Musing on The State of Valve
I used to really like Valve-with a stable of pretty great games and the usefulness of Steam they had done a lot to earn my good will. 14 years ago Valve brought together tons of different games under one roof, made DRM far easier to stomach, and introduced regular sales that ensured that the high entry cost of PC gaming was generally softened.
Valve also implemented numerous quality of life additions like centralized updates, online chat and more. It was a service that did a lot of good in what was once a far less reliable and far wilder market for games. To be true, it was not free of issues and there were ups/downs as the years went on, but for the most part it was a net good and I think it was important for making PC far friendlier for both consumers and developers.
Moving Towards Accessibility
Early on one of Steam’s notable issues was that it could be difficult to get onto for smaller devs. For a time it was quite a feat to get your game onto Steam and many asked that the process be easier and more open. Valve responded in time-coming out with Steam Greenlight. In the words of “Alden” on the Steam blog:
“Steam Greenlight launched on August 30, 2012, at a time when we realized that we weren’t able to predict which titles players were really interested in. Up until that point, a small team here at Valve had been hand-picking games to invite on to the Steam platform, and almost every day we would hear from players wondering why awesome new game X wasn’t available on Steam. The more this happened, the less confident we became that our own tastes were accurately representing the tastes of everyone using Steam. Greenlight was introduced as a way to help our team figure out which games players most wanted, by having those Steam users vote.”
And at first, Greenlight worked as intended. Some good games made it in the first few batches of games. Smaller teams had a far better shot at getting on Steam. A door that had been closed to a lot of smaller teams and games had been opened enough to give a better chance of making it on. However, even then there were some concerns that it was too restrictive. This lead to more indie devs making it onto Steam, but also brought about an unintended by-product by allowing more games to get onto the service.
From a Leak to a Flood
It started as a trickle, with videos and pieces about some really bad games making it onto the service being more of exceptions than the rule. As Valve loosened restrictions again, though, more and more games made it onto steam-but instead of proving a boon this allowed even more bad games to start flooding the store and start drowning out the good games that they arrived with. This led to more and more games getting lost in the lurch, as the amount of games increasingly pushed older games down before they had much time for people to see them. Even with better discovery options the amount of games and their overall quality has dropped significantly.
At that point it was arguable that Steam Greenlight wasn’t working as well as it should be. After much backlash and complaint, Valve decided to make some changes to the way games got onto steam. After shipping in notables including Jim Sterling and Totalbiscuit, Direct was announced to replace the now maligned Greenlight and hopes were slowly raised that Valve would be more active in their curation.
A Story in Numbers
But that’s not how it went and now, after a 2017 that saw Valve on track to release more games in a year than it had released in 2006-2014, Steam is even more full of drek and garbage. Direct, rather than creating a more useful barrier to entry, just opened the floodgates wider and now the problems Greenlight had are simply exacerbated. Valve did little if anything to remove all but the most blatant examples of bad games, and those only with enough outcry to force a response.
And so we arrive to the current state of things, with Valve making an announcement about the curation of Steam. I highly recommend you read the full post for context, but here’s the most relevant passage in my opinion.
“With that principle in mind, we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling…We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in. So if you don’t want to see anime games on your Store, you’ll be able to make that choice…And it’s not just players that need better tools either – developers who build controversial content shouldn’t have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we’ll be building tools and options to support them too.”
Valve has simply taken their unspoken hands off policy and made it official. With this Valve firmly embraces a policy that has soured their reputation, filled the Steam Storefront with garbage and destroyed any pretensions of prestige that getting on the storefront once had. By saying they’ll only remove illegal or trolling games, they’ve put the burden on users to track down games and raise enough issue to see anything done. And given the recent hubbub over “Anime Games” I can only expect in future that what gets removed will be as arbitrary as it is now.
A Portent of the Future
As many of you doubtless know by this point, recently Valve removed some more adult anime-style titles off of Steam, including the notorious Huniepop. This was done with little warning on the part of Valve, and was suspected to at least in part to be via pressure from “The National Center on Sexual Exploitation” which is actually a christian propaganda group going under the name “Morality in Media.” These developers were barely given any information on why they had been removed after years of being on the storefront-alongside other games that are arguably of far lower quality and value.
Had not a huge controversy blown up they might have been dealt some serious damage in terms of sales and future games getting on Steam. It would seem that the uproar caused Valve to reverse its decision within a matter of hours after news sites picked it up, and it also appears that GOG stepped into offer support and a place on their storefront for the games. In addition to showing a lack of understanding of their own userbase and the irony of getting rid of games like this but allowing far worse games to simply clog up the storefront we got a look into how Valve is going to operate going forward.
Call me crazy, but I see that announcement from Valve’s response as washing its hands of managing its own storefront rather than than owning up and taking responsibility for their handling of this event. Years of being on top and slowly becoming the only game in town made Valve bigger and bigger, and with that came the stagnation of a monopoly. Valve doesn’t need to care unless legal action is taken, as is the case for refund implementation.
Rather than try again to ensure a higher quality level in general, they’ve pushed more and more of it off of themselves and onto their users. And now its going to be a concern to devs whether or not some random group will be able to convince Valve to just annihilate them off Steam even if actual effort is put into their works.
I used to really like Valve, but as time has gone on that love has been buried under a tidal wave of indifference and sloth. As of this year they announced they’ll be updating their chat system-but this comes after years of letting it rot and be replaced by other chat services like discord. For myself, the DRM-less GOG has become a far more appealing place to get games than Steam.
I believe there’s little good in the path forward Valve is following despite repeatedly being asked to change. For myself, I can’t say I plan on sticking around unless I don’t have another preferable choice. Looking back at how I used to feel, it’s a damn shame.