to Steam as much as you have to subscribe (whatever you choose to call it, it all amounts to the same thing) Impulse or any site that operates similarly. Therefore, I fail to see the issue.



And yes, both Steam and Impulse are different - as much as every other similar style network is different.



But NONE of the above has ANYTHING to do with "IGN NOT SELLING MW2 BECAUSE IT IS STEAM WRAPPED".



Impulse does not sell Steam enabled titles. Never did. Never will.



Steam does not sell Impulse titles. Never did. Never will.



...and so on and so forth.



But there is nothing that says a Steam or Impulse wrapped title can't be sold at IGN, Best Best buy or at the flea market.



When a site like IGN says its not going to sell a Steam or Impulse wrapped title, THAT is a problem.



For example, Best Buy has Insignia branded electronics. Its their brand sold at Best Buy stores. Walmart is never going to sell them. But nothing is stopping Brandsmart USA from selling them if Best Buy allowed them to. Since Insignia are Samsung and LG clones, what if Walmart or Brandsmart told Samsung and LG that it was no longer going to sell their branded products because they are allowing OEM versions of those electronics to be sold at Best Buy - a competitor - as the Insignia brand?



Like the example above, Valve happens to have its own brand of games sold via their own wrapper client. It is not asking the competition (e.g. Impulse) to sell them.



And to my knowledge, Valve doesn't go out looking for - nor does it actively encourage - Steam exclusives. But if a vendor decides to go "Steam only" - hence exclusive - thats the risk the vendor takes and says a LOT about the value they place on the Steam ESD platform. In other words, like the example above, MW2 is now a "Steam branded" title that is now an ESD exclusive to Steam for the aforementioned reasons.



Again, there is no reason why IGN or any "non Steam platform competitor" shouldn't sell Steam, Impulse, PlayExpert or whatever wrapped title.



Anyway, I just wanted to point out that of course my Steam figures are based on aged data as someone else in the industry and with access to similar numbers, has posted what I (as well as a couple of people I'm in contact with) believe to be the currently accurate ESD numbers. That person's post from my original blog article on my website, appears below in its entirety.



===

Derek,



Very good post, nice to see this picked apart from an inside source for a change instead of fanboy response. The fact of the matter is that the Steamworks SDK is a great toolset for matchmaking, acheivements, auto-updates and DRM. That’s its free on top of top is a no brainer for IW to use. Two items to update for your post from my experience:



1. Real & Digital River are primarily SecuRom these days.



2. From my experience (on several AAA titles) the actual market share looks something more like this (roughly estimated):



1. Steam 75%

2. Direct2Drive 10%

3. Metaboli 5%

4. Real 5%

5. Digital River 3%

6. Everyone else you listed combined 2%



Sure makes Steam look even more attractive dont it?

===

Kevin Maloney
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A nice write up on how the biz works in world of ESD, thanks for taking the time. And I saw what you did there.

Brad Wardell
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Derek - if you knew what Impulse Reactor was you wouldn't be talking about how it forces users to create Impulse accounts.



Steamworks is unique - it forces the user to become a subscriber to Steam, install the Steam client and store, and have it running to play the game.



Impulse Reactor doesn't require this which is one of the reasons why other publishers have been migrating to it.



The whole point of Impulse Reactor is that it is vendor neutral -- unlike Steam.



From a programmer's point of view: Steamworks has its guts in the Steam EXE client. Thus, to use its functionality, a user MUST have the same client installed, running, and an account created.



By contrast, Impulse Reactor is a DLL that is not tied to your Impulse account but rather an email address and a given CD key that can then be used by a particular vendor.



As for the numbers you list, if it makes you feel good to imply that Impulse somehow has less than 2% of the market, that's certainly your prerogative but it doesn't help the credibility of your article. Moreover, I'm not sure what your point is. Steam was out first, it has a huge lead. As any major publisher can tell you, Steam's share of the market is less now than it was a year ago and that's a good thing for consumers.



In the retail space, Walmart + Best Buy have a super majority of PC retail sales. Should Target and EB start selling games that include Best Buy and Walmart coupons?

