No, the Xbox One is not just like Steam

After a couple of weeks of pussyfooting around and pretending that rules which clearly would have needed to be drawn up months ago were not actually quite ready yet, Microsoft has unleashed its licensing and connectivity outline for the Xbox One upon the world.

It’s a draconian set of principles, plucked from the dampest of publisher wet dreams and designed to remove or alter almost every level of control that a player previously had over their console games.

The Xbox One: a big black box housing the dreams of publishers.

The Xbox One: a big black box housing the dreams of publishers.

“But wait,” ask many Xbox players, pushed face-to-face with monstrous digital DRM for the first time. “Isn’t this just the same as Steam?”

Well, in some straightforwards ways, yes. In many other (rather important) ways; no, not even close.

Here’s where the two are kind of the same:

(1). Both Xbox One and Steam tie games to a user account. Once activated, they sit in your digital library and have restrictions on what you can actually do with them.

(2). Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Here’s how they differ:

(1). Let’s start with the one minor way in which Xbox One’s system is actually more positive than Steam. You can (albeit in a absurdly limited way) re-sell or trade your games; if a publisher allows it, and only at “participating retailers.” It also seems to be possible to give a game to a friend as a one-time transfer. On Steam you can only ‘gift’ games at the time of purchase, or by passing on spare, unused codes.

(2). Ok, now the biggies. Steam won’t stop you playing the games you own if you lose internet access for more than 24 hours. Xbox One has to phone home every day. When functioning as intended (and yes, it’s only fair to say that there have been issues with this,) Steam will let you play games in offline mode indefinitely. If your internet connection is down then you (obviously) won’t be playing much multiplayer or redownloading something from your library, but everything else will work as it should.

That’s a pretty huge difference. Unreliable internet, which only affects … ooh, I don’t know, most of the world that isn’t a major urban area in the United States … doesn’t prevent Steam gaming.

Just another typical day on Steam.

Just another typical day on Steam.

(3). Sales, man. Nobody really likes the fact that Steam ties a game to a lone account and prevents you from selling, trading or doing much of anything with it post-purchase, but the policy is tolerated (in part) because PC digital platforms hold so many regular sales. There is vast, open competition between Steam, Amazon, GOG, Green Man Gaming and the myriad of other digital sellers out there. Hell, even Origin manages a halfway-decent sale every now and then.

A used game market for PC titles has kind of faded into irrelevance, because it’s possible to pick up even major releases for about $5.00-$10.00 USD a mere six months after they come out.

I’m not going to try to predict how Xbox One pricing will evolve in the futu … actually, you know what, yes I am. The exact same closed market of retailers who are selling console games now will still be selling them once the Xbox One is released. Do you think they’ll have a sudden change of heart about their business model and start slashing those $60.00 USD prices? No, neither do I.

(4). Unlike Xbox Live, Steam does not require an ongoing membership fee to access the full extent of its features. Xbox One is going to literally make you pay to not be allowed to do things with your games. Welcome to the glorious connected future.

(5). PC digital is a wacky, wild wasteland of fun. We have to put up with a fair amount of DRM nonsense on PC, it’s true. But that’s offset by all the benefits: modding, indie bundles, alpha/beta tests, variable pricing models. You’ve got everything on PC, from DRM models to rival Xbox One’s (hi there, SimCity) to digital platforms that are 100% DRM free (‘sup, GOG.)

PC digital retailers, yesterday.

PC digital retailers, yesterday.

Hopefully that clears up some of the confusion, and provides a handy set of retorts for the next time someone says “But Xbox One is just the same as Steam! Why are people upset?”

“Yes,” you can reply. “It is the same. Except for all of the ways in which it is completely different.”


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  • sorudo

    they’re still in heavy DRM, the reason why i rather go to GOG.
    a console is suppose to be easy to use, just slap the cd in the console and play.
    now we have to go trough all the DRM crap just like steam, it’s like promiting a VCR and say that this one can also record.

  • babystewie

    Something that often gets overlooked in the Steam/XBOne comparisons is historical context. Before Steam, PC gaming was basically the wild west. If you wanted to play a multiplayer game, you never knew if the server was going to be running the same version of the client you had, and patching it was frustrating and involved hunting for updates on a publisher’s website. With Steam’s instant patching, everyone was going to be playing the latest build. That’s just one of the ways that Steam actually provided value over pirating, which is what PC gamers are battling, and it’s much more insidious than used games. Patching isn’t much of an issue now, but Valve had to win users over with these perks, and now that we’re in their ecosystem, we don’t feel the need to leave. Xbox is not providing the same added value (despite what they’re flowery press release wants you to believe), but they still want consumers to give up the rights they’ve always had.

