Project Discussion Part I: The Thought That Counts

Hello everyone, and today we begin talking about how I begin making the project. We could easily be talking about if someone had an idea to do something similar, so it’s not all about me.

Firstly, we need to think about if there’s any opportunity for doing something like this. We take all the things we’ve learned from the previous posts and utilize them.

Q: What is your project idea?

My idea is to develop an online platform/social network hybrid that is inspired by the design of Valve Corporation’s Steam system. Steam acts as an online space for distribution, commerce and communication between its user base, providing them the service and tools to make things happen.

I want to use the same idea of providing a service and tools, but for a completely different audience. My chosen audience is within academia. In a profession that prides itself on knowledge and communication, I believe that a system in the same vein as Steam, Facebook or any other social network, would really benefit this process. The internet allows for such connections to take place, which is a factor that Valve would have considered when they were faced with this choice.

This proposed idea would allow academics, scholars and researchers a service to share, communicate and collaborate on various projects of their own. Many research projects (which become journals or books) are the result of such connections taking place between members.

The system, called ‘Academic’s Playground,’ would feature elements that make Steam so collaborative. These include the ‘Workshop’ and ‘Greenlight’ options, which allows community members to develop and showcase their own work. In parallel similarity to academia, theses works are either conducted by a lone individual, or within larger groups.

Clearly, the Steam community is active and creative and Valve supports community development. In my system, I’d like to implement a similar feature which allows people to do the same. Instead, I would have a ‘Lab’ option, which combines to two Steam elements together. This Lab feature will be where people are doing their R and D, running like how Steam lets people manage their works.

The usual network elements are also present, such as Profiles and Home Pages, which help structure the site. Aside from giving a space for people to communicate, it will also give people a chance to ‘express themselves’ with their own information.

Q: What is the reasoning behind this idea?

In the age, there is only one ‘space’ large enough to handle the mass of communication every day. We are, of course, talking about the internet itself. Every big business or institution uses it to get themselves ‘heard’ as we increasing become online. Academia is as much dependent on the internet where communication and collaboration between academics/students is integral to R and D.

The reasoning behind is that we are ever dependent on the internet to get things done. Valve saw an opportunity to develop their online system (when online gaming was relatively young)  in order to maximize publicity for the upcoming Half life 2. Therefore, an opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps the real crux of Steam is the ability to communicate.  We are looking at a system that provides a service and tools for its user in order to operate as themselves. They create their profiles, add friends, post comments. None of this is new, but serves a purpose that by giving people an incentive to continue to use your system. If you cannot provide, they will not use your system.

Q: Who is your audience?

There are many different social networks that are geared to different professions. Facebook is for general/social relationships, whilst LinkedIn is mainly for business networking. But there is a base for those with educational purposes. We’ve taken a look at few (Diipo, TeachAde), but we can be sure many more exists.

In a bid to modernise, schools and universities are becoming more online. We’ve seen teaching aids implementing an online concept. We’ve got universities that are completely online already, and schools are using dedicated educational social networks to help in the classroom.

Q: What is the point of this?

A slightly skewed version of number 2, and yes, there is a point to choosing to design for academics. Let’s be honest, half the books and journals wouldn’t have been published without some form of collaboration between the authors. If you noticed that many texts involves members from different institutions working together on often long, complex research projects. Now they had to have collaborated somehow.

Creating a system that ‘unifies’ academics together, in the same way Steam groups online gamers together, would be beneficial in creating a community. A community is an important feature in social networks. As humans, we have the urge to be social, to talk and make connections.

My vision is to allow people to easier communicate with other people, to share, comment and showcase work or research findings, and to collaborate on a certain project. Being within a community, it can be easier to collaborate with like-minded people. People separated geographically can still be active.

In terms of allowing tools for learning and understanding, we must look towards the use of social networks. In this blog, we’ve discussed what they are and how they work. They allow relatively easy communications between their sometimes vast user base, which is one of the reasons why I decided to look this way. They are also incredibly good at creating online communities, which is almost crucial to sustaining the network.

Q: What will, or do people get out of this?

