B1 Intermediate US 151 Folder Collection
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Hi, I'm Hamish Black and welcome to Writing
on Games.

First off, I'm not trying to attack anyone
here.

If I mention names, I'm not angrily singling
anyone out, they're perhaps just the most

relevant to or prevalent in this particular
situation.

I'm going to criticise some of Jim Sterling's
ideas, for example, but he's not guilty

of everything I talk about here.
I also think that dude seems cool and I could
see him being very fun to hang out with, so

on the off-chance you're watching this Jim,
I assure you it isn't personal.

Cool?
Cool.
So yeah, Steam has been kind of broken for
a while.

As many before me have pointed out, the mere
presence of a game on Steam used to be a marker

of quality.
In the past, it led me to trawl the platform
constantly to see what new games had been

released.
Cut to a few years later, a tradition of hyper-reduced
sales prices leading to a library full of

games I will likely never play and an opening
of the floodgates to any shmuck with an executable

to throw up on the store and, well, yeah.
Not so interested in that anymore.
For some people, however, it's far more
than just a lack of interest.

People are legitimately angry about the state
of the platform, with some people more or

less dedicating their careers to trying to
get things fixed.

Notable problems include the ways in which
Valve has let curation slip; that they've

foisted responsibility for managing it onto
consumers and algorithms.

This leads to games that used to get visibility
from their presence on Steam now being completely

buried.
There's also systems like Greenlight which
have been gamed by rogue developers to get

their games on the service illegitimately,
as well as the ever-irritating asset flip

(where store-bought assets and Unity tutorials
are uploaded to the platform without any creative

input to try and make a quick buck).
Each has become more prevalent over the years,
as well as gradually lowering Steam in the

eyes of its customer base.
As a result, a lot of things have been shouted
very loudly again and again that Steam needs

to stop letting bad games onto their service
and start giving us good games, damnit!

And at least on the surface, anyway, it seems
that the years of shouting have worked.

Steam has already announced that they're
ditching Greenlight in favour of Direct - a

system which introduces a paywall in an attempt
to stop devs abusing the platform.

In a somewhat more surprising move, however,
Valve recently flew consumer advocate YouTubers

Jim Sterling and John Bane (otherwise known
as TotalBiscuit) over to their offices to

consult on plans to improve the service.
The result?
Well, unfortunately, a lot of it boils down
to a more concentrated focus on what they've

already been doing: doubling down on algorithms
and crowdsourcing curation (hey, wanna do

some free PR work for these devs?
You can call yourself an Explorer if ya want,
buddy!), and I guess sating the weird desire

of your TotalBiscuits to have everything perfectly
categorised.

A good few minutes of TB's video is spent
lamenting the ever-so-urgent problem of Steam

that they didn't recognise your specific
distinction between the terms Rogue-like and

Roguelite.
This platform is really going places!
As you can probably tell, I don't think
any of this is very convincing.

In fact, I don't get the feeling Jim and
John are particularly convinced either.

Maybe of the fact that that Valve is aware
of its image problem?

Who knows.
It doesn't mean they're going to enact
any kind of meaningful fixes however.

Even flying the guys out there is more of
a symbolic gesture than anything else.

More importantly, I don't think it's possible
for anything to come out of those meetings

to actually solve the issue.
That's because the issue itself is far bigger
than just fixing Steam's front page.

And that's just it - these people, these consumer
advocates, were brought out to fix Valve's

image problem.
A problem Valve caused for themselves through
their desire to control as much of the PC

market as possible with little regard for
how they were going to manage that eventuality.

The problem is that we're viewing this in
terms as black-and-white as “once we fix

Steam, we fix the PC gaming landscape!”
It ignores the more uncomfortable reality;
that Steam is kind of a monopoly, and these

acts of contrition afforded to very specific
(if vocal) YouTube communities all amount

to how they can maintain that absolute control.
But why is that bad, you ask?
All my games are in one place, so obviously
I want that platform to thrive for the sake

of convenience.
I don't want a million Uplays and Origins
clogging up my desktop, confusing my flow

of gaming.
I get that, I do.
It's the age we live in, where we're constantly
seeking out new ways to condense as far as

possible the ways we consume media.
The problem is that it gives Valve no real
reason to improve.

