We Need To Talk About Steam

Nouse gaming asks: is it time we started calling Valve out over its excessive monopoly and damaging practices?

Steam’s Front Page

Ask most gamers what they think of Valve and two things jump to mind, they’re the creators of an industry changing game, Half Life, and operators of the biggest platform in gaming, Steam. Through its ease of use, constant sales and integration into almost game released on PC, Steam has come to dominate its market. Until recently, Valve maintained a “Nice guy” reputation from its early days as a small company, but recent articles in Forbes and Kotatku, have heaped fiery criticism on the corporation’s practices, and scandals in recent years around its lack of a refund system and the flawed Steam Greenlight have only added to their problems. All of a sudden, cracks seem to be showing in their armour.

Certainly, Valve’s immense control over the PC market and shady practices are worrying. Back in 2011, statistics showed they controlled up to 70% of the PC market, but alternatives such as EA’s Origin, and sites like Greenman gaming and G2A we can assume have eaten into this chunk. Despite this, we know that digital sales have been on the rise, and overtook physical game sales in 2014, and add to this that 62% of gamers use a PC, a whopping 1.2 billion people according to the ESA and Intel, and we can see that Valve’s slighter smaller chunk is worth far more than it was. Regardless, a company with a large market share can still provide an ethical and good quality service, but recent trends suggest Valve’s steam is not taking this direction, with its somewhat ominous operations.

As recently as February this year, the EU was investigating Valve and others for anti-competitive practices, in this case preventing people in certain areas accessing sales and offers. Previously, a German consumer rights group, VZVB, took Valve to court for its practice of removing a user’s access to their games if they did not accept new licence agreements, and only recently have basic rights, such as refunds, been added, and this was only down to public pressure – such abuse of customers would no longer be tolerate

It’s not merely the corporation’s business practices that have been under scrutiny however. Stats published by steamspy show that 40% of all games ever released on Steam came out in 2016, due in large part to the Steam greenlight system, that allowed masses of small developers to put their projects on steam. And while this, on the surface, sounds like a positive, the result was far from it.

Instead of leading to a flourishing of new, small games onto the market, all steam users will know that the market place is now awash with unchecked, garbage projects, that often flipp assets and unfairly earn large sums of players money, in some cases without the ability of the customer to get a refund. Couple this with internal rumours of staff resigning, and claims of an awful work environment, and suddenly Valve doesn’t seem like a place consumers should be giving their money.

But people won’t stop spending, and can you blame them? There is a reason Valve won such a huge market share. Steam is easy to use, relatively cheap, and has the massive majority of popular games available on the market. I’ve even got it open as I write this, so I don’t pretend to be any better.

Valve won the war for online control 13 years ago, when it was the first company to realise the potential of forcing people to sign up to its system to play games.

Steam’s domination of the marketplace, bar a total disaster, isn’t ending anytime soon.

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