An important consideration needs to be to thought about in terms of people’s investment and time. What do people get out of using it? Sadly, there’s no money to give away for people. But I hoped they weren’t motivated solely by cash.

When I think about what people get in return, I think about what designers and modders get in Steam. True, sometimes they get a financial return from Valve for their work if it’s high quality. But I’d wager that they are more pleased to see their work become official to Valve’s games. Very well-designed items have the reward of being implemented into a game for use by other players.

Determining what is well-designed is not just down to Valve’s decision. Community members frequently comment and rate others’ works, using either a star rating or positive reviews. The more coverage one’s work gets, the more it gets prominence.

For my system, I would like to use a similar style. For my system, I believe what people will get out of it is the ‘two Rs:’ respect and recognition. Academics love seeing their own works published and used by others. Don’t tell me they’re a modest bunch! Fact is, we all love our works being out in the open.

Respect and recognition amongst your peers…is a positive thing. To research and develop an integral piece of work that helps people understand a topic deserves some praise. I’ve seen academics use others in their own work as cited sources. Why is that? Because they’ve seen that their work is important enough to include in the discussion.

My system would allow for people to showcase their works like modders do on Steam. Others can comment too, sparking discussions if need be.

Q: How will this be achieved?

Steam functions as a separate system from the internet. Essentially, it gets installed onto the computer as its own program, but uses the internet to operate. The system is written in C++ and Objective-C languages.

Since these are beyond me, my system will most likely be a website interface. In order to realise this, the first step is to design a wireframe sketch. This will be discussed more the in the next post, but what it allows people to do is draw their design, which helps to visual how things work and how the user interacts with elements. It’s an important step in any design process; planning always is.

There also needs to be consideration into how exactly the site will be layout. What I mean is where to do things go, where are they positioned? Such questions can be answered using the wireframe because it’s important to understand that the user needs to have an easy time using it. Once we’ve achieved this part, we can look into designing it proper.

The Dark Side Of Academia

Bullying is a problem that is prevalent online as it is in real-life. Sadly, this issue also occurs in academia, the audience my project is aimed for. Following on from the last post, we discuss some of the bullying issues and how it will impact my idea.

When first introduced to a grad student whose research was in a field closely related to mine, the student said “I’ve never heard of you.” Then, in case this comment was a bit too subtle for me, he added “You must not publish very much’ – FSP, 2008.

Bullying in academia tends to be (generally) about sniping at each others’ credentials, whether it is about published works, line of research or academic title. The above quote is an exampled termed the ‘insulting academic bully’ syndrome. They are people who spout ‘aggressive, bullying things that under normal rules of social engagement would not be acceptable to say and then uses those same rules of conduct to hamstring the other person’ (Chaos, 2008).

In many ways, it is not too dissimilar to other, more ‘mainstream’ forms of bullying. The person most likely to be bullied is always the new kid on the block.

New academics can sometimes be overwhelmed by the amount of work. ‘The current market-driven university model makes communities of practice more difficult to achieve; thus, new academics who are consumed with work find themselves isolated’ (Goodman-Delahunty and Walker cited Cantwell and Scevak, 2009: 166). As a further result, newer staff find that opportunities, such as being mentored by research supervisors, are thin.

This lack of opportunity can seriously stall one’s career. In their research into Australian academic practices, Goodman-Delahunty (in Cantwell and Scevak, 2009: 166) explains that ‘few university departments undertake to familiarise new academics with these rules.’ ‘These rules’ are regulations from other educational bodies such as the Australian Research Council (ARC) that publish various research journals. Failure to understand the processes can led to new academics with missed opportunities to ‘promote’ themselves. People like seeing their own written works published as a sign of achievement.

Promotion is often a very difficult and unpredictable outcome for new academics. Do you know that old saying of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know?’ This mantra keeps flowing around job seeking, but in academia; ‘an alarming reality in a profession which allegedly values knowledge above other industries’ (Goodman-Delahunty and Walker cited Cantwell and Scevak, 2009: 166). In addition, promotion can be swayed using letters of recommendation. This isn’t unusual, but this does pose to risk that academics have to ‘suck up’ to established institutions like Harvard in order to be recommended.

Like most of society, academia is mainly male-dominant due to historical connotations. I mean, how many woman were allowed into universities back before they could? ‘More women are being ‘let in’ to academia, but relatively few progress to senior levels…past the level of Associate Professor…those that do…have higher divorce and separation than men, because of the multiple pressure points in managing a demanding career, maintaining a relationship, caring for children, and, in some cases, caring for aging parents (Probert 2005). In short, women in academia have had to put their career advancements on hold to care for children/families.

One of the major problems in academic life is the lack of resolution of inter-staff differences, i.e. ‘the fighting is so vicious, because so little is at stake.’ ‘Infighting centres on teaching tools and access to financial resources…office space, wall space…academics can be extremely territorial regarding research specialities: knives can be drawn when others are perceived to encroach upon someone’s research domain’ Brown and Robinson, 2010).

As humans, each one of us will have different opinions on certain subjects, and this is no different in academia. This difference in opinion, however, can led to ‘differences in theoretical orientation, research approaches and values and this can lead to substantial conflict’ (Goodman-Delahunty and Walker cited Cantwell and Scevak, 2009: 167).

One of the reasons that academia bullying is less known is because the bullying tactics are more subtle. These include commenting on one’s credentials, as well as talking behind their backs. Once again, women experience this more than men, in a process called ‘mobbing.’ This is when a person is subjected to accusations (mostly false), humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse, and less chance of promotion. The ‘bully’ is often the senior supervisor or a person in higher power.

Westhues (2006) has conducted various studies, which shows the level of academic brutality. ‘Productive and hardworking academics when were effectively ostracised and subjected to ‘death by silence’ until they experience career assassination. Findings of unfair targeting by independent investigators are routinely ignored, leaving aggrieved academics little option but to quit or purse complaints through external agencies’ (Goodman-Delahunty and Walker cited Cantwell and Scevak, 2009: 168).

Obviously we can’t discuss the big issue in a single post. However, I hope to highlight some of the major issues about bullying within academia. Although most of the text was dealing with Australian universities, I’m inclinded to believe the same happens over in the UK. Sadly, it seems women are more likely to experience this. Whilst universities are now more determined to promote equal opportunities to staff and students, the problem of bullying still exists. Nobody likes to be singled out and nobody deserved to be bullied.

A solution suggested by Cantwell and Scevak (2009: 166) was ‘creating communities…can be highly effective….new academics will benefit from research collaboration and from a mentor’ Additionally, ‘inter-university networking with academics in the wider professional community is advantageous. Networking with other academics facilitates survival in academia, is a mechanism for social support and broadens one’s perspective. The tribulations of academic life can be discussed with people whoa re aware of the circumstances and constraints, but are not directly involved with the same institution.’

Foreshadowing are we? Creating an online platform like Steam is what I was thinking, and if the above account is anything to go by, this can help with people experiencing or have experienced bullying. A lot of considerations here. I don’t want to lose focus of the original idea, which was to allow people to share and collaborate, but I can definitely see an opportunity here. We’ll discuss this in later posts.

Anyone interested in the book I used, it’s ‘An Academic Life: A Handbook for New Academics’ by Robert Cantwell and Jill Scevak, 2009. Australian Council for Educational Research. p. 168

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=iziJW_nAY7oC&pg=PA168&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

The quote at the top was from a blog by Professor Chaos (don’t ask me why).

http://profssrchaos.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/academic-bully-symptoms-and-diagnosis.html

The Bad Side Of SN

(Educational) social networks are already in use in schools. We’ve talked about some of them previously. But what about the risky side? There are concerns about any social networks, especially with younger people. I will be using Nancy Willard’s article ‘Schools and Online Social Networking’ as a basis for this post.

Social networks have a certain resonance with younger audiences. ‘Educators working with middle and high school students likely are aware of the explosive interest and involvement of youth in such online sites’ (Willard).

Welcome to the world of online social networking. One of the biggest concerns with younger people, is the fact that these sites allows people to make connections with other members as so-called ‘friends.’ Whether they are friends or not is a worry to teachers and parents alike.