Game devs are making far less sales, customer
satisfaction is through the floor, but Gabe

Newell's net worth is the highest it's ever
been.

Even if individual games are selling less,
Valve is making just as much across a larger

number of titles.
And now there's going to be a ubiquitous
paywall I guess, locking out even genuine

devs who might not have the money.
It just doesn't work, because there's
no competition.

The solution is not to congratulate Steam
on the appearance of contrition, of their

supposed catering to the specific whims of
the audiences of two specific YouTubers.

The solution is to perhaps forego some of
that unity of experience, for the sake of

supporting other platforms offering different
services.

Whilst Uplay and Origin offer little in the
way of unique selling points other than “you

get to launch this launcher from Steam, which
is itself a launcher”, there are other similar,

but bespoke platforms that are worth examining.
For example, instead of trying to find that
tiny indie diamond in the gargantuan pile

of shoddy mobile ports that is Steam, why
not look for that experience on somewhere

like itch.io?
It's a service curated by actual human beings
which offers smaller developers the means

to distribute their unique, fun and experimental
experiences that they might not be able to

distribute on Steam.
It's so different from Steam that its founder
Leaf Corcoran has in the past altered things

on the backend to accommodate the quirks of
specific games, for instance.

This is a platform that really cares about
a specific kind of experience.

With Steam's upcoming paywall, you'll
probably see a lot more devs gravitating to

this service, with the human curation and
a genuine wish to support genuine devs stopping

your Digital Homicides in their tracks.
You can support the work of these devs by
supporting the platform that cares about them.

It's the same with GOG.
You go there for old games, many of which
fall into that somewhat ephemeral “middle

tier” of development that can't really
exist now because anything other than AAA

mega corp or scrappy garage programmer just
isn't sustainable on a platform like Steam.

It's also totally DRM free, whereas Steam
itself is DRM, giving you more choice in how

you play and control your purchases.
I'd say having multiple libraries is a small
price to pay for each one having its own purpose,

giving devs a choice of the platforms that
suit their interests, each service being able

to foreground the best of its specialty as
a result, leading to a better landscape for

the consumer.
It's supply and demand – you support these
carefully curated experiences on each platform,

and that curation suddenly becomes a lot easier
and more effective.

More choice is better for everyone, and Valve
controlling nearly 100% of all PC gaming purchases

does not allow for that.
Ultimately it's you who has to realise that
though, and perhaps consider sacrificing some

convenience in favour of supporting a competitive
marketplace.

But hey, I guess John giving Valve a good
talkin' to about algorithms will have to

suffice for now.
Which brings me onto my larger problem with
so-called “pro-consumer” punditry on the

industry, and this is far from just John and
Jim.

There's nuance to every situation in the
games industry that I feel is often lacking

in the way these people represent it.
Everything is always the fault of big bad
publishers and lazy devs trying to make bad,

incomplete experiences to irritate the poor,
innocent consumer who can seemingly do no

wrong, but also just can't stop buying those
dang bad games.

Essentially, the customer isn't always right,
and these commentators rarely if ever point

that out.
It's how you get to situations like the
Mass Effect Andromeda thing where people are

shouting about lazy devs, when in order to
get to their position, you have to be anything

but.
No one considers the fact that, well, games
are hard to make especially within a large

company, so you talk to other devs and they'll
tell you it's a miracle anything gets shipped.

No one considers that the devs perhaps didn't
want to put the game out in that state.

No one considers the fact that it was the
end of the tax year, so EA weren't going

to push that back, instead forcing already
pressured devs to work harder and release

something that they perhaps wanted to work
further on.

But nope, a continuous, reductive commentary
on “lazy devs” (which is itself real lazy)

and intentionally bad games leads to people
getting harassed by those who have no idea

how complex this process can be (or who was
even involved).

These people are now going to be the Explorers,
choosing which games get surfaced and which

get buried.
All for the sake of fixing Valve's image
problem.

Sounds great, right?
Ya just gotta have the good games be on Steam's
front page and the bad games be catapulted

into the sun!
What I'm saying is that being pro-consumer
means so much more than breaking things down

into “good games” and “bad games”
(something you see a lot of especially in

John's video).
This is a problem for a number of reasons;
not least of which because it doesn't allow

for games in the middle ground.
The camp games; the ones that lack some technical
finesse, but perhaps have heart.

