The Steam Review

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

Atari’s back catalogue on Steam by June?

Mass import of fresh titles :: May 14th, 2006 :: New products :: 39 Responses (Feed)

Struggling publisher Atari’s new GamersFirst initiative seems set to push either a portion or all of their extensive PC back catalogue onto Steam and Direct2Drive as part of a new budget range (thanks Andy T).

Fahrenheit screenshot
Fahrenheit is a confirmed title…

GamersFirst will begin on June 1st at participating retailers and will include a new price point of $19.99 on all existing console titles…[and] all existing Windows titles (excluding the recently launched Dungeons & Dragons Online). Additionally, all Windows titles included in the program will be available for immediate download at Valve and Direct2Drive, also for $19.99.

Atari’s entire back catalogue going online seems unlikely, not only due to the storage requirements on Content Servers, which would surely stretch into the hundreds of gigabytes on each, but due to the varying license agreements with different developers. It is unlikely (but not impossible) that Epic would be happy with Unreal Tournament 2004 being sold through Steam, for example.

Gamasutra seem to have a proper list of titles, and mention Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy), Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure and Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi among others. I have requested a list from Atari and will post as much as I can when and if it arrives.

While storage and bandwidth might prove a headache for Valve, recent Steam technology will keep the workload down for Atari and their developers – crucial if a large number of games are to go online. It’s certain that the Steam Virtual Drive will be used to manage each game’s GCF and extracted content, and it is probably possible to feed Steam-generated CD Keys to multiplayer games, keeping their connectivity without requiring Steam integration. Needless to say though, games using this non-intrusive process won’t be protected by VAC. Neither will they stream, but we’re used to that by now.

Wasted opportunities?

Unreal Tournament 2004 screenshot
…but UT2004 is not.

In some ways, it is a shame to see Steam used as a simple download service (assuming of course that Atari don’t pull something wonderful from their hat). What sets Steam apart from Direct2Drive, GameTap and other such services is its residency and emphasis on communication between developers and their players, and players between themselves. Friends, the desktop server browser, VAC, content streaming, Update News and auto-patching are rarely used by developers other than Valve, and the new functionality of Steam 3.0 hasn’t even entered the equation yet.

This is not to lay the blame at the developers’ doorstep: of the third-party games on Steam today, most are largely or purely single-player, and only Red Orchestra and SiN Episodes were developed with Steam in mind. We also have Valve’s acceptance of back catalogues. None of these are ‘bad’ per se, but still, we have to wonder when third-party developers (those developing for Steam from the start, at least) will begin to make full use of the platform’s potential.

39 Responses to this post:


  1. Andy Simpson Says:

    The trend at the moment does seem to be towards games being retrofitted to support Steam rather than intending to use Steam from the get-go and so you get very superficial coupling to the underlying systems.

    It’s to Steam’s credit that it does offer the simple Virtual Drive method as well as a proper Steam API. Triton for example only offers the virtual drive method, which means that it’ll behave really badly if the game can’t stream fast enough i.e. the game will inexplicably grind to a halt when the game finds itself with an unresponsive filesystem. In a similar situation a Source/GoldSrc game would come to a stop, pop up a loading box, and tell you it’s updating Steam resources.

    Anyways, it’s in some ways quite easy to provide a platform (that’s kinda understating how hard it is, but yeh) and the hard part is to get people to use it properly. It is a chronic shame that even Valve themselves don’t use some of the smarts in the system. At least, the smarts I assume are supposed to still be in there…

    Anyways, I can’t see what Epic would be unhappy about. I’m not aware of them having a competing digital distribution service, and as long as they get their royalty, I can’t see how they lose out.

  2. Tom Edwards Says: