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I was more than a little bemused to read about Gabe Newell’s recent attack on ‘closed platforms’ from Apple, Sony, etc.
Speaking as a developer who also self-publishes, I have yet to experience a more ‘closed’ marketplace than Steam (except perhaps XBLA).
Steam is operated slightly like a strange mystical organisation – I have spoken to lots of developers many of whom have the similar stories to tell; Steam never responds to them, they don’t open discussions with developers, Steam will find you if they want your product, and so on.
Incredibly I’ve even heard comments from developers that they try to enter the IGF with the main aim to try and help their chances of getting onto Steam!
If you are lucky enough to get a response (many don’t) the evaluation process is completely closed, and if they reject your title you get an email which basically states “Unfortunately, we don't comment on our decision making process”. No further clarification of any sort will be given, and even if you ask if you could make changes or add additional features you will still get no useful response. This is the ultimate example of a closed distribution platform; we don’t want your game on Steam and no, we won’t tell you why or discuss future developments.
Some of Gabe’s choice quotes include:
"On the platform side, it's sort of ominous that the world seems to be moving away from open platforms... They build a shiny sparkling thing that attracts users and then they control people's access to those things."
Well Gabe – Steam is a really nice shiny PC distribution channel; and you control the access far more than platform holders control their platforms.
Every PC developer I have spoken to about Steam says the same thing – Steam sales are many times more than those of even the next biggest portal. If you don’t get onto Steam your PC sales potential will be significantly reduced.
"I consider Apple to be very closed. Let's say you have a book business and you are charging 5 to 7 per cent gross margins. You can't exist in an Apple world because they want 30 per cent and they don't care that you only have 7 per cent to play with."
But Gabe – if I am lucky enough to get onto Steam then you want 30-40% of all my revenue!
He then went on to say that if Valve were to build a hardware platform it would be open to other distributors, in the interests of healthy competition.
Are you sure Gabe? Really? I’m sorry to say but I don’t really believe that based on how you run Steam!
Apparently Gabe is calling on the industry to open its closed games platforms, adding that the current insular approach is hurting business and stifling creativity.
Well that is exactly what Steam is doing – its doors are closed to many PC developers, and it hurts those developer’s businesses and absolutely stifles creativity by restricting access to a huge section of PC games buyers.
So I would respectfully like to ask Gabe to look at getting his own house in order before weighing in and trying to tackle other inequalities in the industry. Lead by example!