The Steam Review

Comment and discussion on Valve Software’s digital communications platform.

Steamworks partner site and API launched

API documentation available to the public :: May 1st, 2008 :: Steamworks :: 2 Responses (Feed)

Valve have just launched their Steamworks partner website, and wonderfully, it’s partially open the public.

Are you a PC developer or publisher who isn’t using Steam or Steamworks yet?
If so, read about why Steamworks is the PC gaming platform of the future. When you’re ready, get in touch.

This site covers many of the technical details under Steamworks’ hood. The links below cover some of the basics; once you’ve signed up you’ll get access to much more in depth information about how to make use of all Steamworks has to offer.

Scanning the API documentation it seems that using the tech really is as easy as Valve have made it out to be. Authenticating a multiplayer client takes a single line of C++, and the ever-tricky problem of sending data directly from one client to another is much the same. Valve don’t recommend that developers use the Steam server browser however, which is an odd thing to say considering it’s been one of Steamworks’ selling points in the past.

The other publicly-available page, Running your game on Steam, details the practical aspects of getting your content to Valve. This amounts to:

  1. Create the image
  2. Apply any special settings
  3. FTP it
  4. Wait until it appears later in the day

Again — incredibly, liberatingly simple.

So simple in fact that there isn’t much more to say about it! So here’s GamesIndustry.biz’s recent Steam interview with Doug Lombardi to keep you occupied instead. 🙂

Do you use Steamworks? I’d love to hear from you!


Prey on sale this weekend…for $5

Sales skyrocket, but little media attention :: March 29th, 2008 :: Events :: 20 Responses (Feed)

Get your wallet out. Take2/3D Realms/Human Head have marked down their 2006 game Prey by 80% for one weekend only, sending it soaring past the other Top Sellers entries but, perhaps due to the weekend timing, not earning it much media attention. Which is a shame, because it’s a novel and otherwise effective marketing strategy. What better way to promote the recently (if mistakenly) announced Prey 2 than with the original game?

Prey monster
Prey: absolutely face-meltingly crazy, and very, very violent. £2.90 is a steal.

Before digital distribution this could only realistically have happened at a promotional event. Somewhere 2K could feel confident that copies weren’t being snapped up in bulk for later resale, but also where its impact would be limited to a promotional gimmick. Steam, on the other hand, has blown the doors wide open: it prevents bulk purchases with its already-established credit card fraud prevention, prevents resale at any large scale with its personal user accounts, and invites every gamer from the territories it has distribution rights for to join in.

It’s not just free advertising, but free advertising that people like myself will happily pay to experience — which makes the apparent lack of any attempt by Take2’s marketing team to capitalise further on the situation a mystery to me. There may still be a media onslaught awaiting us all on Monday, but (and call me jaded if you will) the consistent lack of serious effort in exploiting Steam’s potential by third party developers over the years tells me to expect otherwise.

I’m in no mood to end on a negative however. Even if 2K don’t take any further advantage of their sale, it is clearly a more effective use of back catalogue than simply bundling it with newer, full-price releases. Thanks to digital distribution it is a promising and commendable strategy; one that in my opinion should by all rights become a standard practice when releasing sequels.


Splash Damage: “Steam is a third platform”

“There’s the 360, the PS3 and Steam” :: March 11th, 2008 :: Steamworks :: 10 Responses (Feed)

I don’t normally post straight news, but this deserves reporting. Via Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

Jim Rossignol [RPS]: What do you think about Steamworks?
Steve Gaffney [Splash Damage]: It’s great. We need someone to look after the PC platform, and only Valve are really in a position to do that. There’s no downside to it.
Paul Wedgwood [SD]: And there’s a big upside for Valve – to control the PC platform via more Steam subs. But that is a positive thing for other developers.
Jon Hicks [Official Xbox Magazine]: You’re not worried that Valve could turn around and start holding the platform to ransom?
Gaffney: Perhaps, but Steam is like a third platform now. It’s that big. There’s the 360, the PS3 and Steam…do you not think?
Tim Edwards [PC Gamer UK]: I completely agree, I’ve just never heard anyone say it out loud. Every gamer I know has a Steam account, and uses it regularly.