James Hofmann
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I think the underlying story here is about compatibility and platform consolidation. This is how the early computer market unified on PC-clone hardware, how online services moved away from the "walled garden" model typified by players like Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, etc., and how utility services ranging from credit cards to phone numbers achieve "universal access" throughout society. Once a critical mass starts combining their efforts, they can rapidly erode the advantages of any pure monopolistic strategy.



And it's more likely to succeed in games ESD than in a market like operating systems, where actors may choose to build on a platform over decades, there are high extremes of specialization, and severe switching costs present themselves. After a game ships, you can change everything - no backward compatibility problem. The APIs for DRM, MTX, scoreboards, and other such features typically aren't core game technologies, so attaining developer lock-in is hard. And - for the most part - customers have few ties to the ESD platform to begin with. If they feel inconvenienced, they'll probably pirate the game.



Impulse Reactor is an example of a consolidating effort. It's not as good for consolidation as, say, being able to use the same account across multiple services, but it's a small step forward. The biggest gains would come from being able to tap into the scale of other providers.



Steam has taken a strong position as an early market leader, but my conclusion is that it could easily be rendered just one of many players over the next few years.

Derek Smart
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uhm Brad, I think we're getting confused here and you're once again using semantics to obfuscate the discussion. Much like that whole "Impulse doesn't have DRM" issue.



My "subscriber" commentary is platform agnostic. Just because IR doesn't require you to go through the same steps as Steam in order to register and play your game through it, doesn't make it any less of a subscription based system than Steam.



As long as you need to go through a platform to play a game, you are subscribing to that platform. If not you, then the game you bought it.



Your email address required on IR is absolutely NO different from registering on Steam. You simply can't be serious by implying that an email address and CD key tied to IR - and which MUST be entered to access IR - AND THE GAME - makes the platform less of a subscription system than Steam.



And for the record, I didn't say that Impulse has less than 2% of the subscriber base. I posted what I had from earlier this year and then posted numbers from another source who has access to similar and more recent numbers. As with all things related to projections, it is not an exact number. Which is why when polls are done - for any purpose - it is based on sampled data. We won't have exact numbers until NPD starts tracking them. And they can't do that accurately because you ESD guys don't provide those numbers like retail does. So the sampled data comes from various sources who have games on all platforms. e.g. Activision knows how many sales of its games it does across all channels. So if you used their sampled data, you can come up with a similar number. Same with EA and everyone else.



"In the retail space, Walmart + Best Buy have a super majority of PC retail sales. Should Target and EB start selling games that include Best Buy and Walmart coupons?"



Of course not - they are retail competitors not platform competitors and that argument isn't even within the scope of this discussion because that competition is on a different level and tier than, say, them competiting at brand level like Valve and Stardock. The inclusion of coupons is a sales and marketing enterprise and is no more different than Activision including a URL to their own or Impulse's store (for a discount on a game they have on Impulse but not on Steam) from within a Steam wrapped game - or vice versa.



Valve and Stardock are platform (Steam vs Impulse) competitors as they are product (Valve games, Stardock games) competitors.



And again, my blog was not about Steam vs Impulse. It was about an ESD vendor now refusing to sell a Steam enabled game. It is more of a concern when you consider that Direct2Drive is one of the top ESD gaming sites. Others such as Real (which btw actually does allow Steam games for *select* partners), Gamers Gate etc didn't allow them but for different reasons entirely.



Since both Steam and IR are platform *and* store competitors, I don't expect either one to carry each others wrapped games no more than I expect Walmart to sell Best Buy's Insignia brand electronics.



At the end of the day, developers and publishers will use what platform is easiest for them to use, has the best bang for the buck and which helps them SELL GAMES. Steam, unlike IR, has more to offer developers than IR or anything else out there and accept it or not, that happens to be a FACT. So given that, if we all wanted to seamlessly use leader boards, voice chat (or any of the plethora of tools that Valve makes available for FREE) in our games and we use Steam, we can't use those features for any other platform because they won't work. Which means we either roll our own, license middleware or God forbid, use GfWL.



As a developer yourself, I simply cannot understand why you can't see this as a problem. Of course, unlike me, you're more of a business man than a developer, so it is probably hard for you to relate - especially when you're trying to push your own platform. Nothing wrong with that of course; but don't begin to assume that we all just want to make our lives that much harder. If I can release a game in 6 instead of 12 months, I'm going for the former. Not having to develop or license most of the core components that Steam provides, means the former is more achievable.