We should be careful that the creators of such sites never had a bad intention from the start. ‘Problems are associated with these social networking sites, but the sites themselves generally are not the problem. Review the sites and look at the User Agreements or “Terms.” These sites do seek to prohibit harmful activities. But with hundreds of thousands — or millions — of registered members, the sites cannot be expected to engage in effective “babysitting”‘ (Willard). Does anyone ever read the small print? No? Me neither.

There are benefits for social networking within educational purposes. Because there are more resonance with younger people, they are more easily able to self-express themselves and make genuine friends. ‘Youth “play time” in such environments can build skills that will be a foundation for career success in the 21st century’ (Willard).

The Bad

Willard argues that the legitimate concerns about youth involvement with these sites can be broken down into three basic factors: 1) sites are attracting many teens, some of whom are not making good choices; 2) Many parents are not paying attention to what their children are posting on the sites; 3) Sexual predators are attracted to places where teens are not making good choices and adults are not paying attention.

She lists several unsafe/irresponsible activities that youths do:

  • Unsafe disclosure of personal information — providing potentially dangerous or damaging personal information. Many teens appear to have no understanding that what they post in those communities is public, potentially permanent, and accessible by anyone in the world.
  • Addiction — spending an excessive amount of time online, resulting in lack of healthy engagement in major areas of life.
  • Risky sexual behavior — becoming seduced by a sexual predator or child pornographer, posting sexually suggestive material or self-producing child pornography, or making connections with other teens for sexual “hook-ups.”
  • Cyberbullying — being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material online or through a cell phone, or by engaging in other cruel actions.
  • Dangerous communities — at-risk youth making connections with other at-risk youth or adults to discuss and share information, which can result in a shared belief in the appropriateness of potentially very harmful activities

At this age, younger people are not ‘expected’ to know between right or wrong. Clearly, the above is wrong but  younger people generally don’t care, or more worryingly, don’t realise this is wrong. Put your mindset within a young context; would you be responsible when your parents aren’t looking?

Unfortunately, this is a problem that will be extremely difficult to solve. Because social networks allows for people to communicate, it will be hard pressed to regulate the tons of data traffic. In short, the risks/issues above will be prevalent. But there are ways in which schools/parents can reduce the risks.

The #1 Issue For Schools

‘When the Internet first came into schools, the primary concern was youth access to pornography. Filtering software was promoted as the tool to effectively deal with that concern. Current concerns deal more with what students are posting, as well as how and with whom they are communicating. Do a search on the terms “bypass Internet filter” and you will see how easy it is for youth to find information on ways to get around the school filter’ (Willard).

‘Should schools be concerned about off-campus Internet activities? Yes. Involvement in those communities might negatively impact student well being and the quality of the school environment. Students might post material on the sites that harms other students, provides clues or direct threats about suicidal or violent intentions, or provides indications of hate group or gang involvement, or drug sales and use’ (Willard).

What Can Be Done

‘A comprehensive approach to addressing student Internet access is necessary:

  1. A clear policy with a strong focus on educationally valuable use of the Internet — no “Internet recess.” The policy must be supported by curriculum and professional development, and a clear expectation for teachers that all student use of the Internet should be for high quality, well-planned instructional activities.
  2. Student education about online safety and responsible use.
  3. Effective technical monitoring.
  4. Appropriate consequences. Schools and districts should consider a full review of Internet use management policies and practices. A needs assessment and evaluation of Internet use would provide helpful insight. Safe school personnel must be involved in that process’ (Willard).

Another solution should be that all school personal – from the Head Teacher to Officers – must be made aware of these sites and the following concerns. It is no good letting the class teacher know about it if it doesn’t go straight to the top. These issues affect the entire school.

This is also important when it comes to the parents. Most internet use – sometimes unrestricted – occurs at home. ‘Schools can help by providing information and guidance to parents and encouraging parental involvement in their children’s online activities’ (Willard).

Willard argues that a ‘block/filter’ approach on internet access or within social networks is only a short-fix option. The more you deny someone access, the more determined they are to find a way around.