    The truth is that Steam may have a few of the same “DRM” issues that the XBox one has, but it also had 10 years to mature; Valve has built-up a significant amount of goodwill that Microsoft certainly doesn’t have.

  • Douglas

    Man, i just want to say that i tottaly agree! I am very happy with my 126 games on Steam (most paid with 50%-75% discount). STEAM I LOVE YOU !

  • Kiroptus

    I have never felt that the second-hand market is that big or important, its certainly a niche but it isnt the all-evil-thing which publishers are so scared off.

    Thats why I dont care that I cant resell my games on my Steam acc, it doesnt matter me because I probably bought with a discount anyway, and Steam is a good platform and great for gathering with a community, as soon as I buy one game that was just released my friends are asking what I think of it and the ones who already have it are asking me to play with them and all that.

    What publishers need to understand is that the second-hand market has little impact on their so precious sales, its the game quality that matters, if the sales of a certain title are tanking there are many other factors to look for before pointing their finger at the reselling of games, like pricing, content, gameplay, expectations/popularity of the title’s franchise, etc…

    Anyway… to me, all this ruckus and chaos about Xbox one is so “meh”. I really dont care, I have steam and a good PC, I see all of these complaints and tantrums about it, I am always like: “Guys… why dont you guys buy a PC rig and use Steam?” but console gamers are so resistant and afraid of PC gamming, go figure…

  • sorudo

    i would not go for PC as console player of ppl keep on talking steam, DRM scares ppl and for good reason.
    you can’t resell your game when you don’t like it anymore, you can’t try it and return it for a refund and you most certainly can’t give it to a friend so (s)he can try it too.
    the worst part about DRM is internet, normally you just slap a game in the computer and instal the game, now you are forced to register it on a third party program that eats up RAM space and slows down the computer, sometimes crashing the game.

    if you want console players to come to the PC then make sure you don’t mention steam, that’s pretty much like showing off your girlfriend when she is in her cicle.

  • nasarius

    The Xbox One is a huge gamble from Microsoft – either they win because most people don’t care and restrictive DRM truly becomes the norm among AAA games, or Sony eats their lunch.

    Either way, they’re ceding even more ground to indies and medium-sized studios, particularly on the PC and maybe on the PS4 as well.

  • Llama8

    “a third party program that eats up RAM space and slows down the computer, sometimes crashing the game”
    Currently Steam is taking up ~22 meg of ram out of the 4 gig I’ve got, hardly massive amounts (~0.5%), Firefox is taking up ~280meg (~7%).
    As the article said, Steam used to be a bit ropey & unstable, but after 10 years it’s much more reliable & I’ve never had it crash (though I’m sure some will have) recently.
    From the sound of it, if a console gamer doesn’t like steam, they probably won’t like the new Xbox either, for much the same reasons (& probably some new ones too).

  • Craig

    Bought an xbox 360 years ago because Sony seemed complacent but the Xbone looks very anti-consumer. Maybe I’ll just have to stick to my PC for a year or two and see if they improve. Can’t see that losing my rights to own or sell a game or play it when I want is worth it. I feel sad and disrespected at weasel words I’ve been following so far from M$ and Sony and developers.

  • Craig

    P.S. Just bought Saints Row 3 for $9.99 on steam but I can’t see Xbone games being less than $60 ever. The Xbox live prices never compete with retail copies.

  • sorudo

    22? you mean 50MB, firefox takes 75MB and 150 with youtube on, i have 2GB ram.

  • CorvoAttano

    On the “differences” you listed:
    2) The 24 hour thing is indeed a valid difference and I don’t like it.
    3) Sales. Publishers want profit, that’s all. With unprecedented total control over how their games are sold and resold (or not) they would be absolute idiots not to try out different pricing models. Sales can generate more profit, and the first publisher to realise it will reap the rewards. The rest will follow suit quickly.
    4) Xbox Live is free. There are paid subscriptions, but what you get for your money is stuff that Steam does not offer, so this part of your argument falls flat on its face.
    5) I thought you were comparing to Steam? What does GOG have to do with it?

    In summary, the 24 hour rule is the only one of your points that is actually valid.

  • Tim McDonald

    “4) Xbox Live is free. There are paid subscriptions, but what you get for your money is stuff that Steam does not offer, so this part of your argument falls flat on its face.”