Having moved to Steam, the only reason that I would even use any other platform is if the new platform gives me something I don't already have or if my game doesn't make it through the Valve selection process. e.g. while they picked up both of our recent games this past August, our hard core space games aren't on there. Doesn't bother me one bit because they don't have to be on there to be successful and since they are legacy games anyway, we have no intentions of going back in and modifying them to use any of the SteamWorks tools - other than just wrapping them for Steam distribution.



And with those two new games, we have only two versions: Steam and SecuROM currently at all our partner sites - and with no intentions of adding any additional ones. To the extent that while I have a good relationship with them, I don't even have my new games on Metaboli/GameTap because, while robust in their own right, I don't particularly want to mess with yet another platform: GameShield or Exent. We're a small indie developer and simply don't have the time to keep pissing around with all these platforms and DRM schemes in order to get our games everywhere. The fact that most have standardized on SecuROM, made this far more easier on the DRM front than ever.



So when these sales sites (e.g. IGN, Real, Gamers Gate etc) who have NO competing platforms of their own, decide to not carry Steam enabled games, it means that we have few choices:



1. Have multiple versions of our games (e.g. Steam, Impulse, PlayExpert, Metaboli, GameTap etc) for all ESD partner sites



2. Don't use any of the SteamWorks tools (e.g. leaderboards, matchmaking, voice chat etc) since they won't work outside of the Steam platform



3. Use the complete SteamWorks suite and be locked out of those sites that don't carry Steam wrapped games. Which is the route that - like it or not - more and more developers and publishers are taking.



James,



Indeed - and thats pretty much the gist of it.



But imo it goes beyond consolidation as I once again have to point out the "developer" benefits of using Steam when compared to anything else out there. And yes, Impulse does have its own unique strong points - but my article had NOTHING to do with Impulse, so I didn't focus on that at all.



If we were to compare Steam to Impulse (or any other competing platform), we'd end up with VHS vs Betamax, Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD, DirectX vs OGL etc all over again. And if vendors continue to see these platforms (with integrated stores) as competitors, that becomes more of a problem.



One question that most people on the other side of the fence aren't asking is, why is it that the publishers - who ALL have their own ESD storefronts - don't see Steam (or any platform) as a threat, but its the Steam [store] competitors (IGN, Stardock) who do?



As I've said before, I don't care who uses what. What I care about is that I don't want MY choice of platform to be blacklisted on ESD sites that sell my game. Sure I'm not the likes of EA, Activision etc and can't simply force them to take Steam enabled titles or else, but the fact remains - it should not be that way.



From a financial standpoint, IGN could probably take a larger cut from any Steam, Impulse (or whatever platform) enabled game but still allow them to be sold on there as before. So then you have a choice. If the developer goes Steam only, thats their problem and so they make less money on IGN.

Javier Arevalo
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"As long as you need to go through a platform to play a game, you are subscribing to that platform."



Steamworks is a platform, and Steam is a store. Valve decided to integrate the two together because:



- it's easier to develop, maintain, operate and use.



- it ensures that each one promotes the use of the other one.



- they knew they could get away with it.



"I don't want MY choice of platform to be blacklisted on ESD sites that sell my game"



"Blacklisting?" Like it or not, despite the "free" label, Steamworks has a price. By choosing it as a platform, you are also choosing Steam as a store. Valve forces you to bundle their store with your game if you want to use their platform. You then ask other stores to sell your game with that competing store bundled, and of course they go WTF GTFO. If the Steam store was not required by Steamworks-enabled games, there would be no issue.



"why is it that the publishers - who ALL have their own ESD storefronts - don't see Steam (or any platform) as a threat"



Because their storefronts are an insignificant part of their business and they're not remotely competitive in that area. If / when a large publisher TRULY decides to push their storefront, their attitude towards Steam will be very different.

Derek Smart
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All valid Javier.



Correction: Steam is the client side based on subset of SteamWorks and is thus a part of it.



The store - a Steam branded product portal - is a web backend service running on Valve's servers. It makes it possible to buy "Steam wrapped" games without having to open an external browser session because one is built right into the Steam client. Thus providing a seamless experience based on a cohesive design.



