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!

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