It seems that the long-term solution appears to be within the same way teachers are drilling maths and science into kids: teaching. If people learn what’s dangerous, then perhaps this will have an impact for them to be more careful. It seems the same approach is needed. ‘Proactive strategies to help students gain the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make safe and responsible choices, and continued adult involvement are necessary’ (Willard).

To read Nancy Willard’s article ‘Schools and Online Social Networking‘:

http://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/issues/issues423.shtml

The Inner Workings of Valve Part II

So I’ve been talking about Steam for some time, discussing what it is and how it generally works. One thing we haven’t talked much on is the history of Steam. More specifically, what was it that made Valve decide to create the system? In this second part of this written documentary, we discuss the ways in which Steam has grown to become the force it is now.

‘One of the things that the internet represents is an enormous broadening of distribution channels…opens the door to titles that would have difficulty finding and developing an audience otherwise’ – Gabe Newell on Steam, 2009.

It was 2004 and Half Life 2 had finally been released to much anticipation. Game critics were quickly lauding it as a piece of ‘perfect art’ and ‘redefining the gaming culture’ (or words to that effect). It eventually would set the benchmark to fellow games companies about the capabilities that games can achieve, especially in regards to the game’s physics engine.

But Valve had struck a one-two punch. Along with Half Life 2, Steam was officially released. From the beta testing previously, they had manage to address many of the problems from before. It still wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was much better improved.

By 2005, Valve had secured the first of its publisher deals, fulfilling one of the project goals of cutting out the ‘middle man’ of game sales. In 2011, Forbes estimated that Steam sales accounted for roughly 50-70% of the $4 billion for the online PC games market. As Steam become more and more bigger, various videogame companies saw the sales potential of the system and started marketing their games. They varied: some were triple-A titles, others were smaller indie-style games.

Regardless of who made them, they were available to buy and play. Steam has changed the market landscape for PC games in the same way that Amazon had changed the landscape for various goods, including videogames. We’ve seen from earlier posts that Steam holiday sales help with this process. Valve doesn’t usually publish their actual sales figures but you can bet it’s pretty high.

From being an unstable system that sagged underneath the weight, to a polished and significant system, Steam is almost a rags-to-riches story. It’s no laughing matter.

I don’t want to act as a Steam salesman. But it’s hard to ignore the facts that make Steam into the force it now is. It now sells over hundreds of different titles at substantially cheaper RRPs. It now has automatic update downloads, which has been perfected over time to become nothing more than just a sit and wait. It has a user base of close to 35 million. I am one of them.

Something I didn’t mention a lot, but is really important, has been spoken by Gabe Newell himself. He spoke of Steam allowing doors to open for people wanting to promote their products/ideas. This is something that Steam has allowed people to do. By introducing the Workshop/Greenlight options, and allowing other developers access, Steam has effectively opened a very large door to opportunity.

This is largely to do with the modernization of the internet itself. When Steam first came out, to do those things would have been technologically difficult to implement. But it present an enormous opportunity for commerce. Not only would it help promote their Half Life 2, but Steam would also begin to trend of internet buying. And bang, the door has been kicked down.

We’re now seeing all sorts of projects on display. Valve has always taken a dedicated view on their community activity. We’re seeing all sorts of weird and wonderful games, and getting to know people, as Gabe quite rightly said, would have trouble developing themselves.

I think the important issue for my own project…is to allow it so that people can have the option to ‘develop themselves.’ Not necessarily in making videogames, but in academic projects, works, documents. The internet provides us with the biggest space available for communications (if we ignore the Earth entirely), and a social network-style system would allow this to be achieved. The possibilities are…expansive.

The Inner Workings of Valve Part I

So we’re pretty much at the end of summer. It’s been good while it lasted. See you next time.

So I’ve been talking about Steam for some time, discussing what it is and how it generally works. One thing we haven’t talked much on is the history of Steam. More specifically, what was it that made Valve decide to create the system? There must have been a reason. So make yourself a cup of tea, and sit comfortably.

‘One of the things that the internet represents is an enormous broadening of distribution channels…opens the door to titles that would have difficulty finding and developing an audience otherwise’ – Gabe Newell on Steam, 2009.

