FiOS Grand Tournament: nothing happens
To the public, the Steam API currently consists of metadata for mod teams. A “future” Source SDK update will extend it with a Friends SDK for chat plug-ins, but any frameworks for plug-ins to Steam itself remain shrouded. Which made the announcement that the joint CAL-Verizon FiOS Grand Tournament was to be managed through a third party client distributed through Steam, Playlinc, of great interest. What would Playlinc’s “new tricks” be? What would Verizon do to tap Steam’s potential?
The answer to that last question, we now know, is absolutely nothing.
This isn’t as unreasonable as it might seem. Although the chasm that exists between Steam and Playlinc extends to ludicrous extremes, to the point at which tournament members are required to enter manually the results of each match, even when each one takes place on tournament servers, and at which to use the client in the first place one must hold an ICQ or AIM account, there are several factors which could be preventing greater integration, and several more that probably are.
Foremost, Playlinc is an implementation of Orion, which was likely never designed with integration with anything but games in mind. Equally, Steam inflexibilities cannot be ruled out – perhaps a plug-in framework was to be written for the tournament but was not finalised in time. We certainly know what Friends only left its extended beta at the end of May. These things do not excuse the lack of server stat logging, but, in addition to Playlinc’s future as a standalone client, would explain why so much potential has been sidestepped. While it appears ridiculous to demand the use of an external chat service when an internal one is already available and, crucially, extends in-game, it would seem that Verizon have a solid set of excuses.
Elsewhere in the tournament, integration has been more successful. Online events are usually severely limited affairs requiring dedicated clans and strict timetables, and it is only digital distribution and Steam that has allowed FiOS Grand to open itself up to anyone who felt like entering, even if they did not own the game. Playlinc itself allows the dynamic launching of secure servers on Verizon’s hardware, its key feature in fact, rounding off the coupling.
Perhaps the most important piece of wisdom we can take away from FiOS is that it has given concept of plug-ins a boost, no matter how minor it may or may not be. Next time the situation will hopefully be more pliable, and in all likelihood the relevant parts of the Steam API better established. Then we’ll see what can really be achieved.