What's that?
You want a kinda bad game to laugh at and
have fun with?

Well no, you don't get to do that, because
Jim and John's fans-turned-Explorers have

decided that that joke's over now and those
games are all BAD.

It's downright suppressive.
Even if it's not that with these YouTubers,
things often come down to “this PC port

has a bad frame rate and these controls are
bad and that's why this business hates the

consumer!”
Don't get me wrong, I've been guilty of
reductive statements myself in the past – I've

just never claimed to be some pro-consumer
advocate.

But assure yourself of this: the idea that
devs are lazy and want to hurt the consumer

is not only reductive; it distracts from real,
tangible problems about the way the game industry

works.
An example of this for me was back in November
last year when Ubisoft executives were accused

of and fined for insider trading.
Allegedly these higher-ups (including the
CEO of Ubisoft Montreal) sold stocks back

in October 2013 right before substantial delays
were announced for both Watch Dogs and The

Crew – delays which, according to PC Gamer,
saw shares drop by around 25%.

In December 2016, the people involved were
fined a combined total of 1.27 million Euros

(although they asserted their innocence and
plans to appeal).

Now, not only is insider trading super, SUPER
illegal, but in games, this is the kind of

business practice that has knock-on effects
on company standing, project timelines, budgets,

pressure on development teams, etc.
Things that lead to less than ideal products.
And yet, nothing.
I found out about it from a news article buried
on Gamespot, and no one was mentioning it.

That seemed wild to me.
I guess it got a postscript in a Jimquisition
episode in January (Nintendo's Virtual Console

Is Trash) as if this was just a simple foible
of the company when potentially it was something

much, MUCH more serious.
But no, because it didn't directly translate
to “this company hates the consumer because

DLC or bad frame rates”, you didn't see
it covered.

I mean, without wishing to get too conspiratorial,
I'm willing to bet the executives at Ubisoft

were glad that people were continuing to comment
on things as symptomatic of the larger problem

as frame rates and pre-order DLC and the like,
precisely because it distracted from that

larger problem; that there's a distinction
between the so-called “shady business practices”

that amount to “bad games” and the actual
shady business practices of which the things

people complain about are a result.
I mean, I could talk about the failings of
this kind of punditry all day, but at some

point, the onus is kind of on the consumer
to make better choices.

We live in a capitalist society – big businesses
do not have your best interests at heart,

and just because you loudly demand that "catering
to gamers" makes business sense, doesn't make

it so.
In fact, often the opposite is true; you can
talk about F'ing Konami and how they're

going to die without Kojima and how they don't
care about the gamers all you want, but their

profits are actually up year on year.
This kind of thing should be a given; it's
the surface level.

Challenge yourself to go deeper into the underlying
problems when discussing this stuff.

It's probably why a lot of this consumer
advocacy stuff falls flat with me.

It's both pointing out the blindingly obvious
whilst failing to get to the heart of the

issue.
Valve attempting to control 100% of the PC
gaming market is bad for developers and consumers

alike, and no amount of YouTubers flown out
to talk about dumb algorithms and further

crowdsourcing curation is going to change
that.

The reality is that the solution to the problem
of Steam comes down to you, the consumer,

giving up some of the convenience of having
one library of games in one place, in service

of seeking out and supporting different platforms
offering more specialised experiences.

In return, this is where you will see Steam,
and the PC gaming market in general, really

start to improve.
So I hope you enjoyed my take on the whole
Valve situation.

If you did, why not subscribe to the channel,
hit the little bell thingy, and check out

the podcast in the description.
If you really want to go the extra mile, however,
please consider checking out the Patreon.

You have no idea how much it means to me and
how much it helps the running of the channel.

Thank you so much to all the patrons on screen
for their continued support.

I'd also like to give special thanks to
Biggy, Mark B. Writing, Peter, Nico Bleackley,

Artjom Vitsjuk, Justins Holderness Christian
Konemann, Thomas Coker, Nicolas Ross and Charlie

Yang.
And with that, I'm Hamish Black and this
has been Writing on Games.

Thank you very much for watching and I'll
see you next time.

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The Real Problem With Steam

151 Folder Collection
wei published on December 14, 2018
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