It’s early in the new millennium, something like 2002/3. Households across the world were beginning to have access to broadband, and by extension, the internet. Yes, broadband back in the day weren’t especially fast; nothing like 2013’s fiber optic cables sponsored by Usian Bolt and co. Anyone remember dial up, the precursor to broadband? I do. Oh man, the memories.

In terms of online gaming, in the 90s was arguably the decade where it started to kickoff. We had the rise of first-person shooters such as Doom, Unreal Tournament, Quake, Counter-Strike, and that’s the popular ones. Multilayer was beginning to become a staple in videogames we know today.

Because internet connection back then was sketchy, fixing a game problem proved to be extremely problematic. For Valve, Counter-Strike was proving to be extremely popular with the online community (was also played in dedicated internet cafes), but it was always prone to the odd bug. A patch to fix this, back in the day, would have resulted in a large part of the community being disconnected. People were getting cut off and it would take some time before they could be reconnected. Understandably, not everyone was best pleased.

It was this that caused Valve to come up with the idea of developing a single platform that would automatically update all their games without this issue. Going under the early names of ‘Grid’ and ‘Gazelle’, Valve got to work on this single client.

What was shown to the public in 2002 at the Games Developers Conference was an early build of a distribution network – a network that would allow easier dispersing over the internet. Steam would allow users to install and play applications faster than if installing from the physical disc. ‘The technology will also let users access their applications from their PC by logging into their Steam accounts. In addition to streamlining the installation process, Steam will eliminate the hassle of dealing with downloadable patches and updates. Another advantage of the new distribution technology is that it eliminates the overhead costs of traditional physical distribution’ (Walker, 2002).

Essentially what we have then is a system that does a lot of the physical work for us. It did what it was proposed to do, which was make updating games more stable and user-friendly. Additionally, Valve has also made it so that many of the processes work through their system. For example, installing, playing and buying games/applications now are on Steam. This eliminated the need to necessarily buy from the shops, containing it online.

This latter point was important as at the same time, people were wise to the fact that Valve were developing the sequel to their acclaimed Half Life, simple called Half Life 2. This presented the perfect opportunity to showcase Steam, in which Half Life 2 would run from. It’s anticipation would draw in a large audience.

During the beta testing for Counter Strike 1.6, the early Steam was made downloadable. Valve had hoped to test Steam’s ability to streamline patches and updates for online games. Approximately 80,000 – 300,000 gamers tested the system. The good news was that a large testing base was present. The very bad news was that it was a learning curve for Valve. The amount of traffic caused a massive strain on Steam and it struggled to breath underneath the weight of thousands of people playing the game at once.

‘This issue scars the pants off of us. Every time we think we understand the aggregate demand that can be created by the community, we find that we have underestimated it catastrophically’ – Gabe Newell, 2003.

The early days of Steam were marred by buggy software, bandwidth chokes and performance issues. Definitely not what Valve wanted. It got worse for them as thousands of frustrated gamers took to the forums or newsgroups to make their voices heard. Valve’s vision of Steam was quickly killing them.

Those lucky enough to get the software to fire up was hit in the face with a lengthy wait for patching. Sometimes they could be as much as 350MB’s worth, and in those days that was an eternity to download. The servers used where under pressure, resulting in many of these being down. This was of course ironic. Steam’s purpose was to smooth out this problem; instead it led to a disruptive distribution method that angered a lot of people.

I think we can forgive Valve here. Internet back then was not the super-fast broadband we have now, so the capabilities were not as steady.. What is an advantage for them is that Steam is free, which at least cushions the blow. But with Half Life 2 due soon on Steam, they really did need to get this sorted out as quickly as possible.

A Hot Gust Of Steam Part II

Hello good people of the world!

For a while I’ve passed Steam over with other work, but now is the time to come back to the main subject. In the last three posts, we talked about some of the issues of why people use Facebook. Although the authors couldn’t come to a solid explanation, some interesting ideas were raised that proved useful. I want to to the same with Steam; why people like to use the system again and again.