Steam store is no more different from Stardock having their store in Impulse.



Similarly, if IGN decided to integrate their downloader + GameSpy + Direct2Drive, they would end up with the same thing: the pre-existing Direct2Drive store fed through whatever client they come up with.



If Valve were to remove the store from the Steam client, you would have to open a separate browser session to buy games.



Choosing SteamWorks does not mean choosing Steam as a store. Steam wrapped games can - and are in fact - sold outside the Steam store.



IMO, it is highly unlikely that anything will change even if Valve were to detach the Steam store from the client. And why would they, without good reason?



Large publishers do in fact regard their storefronts as a part of their business. Thats why they have them. Sure they may not pay too much attention to them if their primary source of revenue is retail, but it sure is part of their income stream. That is no different from Microsoft which has core businesses and doesn't pay too much attention to some (e.g. Windows Mobile) divisions to the extent that they do to others (e.g. Games Division that oversees XBox).



To Wit: EA - which has its own store that it has been promoting and maintaining for years, and to the extent that they bought several companies (e.g. pogo.com) in the process, just bought PlayFish. Here is what they had to say:



"Our CEO John Riccitiello has been talking about the migration of physical goods to digital gaming and games as a service. It clearly helps accelerate that movement, or transition, for us as an organisation"



Even the retailers (e.g. GameStop started an entire new division for digital goods and has started staffing it) are getting in on the act with added zeal.



Activision is big enough to release MW2 exclusively on their own storefront. They opted not to do it but rather to go through Steam. And that is primarily due to the adoption of the SteamWorks toolset for the game which is why both the retail and digital versions, are Steam enabled.



Of course many a retailer, publisher or whatever will regard Steam store as a possible threat, but how much of a threat is it when you're selling YOUR own goods on it? Which brings me right back to what I said earlier, this whole Steam thing is just fear mongering from competing platform holders and nothing to do with us developers and publishers.

Javier Arevalo
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"this whole Steam thing is just fear mongering from competing platform holders and nothing to do with us developers and publishers."



What exactly do you mean by "this whole Steam thing?" Anyway, the companies that refused to sell MW2 (was this the topic?) are not developers or publishers for MW2, they are distributors / stores. The only real concerns we developers and publishers may have are that:



- one company becomes dominant, effectively a monopoly, with all the troubles associated with that situation.



- many companies fragment and confuse the market and the consumer.



You identified both of them, but they are not really related to the MW2 situation, other than because the MW2 situation has brought this topic to the spotlight.



"Activision is big enough to release MW2 exclusively on their own storefront. They opted not to do it [...] primarily due to the adoption of the SteamWorks toolset"



I would imagine it was the other way around, but your guess is as good as mine.

Brad Wardell
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This isn't nearly as complicated as you are trying to make it out to be, Derek.



Impulse Reactor includes a DRM feature that allows developers to protect their game without the user needing to create an Impulse account.



Steamworks, by contrast, not only requires the user to create a Steam account but requires the user to install and have Steam running to play the game.



That is the basic problem here. Nobody wants to install their competitor's store onto their customer's machine.

Morgan Ramsay
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Derek, could you explain why this boycott is "bad for the biz and bad for gamers"? I read through your article and comments, but I don't understand how you arrived at that conclusion.

Derek Smart
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Hi Morgan,



imo it is bad because ESD retailers shouldn't be refusing to carry games based on what wrap technology they use. Be it Steam, Impulse, GameShield, SafeDisc, Exent, PlayExpert or whatever.



And this MW2 issue brings the danger of this direction to light seeing that Activision has flat out shown that at this point they're not supporting any other wrap tech other than Steam. So all other network customers lose out on buying from their chosen network.



Yes, not everyone likes Steam, Impulse etc.



Not everyone likes SecuROM - the most gamer reviled DRM - either. But all the ESD retailers still use it, despite the protests.



No gamer I know likes GfWL. But some publishers still use it - and ESD retailers still carry those games - despite the protests and ALL the problems e.g. as I type this, there are STILL people who can't play Section 8. A game they paid for almost a month ago because they can't get GfWL working properly enough to initialize the game.