    Except for online multiplayer. You can argue bits and pieces like Netflix and Amazon Video, but the majority of these (not all, admittedly, but most) require additional subscriptions on top of Xbox LIVE Gold.

    “5) I thought you were comparing to Steam? What does GOG have to do with it?”

    That’s a bit of a strawman argument, no? The majority of that point – mods, bundles, alphas/betas, pricing strategies – relate to Steam, but also contextualise Steam as part of a wider environment that simply doesn’t exist with the XbOne.

    I do partially agree with you on the sales point, though. Console game prices rarely fall as far as Steam, but – super AAA titles aside – most games drop in price fairly quickly. Off the top of my head, I saw both Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Persona 4 Arena for half of their RRP a few months after launch, and they drop lower still in the odd sale.

    How these prices will actually be affected by the publishers wresting control away from retailers, though, we’ll have to wait and see. Generally speaking, publishers don’t want to piss off retail because they rely on retail for advertising and putting their games in noticeable places. It’s why the 360’s Games on Demand is rarely even *competitive* with retail prices, let alone cheaper. I’m kind of intrigued to see how that pans out with the XbOne.

  • CorvoAttano


    “Except for online multiplayer.”

    Steam does not provide multiplayer. It does provide a means of browsing for multiplayer hosts (provided the game dev adds Steamworks support to their game) but it does not host the games.

  • unknowngaming

    Steam provides the exact same service that Xbox Live does on the multiplayer aspect. In fact it goes above and beyond by having dedicated servers in it’s own titles such as L4D2, DOTA2, CSGO, TF2 etc. Xbox Live doesn’t even host dedicated servers for any of it’s titles, it’s simply a system that searches for available lobbies that are hosted by players themselves, and searches for players that are also searching for players at the same time, otherwise known as listen servers. This gives a serious advantage to the one player that is hosting, or in some games that intentionally put simulated latency on the host, a disadvantage. All XBL does is matchmaking and in no unique way, it’s identical to the matchmaking PC games and PS3 games use. Anyone who actually thinks Xbox Live makes for better multiplayer is living in a placebo effect of paying for nothing.

  • CorvoAttano

    Obviously Valve provide servers for their own games. Other publishers also provide servers for their games, where required. It’s not a Steam feature, it’s a publisher feature.

    I’ve never owned an Xbox so I’m not sure how it works, but if Xbox Live Gold only allows you to search for games hosted by other players (i.e. does not host the games with dedicated servers) then I’m baffled as to why anyone ever pays for it. Regardless, if that is the case then yes, this is another advantage that Steam has.

    • Thomas

      “Obviously Valve provide servers for their own games.”
      Oh my god, Valve is Steam. Valve has their own games, that yes they sell on Steam, and yes they own Steam, and yes they have their own servers on Steam cause it’s their own games.

  • t3knoman

    also remember I can download 175 games from steam for FREE and i pay no additional fee for access to my library. Oh yea by the way all 175 games I can play on EVERY SINGLE LAPTOP OR GAMING RIG I HAVE EVER BUILT.
    And Steam games is getting ready to introduce SHARING!!!
    That is true innovation. This was MS money grab. If they truly believed what they were doing was going to be innovative they should get rid of the subscription.

  • JCD

    “Unreliable internet, which only affects … ooh, I don’t know, most of the world that isn’t a major urban area in the United States … doesn’t prevent Steam gaming.”

    This is SO wrong. In fact, areas with high speed internet connection are the only place where Steam isn’t a bother. Here’s why-

    Last week one of my RAM modules failed. So I had to take that thing off the computer. And BAM! Steam thinks I’m possibly pirating by (I don’t know: carry my hard disc over to my friends and sharing with him) and must connect to the internet. That’d be great Steam, but I just quit my last ISP before all this happened and it’d be a month before I get a new one. And I can’t run Steam in offline mode until then because Steam thinks I’m pirating?

    Even if I had the internet, places with lousy broadband services isn’t viable enough for Steam either. What happens when STEAM FORCES AN UPDATE on you over a very wobbly network? 10%. FAIL. 12%. FAIL. 2% FAIL. 7%. FAIL. 22% FAIL. 16% FAIL. Or even worse: 99%. FAIL.

    That’s right! Steam doesn’t know how to resume from that 99% next time it’s picked up my feeble connection.

    Because places where internet DOES suck, Steam demands internet like in USA. Go figure.