I will be using William Usher’s article ‘Why People Love Valve and Steam? Ten Simple Reasons.’ This is the continuation from the previous post, detailing reasons 6-10.

6. Support for Content Creators

Traditionally, people were stopped from creating related-content because of the threat of legal action from the owners, which is understandable. ‘Valve, on the other hand, encourages gamers to step out of the box and encourages content creators to experiment with the Source Engine and publicly available tools. This, again, helps to expand a game’s community and the market valuation of said title’ (Usher, 2013). The result is that a steady stream of new content gets released which adds more layers to the game. In addition, content-creators also get paid for their work (such as ‘hats’ in Team Fortress 2). ‘When was the last time EA, Ubisoft or Microsoft setup a program to help modders make some dollar-dollar bills off their contributions to a game? Heck, when was the last time any of those three supported open modding for their games?’ (Usher, 2013). Erm…NEVER!

7. Promotion of Total Conversions/Remakes

‘While companies like Square Enix, Activision and Warner Bros are keen on sending out cease and desist letters, Valve does just the opposite, encouraging gamers, tinkerers, modders and designers to take that long road down the pathway of software exploration, so much so that the team that remade the original Half-Life into a total conversion called Black Mesa received Valve’s blessing and even managed to get approved on Greenlight’ (Usher, 2013). Other popular titles like Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike and Dear Esther started out as mods themselves and are now full games in their own right. Valve’s open stance on this issue meant the community could experiment and develop without having to worry about being sued for millions.

8. Third-Party Distribution Support

It’s not just gamers who are into Steam. With Steam growing in popularity and significance, fellow game developers are seeing an opportunity to market their own products on the system too. They pay a license and their games get featured on the Steam Store. Users buy the game and are given a special ‘key’ to input. Once verified, they can then play the game. They are also covered by automatic updates. From the Store, users are treated to a vast array of different games from different publishers. The problem is definitely choice!

9. Big Picture Mode

‘Big Picture Mode removes all the PC-centric windows and navigation and basically turns Steam into an Xbox Live-looking dashboard except without any of those annoying ads and no promotions from Doritos and Mountain Dew. The only thing you get in Big Picture Mode are the games you play, the games you want to play and the games you can buy'(Usher, 2013). This service is aimed for those more comfortable using a gamepad rather than the computer-centric keyboard and mouse. I personally like having a keyboard/mouse combo. ‘This also effectively removes that urban legend hanging over the PC platform that labels it as a confusing to use and cumbersome device, relegated only for man-nerds and girl-geeks. Now, with Big Picture Mode, even dude-bros, grannies and Wii owners can game on the PC with ease’ (Usher, 2013). Happy days for everyone!

10. Steam Holiday Sales

You know it’s Christmas when shops are pimping themselves out with ‘special sales’ in November. This simply is a must if you want people flooding in. Steam is the same. ‘Even though all those other features are great and Valve has really helped turn Steam from a steaming pile of dung (primarily during the mid 2000s) with some streamlined updates and upgrades, the one thing that helps Steam stand apart from all the competition are the holiday sales. You can get just about any and every game for an even cheaper price than what they’re usually available for’ (Usher, 2013). Summer and winter are the main hotspots for sales, with indie/major titles going for little as 75% of its full price. It really is that time. Who wouldn’t want to save more than £20 on a major title? Users can also vote to see which  games they’d like next on the sale, with each selected sale refreshing after 24 hours. Christmas comes early.

Those are 10 simple reasons why people continue to use Steam. Obviously it is not a definitive list, but certain makes sense. As s Steam user myself, I agree with all the points. Steam has come a long way since its inception in 2004. I can’t really think of much competition for it, especially on the PC market. Rivals should take note of how Valve treats its community. All I can say is that Steam will continue to grow. Whether this is for the better or worse remains to be seen.

Here is the link to William Usher’s article ‘Why People Love Valve and Steam? Ten Simple Reasons.’ Enjoy.

http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Why-People-Love-Valve-Steam-Ten-Simple-Reasons-57115.html

A Hot Gust Of Steam Part I

Hello everyone! How are we doing lately?