And some just want to buy their game and run it without any middle technology. Though as a developer I could argue against that point since the client in the middle doesn't impact the gaming experience in any way, shape or form. And in the case of Steam, quite on the contrary since SteamWorks enabled games offer a lot more VAS than anything else out there.



I'm not convinced that the store is the point of contention here - though they'd like everyone to think that it is. It is just a browser to a web services backend. You can get to the Steam store from any browser.



Again, it comes back to that whole Microsoft anti-trust issue. IE is still the #1 browser, despite all the changes made to the OS in order to not push it ahead of other browsers. If Steam didn't have the store in the client, these networks would still find something else to complain about because they are competitors to Steam. Its not like they have gamer's interests in minds. Thats just laughable rubbish.



Steam is no more a threat to Direct2Drive as is a simple browser - since that is basically what the store is. If they sold Steam games, they get the sale - not Valve. Even if Valve removed the store browser from the Steam client, an end-user wanting to buy games from Steam - instead of Direct2Drive, Gamers Gate, Impulse etc - will do so by just opening a browser.



As to the issue of subscriptions and whatnot, even IGN has its own subscription system and thus access to customer use dB. A dB that is updated with each sale. Just like Steam, Impulse etc. The developer/publisher should rightfully own the customer base for their game - not the network selling the game. This is a critical point here as in most cases, that customer dB is far more valuable in the long run than the percentage the network makes from each game being sold.



So at the end of the day, this is more about their own self-interests, than about gamers. Which, to me, means that all these statements coming out of Stardock, IGN etc and which tend to make one think that they have gamers - not their own - interest at heart, is pure self-serving rubbish.



I'm a gamer. I was a gamer long before I became a game developer. I am still a gamer and have a vast gaming library of both ESD and boxed games going as far back as the beginning of the industry proper. I own every console ever made, I still have an Amstrad PC boxed and sitting in my attic, I have games on 3.5" & 5.25" floppy media, I have games on cassettes etc. So for me this issue goes beyond the smokescreen that Brad and co keep throwing up.



As a game developer, I want the process of getting games to my install base to be a simple affair, not a convoluted one because I have to release different builds just to satisfy my network partners or lose access to my install base at networks that refuse to carrying certain types of wrapped games.

Derek Smart
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Brad,



"Impulse Reactor includes a DRM feature that allows developers to protect their game without the user needing to create an Impulse account."



Oh, wait, NOW you're saying DRM is OK. Alrighty then...



http://www.shacknews.com/featuredarticle.x?id=1026



"Steamworks, by contrast, not only requires the user to create a Steam account but requires the user to install and have Steam running to play the game."



Stop. Just stop. Registering is a non-issue and you know it. Being on the Net, we've all come to terms with having to register for something. Having Steam installed and running is NO different from having a DRM engine running on a layer within the game. No difference at all. What makes Steam different is that there is an app which you can close. The last time I checked, you can't close ANY of the layers (e.g. SecuROM and whatnot) running on a game in memory. And you can't unload the Impulse DLL either. So there.



And as I type this, your forums are littered with people unable to play games purchased on IR. e.g. here is one (of many) thread on Dragon Age: Origins. Yes, I checked the Steam forums for the same game. HUGE contrast there.



http://forums.stardock.com/368873



http://forums.impulsedriven.com/368913



With standards in place and a single wrap solution, this sort of crap wouldn't be so prevalent on any platform. And this problem displayed here - and which litter both the Steam and Impulse forums, are just a tad on par with any Game For Windows Live farce.



"That is the basic problem here. Nobody wants to install their competitor's store onto their customer's machine. "



No, thats not it. The Steam store is just a browser. What is at issue here is that you guys are all competitors so you have a reason to complain about anything and everything possible - instead of working hard to, well, catch up. If you guys spent half the time on trying to catch-up, you would'nt be so far behind and you wouldn't have much to complain about. But thats just me.

Derek Smart
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"Not sure how this became an Impulse debate other than Brad hyping out his own service and Derek taking the bait but it's besides the point."



My thoughts exactly. No matter how many times I've said that this was never a Steam vs Impluse thing and the article never even hinted at such.



