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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 asonce 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 thanyou

  • 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 ephemeralmiddle

  • tierof 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 demandyou 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-calledpro-consumerpunditry 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 onlazy 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

  • intogood gamesandbad 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 tothis 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.