For those of you who read from the first blog entry, I wanted to focus on Steam. Steam is a social network/online platform/digital rights management system created by Valve, in which the primary market is for online gamers or modders. Think of it as Facebook for gamers.

For a while I’ve passed Steam over with other work, but now is the time to come back to the main subject. In the last three posts, we talked about some of the issues of why people use Facebook. Although the authors couldn’t come to a solid explanation, some interesting ideas were raised that proved useful. I want to to the same with Steam; why people like to use the system again and again.

This will be important in helping me visual how I will setup my final project design. For the next two posts, I will be using William Usher’s article ‘Why People Love Valve and Steam? Ten Simple Reasons.’

1. Offline Mode

Whilst Steam mainly requires an internet connection for many of its community features, you don’t necessarily have to be connected to play. ‘So long as you’re not trying to play an MMO, just about every game in your library already downloaded, installed and run at least once, is available in offline mode. You can even have Steam start in offline mode whenever you boot it up and it can stay that way indefinitely’ (Usher, 2013). The offline mode had many issues when Steam first went live, but after several fixes, offline was made to run smoothly enough for people who didn’t always want to be online. This provided people with extra leverage for those wanting to remain offline.

2. Free-to-use Service

Luckily for Steam users, the system has always been ‘free.’ In an age where digital commerce/extortion is rife, Valve decided to give Steam a free-to-use model. ‘Back before digital distribution was big in the 2000s, we had to deal with paid services like the very first iteration of Xbox Live known as the Microsoft Gaming Zone, which hosted some games for free but then eventually had a charge to access a larger library of games and features’ (Usher, 2013). Of course, there are some features that need to be paid, such as buying games. Generally, allowing for an open model maximizes potential audience base so that Steam can get bigger.

3. Automatic Patching

You play a game for several months and you find it is so buggy, you wonder why you paid all the dosh for it. The you have to find bug fixes, or patches. ‘Back in the day if a game didn’t work right or required a patch you would have to go through the trouble of visiting the publisher/developer’s website and manually downloading the patch’ (Usher, 2013). Not with Steam; the system does it for you. When patch is ready, Steam will automatically download it and compile for you: all the user does is just sit and wait. It’s like Steam is your butler.

There are times when the frequency of patches gets frustrating. They can even break then game rather than help it.  ‘Things like Garry’s Mod or Half-Life, the frequent and uncontrollable updates can sometimes break the game, and given that turning off automatic updates doesn’t always work as intended, it can create a bit of headache’ (Usher, 2013). However, I’d argue that if you asked every user, they’d rather have this feature than not.

4. Steam Greenlight

Valve’s recent addition of their ‘Greenlight’ service has seen Steam become a place for barter. Greenlight is a service where gamers can ‘vote’ for upcoming indie games (made by modders) to become full retail games. ‘Allowing gamers to vote for the games they want to buy and play only makes sense, as opposed to relegating all non-publisher indie titles to a back-corner section…Greenlight really does bring a democratic meritocracy to the whole indie community because games people want to play can be voted for by people who want to play them’ (Usher, 2013). By giving people the chance to search and vote for games that they feel deserve to be made public, Valve really is sending out a message that it keeps its community close. Because of Greenlight, we now have games such as Vector, McPixel, and the addictive Surgeon Simulator. It is very similar to Kickstarter in this regard; giving people the tools and opportunities to get their work out there.

5. Steam Workshop

Related to Greenlight, the Workshop is the place where budding indie developers showcase their works-in-progress, regardless if they don’t look pretty. ‘This web-based software tool shed enables gamers, developers, modders and tinkerers alike to create, modify and upload their creations for Workshop-compatible games and share those creations and mods with everyone. This here is part of the lifeblood of the growing community and gamer dedication to the pro-consumer Valve machine’ (Usher, 2013). This is perhaps the biggest indication of Valve’s dedication to its community base. This is where people get to be creative as possible, and Steam gives them the tools to do so. There are now thousands of entries – good and bad – but the story is that this speaks volumes of Valve’s commitment to its base.

That’s it for Part I. Stay tuned for Part II. to be continued…immediately!