That makes Splash Damage’s next game a Steamworks title in my book! There are some vague details about what we can expect from it in the full interview.

Needless to say, I also agree with Gaffney and the other Edwards that Steam is the PC platform now — it would be madness for a developer to forgo Steamworks, even if they were to employ only its simple distribution and update functions.

(The updated Quake Wars demo Wedgwood talks about was released on Steam unannounced. Oops…)


Steamworks silence

Nothing to say :: February 7th, 2008 :: Steamworks :: 10 Responses (Feed)

Steamworks is a very large and profound change for the PC industry. Unfortunately Valve don’t appear interested in talking to me any more, so there is little I can do for the conversation surrounding it but add unanswered questions. Which I would rather not.

I will instead leave you with Andy Simpson’s guest opinion piece from last year, for reasons which should become clear as you read it, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s interview, which does an excellent job of demystifying a press release that left a lot of its readers in the dark.

I’m sorry about this.


Hibernation

TSR going quasi-inactive :: January 14th, 2008 :: Site news :: 19 Responses (Feed)

I started writing about Steam because the changes it was creating weren’t properly understood by the gaming public. As it became more and more important there was more and more to talk about, and what began as a collection of guides and explainers I could paste into threads on the Steam Forums turned into a surprisingly popular, well-read and on rare occasions very important ‘news’ site.

But as anyone who’s been following my updates for long enough knows, these are lean times. Even the Steam Community has provided remarkably little to talk about: like Steam today in general, it’s there and it works, but nothing of particular interest is happening with it.

It’s clear to me that Steam’s development has plateaued, at least for now. I don’t intend to shut the site down (hopefully that will never happen), but with the articles I have notes for today either entirely speculative or concerning another distribution service there seems little point in continuing to try to produce them. Nor in working myself up over whispers and rumours that turn out to be nothing.

Consider The Steam Review, then, in official hibernation until something comes along so big that it convinces me to pick it up again. Which having made this post will probably be some time next week…

Murphy’s Law strikes again! Eve Online is an addition I’ve coveted for a very long time, and I’m trying to arrange an interview about its future relationship with Steam right now.


The Secret of AWOMO’s Island

GDI reveal their plans :: December 7th, 2007 :: Interviews, Other services :: 22 Responses (Feed)

If there is one thing about the sale of video games that digital distribution hasn’t fixed, it’s the final action of making each purchase. You either pay or you don’t, subscriptions aside, and the binary nature of that choice has a large role to play in the industry’s unhealthy appetite of review scores and constant defecation of sequels.

“Rent-to-Own will be massive”

Reviews, demos and cheaper games all help, yet every one of us will have a story to tell of the time when one or more of them failed us. While other luxury goods are sold in part instalments to resolve these issues, games have always been seen as too cheap to buy and too easy to duplicate to be worth the same treatment.

As I’ve been discovering, A World of My Own’s genius is its realisation that in the age of digital distribution those roadbumps no longer exist. Enter: Rent-to-Own.

Buying with confidence

“Rent-to-Own will be massive as soon as people understand just what it offers them the opportunity to do,” says Game Domain International‘s Rob Donald during our interview. “Any registered user can play a game by paying by the hour, at a rate determined by dividing the full price on AWOMO by the maximum rental period (currently five hours). If the user plays the game for five hours then they will have paid the full cost of the game and won’t be charged any more for playing it. They will own it.”

Add to this scheme Free Time, which provides free access to full versions of games in the programme (Donald assures me these will include recent releases) until the clock ticks down, and it becomes clear that buying from AWOMO is not the moment in time we are used to but an ongoing event. We might start with the demo, move on to Free Time if we like it, initialise Rent-to-Own when we’re more confident, and if we’re still enjoying ourselves later in the day own the game forever and be automatically topped up with Free Time again. Change your mind half-way in? Just step away.

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