Nevertheless, if anything, I think the commentary serves its purpose.



ps: Hey Scott, if you registered on Gamasutra, you wouldn't need to type in your name every time you posted. ;)

Dave Long
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I think Brad has a legitimate gripe there, Derek. I somewhat agree that at 20 million users, Steam has probably reached out to every core gamer out there and it's unlikely that an Impulse purchased copy of Modern Warfare 2 is going to put a new Steam install on their machine. However, there are new users every day. More kids who have a new PC and can be locked into your service, etc. I think it's a very legitimate concern to go slapping a competitor's store onto their machine for them. It's also very confusing to those users.



This is really simple competition at work here. It's clear that Valve gave away those nice tools you love to try to lock everyone into their service and store. And I think that you're essentially heading for a storefront monopoly on "computer games" if you don't at least try something right now to get people thinking about it. Steamworks is a trojan horse for Steam the store... which I might add doesn't just go away when you install it but rather appears every day on startup unless you disable it.



There are better ways for both Valve and the other ESD pubs to handle this in the long run, but hey, you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, right? You of all people should know that.

David Reeves
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Well for all the ranting and what not, I'm sick of the hype surrounding pathetic clients such as steam. I've given up even trying to get them to fix bugs let alone want to buy MW2.



And the reasons: Firstly I moved house and knew I would be without an internet connection and had brashly installed Steam after I bought X3, moved house, and plugged into my dad's 56k modem to check emails.



I wanted to play X3 and 4 days later I was fully aware that X3 had finally finished it's update.



Soultion: If you're going to make a product, make it easy to use and not watse resources. It really pisses me off when there's some piece of code sitting in the background asking and sending my information back a forth to the net.



Yet my final straw with steam came with trying to get a bug sorted and the pathetic service that their customers endure while not being able to play. Meanwhile I started recieving ADVERTS for Valve products via the client, and it was over and over and over again, wait for it, A DEMO WTF.....



At least when you purchase a retail box at a store, and if you get the stick from them, you can go elsewhere if they give you no service.



These online clients frankly suck more than your fun, they waste so much time that if I were able to charge them for their stuff ups, I could RETIRE. Time is money, and my time is worth more than spending it sending emails/posting letters to these SHONKY service providers.



Well I hope you believe in GOD, because you need all the help you can get from these rogues!!!!!!



Just for the record too, Stardock has been the only company that did well with digital downloads, until they released Impulse that is. So my choice is quite plain and simple, I'll download a PIRATED version and wait for the retail box to arrive at my local retail store before I buy it.



Digital, fast and easy, nope. Retail, well at least we can throw the box at them or hit someone. RETAIL WINS!!!

Derek Smart
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@ Dave



"This is really simple competition at work here. It's clear that Valve gave away those nice tools you love to try to lock everyone into their service and store. "



Not true. You don't have to use ANY of the SteamWorks features in order to get your game on Steam. As evidenced by the hundreds of games on Steam that don't even touch SteamWorks. In that regard, wrapping Steam around your game is no more different than wrapping it around Impulse or any other such app.



"Steamworks is a trojan horse for Steam the store..."



Not true. See above. SteamWorks is a set of developer tools for accessing high-end Steam features only. And the Steam client is no more a trojan horse than Impulse is.



"which I might add doesn't just go away when you install it but rather appears every day on startup unless you disable it."



You can un-install the Steam client at any time you like. It is up to the developers to uninstall it manually with their game if they so choose. We don't do that because - just like SecuROM drivers, other OS system DLL files etc - we can't just go removing stuff without knowing if another app on the system requires it. So if the gamer wants to get rid of Steam client entirely, all it takes is one trip to "Add/Remove Programs" and its gone. Of course then you render your game unplayable. Thats no different from manually uninstalling SecuROM and rendering SecuROM enabled games unplayable. Or uninstalling a program that ends up removing a DLL that another app or the OS needs. Thus breaking everything. And is no different from uninstalling Impulse. You remove it, you can't run your game.



"There are better ways for both Valve and the other ESD pubs to handle this in the long run,"



Indeed. Hence the reason I wrote the article in order to draw attention to it. But as I've said before, even if Valve removes the store browser from the client, people - mostly competitors - will still find something to complain about.



"but hey, you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, right? You of all people should know that."



Drawing the line in the interest of benefiting everyone is one thing. Drawing the line in a misguided attempt at drawing attention to an issue that is - on the face of it - about derailing, deriding and detracting the competitor, is clearly another thing. I have no problems with this practice since thats what competition is about. What I have a problem with - as I've said before is doing it under the guise of protecting the gamer and/or making it harder for us devs to use our tools of choice and to be able to sell our games that use those tools wherever we'd like.



@ David



And thats what CHOICE is about. You don't like it, don't use it. Don't buy games that use it. Don't go near it etc. Vote with your dollars.

David d
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hi Derek Smart



you said "And is no different from uninstalling Impulse. You remove it, you can't run your game."



please try and use impulse. and you will find out that what you said is not true.

You can run your games just fine without impulse installed.



Greetings :D!

Robert Uccello Jr
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Derek,

Thanks for taking the time to address so many comments here. It was an interesting read, even to a non-game developer/publisher. One thing I wonder about is the future of Steamworks-enabled games:

With the use of Steamworks, a developer is essentially (or at least likely) to use Steam's DRM and matchmaking - thereby requiring the installation of Steam to play the game (I highly doubt this is a hardship for anyone, but the point that others seem to be making is that the level of hardship is irrelevant - having this other app running just to play a game is problematic.). With some vendors being willing to boycott CoD4:MW2 (an unarguably HUGE title), doesn't this boycott seem to imply a future threat to developers who want to use Steam, seeing that these other venues will not sell their game? Furthermore, if Steam decides what it wants to support by selling in its store, a developer that does not meet Valve's criteria for sale, but uses Steamworks (and being subject to a boycott due to this inclusion) mean that your choice of DRM could make your game unsellable? Is there an implied assumption that a game developed around Steamworks technology gets approval for the Steam store?

Derek Smart
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@ David d



I am aware of that. But I was speaking in terms of the Impulse hooks that games require and which are no different from Steam. If Impulse is not installed, AFAIK they won't work.



In fact, now that I think about it, even using the Impulse DRM means that the game won't work. Unless they've changed something that I'm not aware of, there ARE instances in which games will not run, authenticate, patch etc if Impulse is not present. Go ahead to say otherwise and tell me whats wrong with what I just said.



Besides, I'm currently writing an in-depth article about these wrappers, DRM etc and which should be up here by the end of the month. I'm going to take each one apart based on hands on experience so everyone can go ahead and debate the merits of each. I'm doing it simply because people keep posting utter rubbish and with zero in depth experience about any these wrappers, tools, DRM or whatever. And thats part of the misinformation that happens when you get into "mine vs yours" arguments.



@ Robert



There is no hardship in having the Steam client running while playing a game. At any given moment in time, the OS itself can be running over 50+ services and a bunch of tray apps - all benign. People arguing about the Steam client - which barely registers as running when you check the machine's resources - are doing so in order to bolster their silly arguments about how "they don't want an app running in order to run their game". The concern is patently unfounded. Its like that mole on the back of your thigh. You only know its there if you go looking for it. Otherwise it doesn't affect any part of your common anatomy.



There is no threat to developers who use SteamWorks. Thats just crazy talk.



The only people who any such boycott will affect, are those silly ESD sites who refuse to carry Steam enabled games. Because at the end of the day, Valve will be there to sell the games. So it is the difference between buying 5 copies at IGN + 5 copies on Steam or buying 10 copies at Steam. heh, its not like Valve isn't capable of selling the games.



So yeah, let them go ahead and boycott Steam games. We [developers] will still be here long after they finish handing out Pink slips.



And as I mentioned, using Steam has nothing to do with DRM. You can use Steam just fine and never use any of the SteamWorks tech (which includes the SteamWorks DRM).



Since Valve has to approve the game for publishing BEFORE you even get access to SteamWorks, no, there is implication that develoing for SteamWorks automatically means you get on Steam.



Valve - as I stated - are far more selective about Steam titles than any other ESD vendor. They have that right since its their network. But by the same token, it puts developers at a disadvantage because there are no guarantees that you can get on Steam.



And the MAJOR downside to the approval process (we have gone through this outself with our past two games) is that by the time you get around to approaching Valve about selling your game on Steam, you simply won't have time to implement ANY of the high-end SteamWorks features because they require several months of testing depending on how far you want to go.



In our case, our games were already finished when we were approved to go on Steam. So I went with just the basic Steam wrapper and DRM implementation because they were the quickest to implement and test. Things like matchmaking, leaderboards, stats tracking, server browsing etc could all have been implemented if we had got on Steam months earlier. But during that time, we were busy implementing our own similar tools (networking, server browser, stats tracking etc) and tech that do the same thing! So by the time the games were ready to ship, it just wasn't worth holding them back just to spend another three to four months doing the full SteamWorks suite. That would have been money going out and nothing coming in. Plus that would have put us squarely in the nightmare that is a Q4 game release.



Had we gone with SteamWorks earlier on, we would have had access to technologies that we otherwise had to roll out on our own over several months.

Derek Smart
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It has come to my attention that GameTap, Metaboli, Real Networks (which feeds GameStop and 700+ affiliate stores), Bestbuy.com (DR) are all selling the Steam version of MW2.



So much for that.



So guess who loses this round? Thats right, IGN and Impulse - both Steam competitors. As well as Gamers Gate.



And more and more blogs are popping up about this farce. Here is another good one.



http://robzacny.com/index.php/Index.php/2009/11/valve-is-not-your
-enemy/

Parham G
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I believe that Brad is mistakenly assuming that anyone who decides to use Steam will forever be constrained to that service. That they will, in a sense, refuse to use any other alternative. If anything, the usage of a service like Steam boosts consumer confidence in adopting digital download services. Which, in turn, leads people to use digital stores like GamersGate in the future. Just as an example, before 2007, I was extremely opposed to using any form of digital download service. This was, in large part, due to the overwhelming amount of negative feedback I would receive from friends and family members who had previously used services like D2D and TotalGaming. It wasn’t until two years ago, when I purchased the Half-Life Anthology on Steam (strictly because of the disc version was unavailable at my nearest game store), that I became personally acquainted with the convenience of digital downloads. After establishing a certain amount of trust with Steam, I decided to branch out and test other services. Luckily, by the time that happened, D2D and your very own Impulse provided a much better service than years past (I believe this could largely be attributed to the increased competition from Steam). This eventually led to me buying more games on other services. In fact, just in the past six months alone, I have bought eight games on D2D, three games on Impulse, and only two on Steam. And of the two games which I had bought on Steam were both on sale for ridiculously cheap prices. The fact is that Steam has done a lot to introduce consumers to the idea of buying games digitally and open them up to using alternative services.

Rattasak Srisinroongruang
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Valid article. Pointless derailment in the comments though.

Derek Smart
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yah, thats all Brad's fault :)

Alen Ladavac
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Hey Derek, thank you for explained this in such details! I can now point people to your article instead of having to rant about this myself. ;)



Anyway, just noticed you estimated few months to migrate to Steamworks online features. Our implementation for SSHD took just a couple of weeks with only two engineers working on it. Perhaps you've had some more complex things going on in your game, so it may not be comparable, but just wanted to chime in and say I'm impressed how the guys at Valve did a great job at making the API actually simple and _usable_. This is hard to find nowadays. One would think they have to actually ship some games with it. ;)

Derek Smart
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Hi Alen



I thought you already saw this blog when I first wrote it because I think it was on the Steamworks mailing list when I first wrote it.



Anyway, my estimate of a few months includes testing, as well as which SW features are being used. For example, it too me about three weeks to implement and fully test (found a few bugs which Valve fixed) CEG. The other stuff was pretty trivial. So yah, if you're going all out on the full SW suite, it can take about a month or so to fully implement, debug, test etc. Especially if you are using the network layer (which I'm not, since i"m using ReplicaNet exclusively).



But yah SW is just amazing. But the problem is that devs are going to be more resistant to using it if these crazy ESD sites refuse to carry Steam games. And that was the point of this blog.

Derek Smart
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@ rattasak



here is Brad's rather ludicrous "official" statement sparked by my blog



http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/26158/Stardock_Reveals_Impulse
_Steam_Market_Share_Estimates.php



...and the other ESD sites weigh in



http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=26292



http://kotaku.com/5415837/pc-download-stores-arguing-over-who-com
es-after-steam

Alen Ladavac
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Never noticed this on the Steamworks ml. Strange.

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