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PopCap deal brings Bejewelled and more

Casual arrives, but who will buy? :: August 22nd, 2006 :: New products :: 35 Responses (Feed)

PopCap logoSteam is diving into the casual market with today’s announcement of a distribution deal with PopCap Games, prominent casual developers and minds behind several of the casual industry’s greatest hits.

PopCap’s titles such as Bejeweled and Zuma are benchmarks of the casual games industry; generating over 175 million downloads and three billion player minutes per month. Steam is the first full-featured broadband platform for the delivery and management of games and digital content, and has pioneered its broadband services to over 10 million customers, generating over six billion player minutes per month, with core titles such as Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike.

“The addition of PopCap Games’ expansive library of leading casual games is an important step for the growth of Steam and direct distribution channels,” said Gabe Newell, co-founder and president of Valve. “The benefits of Steam will now be provided to a much wider group of games and game customers. PopCap games by themselves are larger by an order of magnitude than the next-gen consoles online gaming services.”

Initially, 17 of PopCap’s products will be made available via Steam on August 30, 2006. Keeping with PopCap tradition, each PopCap game offered via Steam will be available for a free trial period as well as for purchase. And PopCap collection packages will also be offered.

A large departure, no question about it. Steam has traditionally been aimed solely at high-end titles such Valve’s own or Red Orchestra, with lightweight offerings such as Codename Gordon and Darwinia being rare exceptions.

Who will buy?

Which begs the question of exactly how the games are going to be handled. PopCap co-founder Bryan Fiete states in the press release that PopCap’s titles “appeal to all gamers, and not just some narrow ‘puzzle game’ niche”—strong evidence that they and Valve are aiming largely at existing Steam users, only too aware that those without an existing use for the client (that is to say, the typical casual gamer) will only be bogged down by purchasing through it and subsequently needing it to load every time they play.

Unless, that is, new features are on the way to make it worth their while. Xbox Live Arcade has led the way in this regard with its Leaderboards (online highscores) and Achievements/GamerScore, and it cannot be ignored that Valve’s decision to release Team Fortress 2 on the Xbox 360 has exposed them to Microsoft’s system.

Bejewelled on Xbox Live Arcade
Bejewelled and several other PopCap games have already made a strong showing on Xbox Live Arcade.

Whether that existing Steam userbase (now numbering ten million, up another two million from April) will buy into casual games is a question the two companies obviously feel they have an answer to. It isn’t unfair to suggest that hardcore FPS gamers won’t be as enticed by Bonnie’s Bookstore as the forty-something woman on her lunchbreak who usually personifies the casual market, but there is one hook that a PopCap will surely have considered: Friends.

Long-term Steam users will recall Friends 2.0’s minigames, VGUI2 board and card distractions that could be launched from within any Friends-enabled game when sitting out the remainder of a Counter-Strike round, or as the old features page devilishly suggested, from the desktop while “dodging homework”. Integrating their games into the VGUI system would allow PopCap to capture with one small motion a truly enormous captive audience, all looking for something to pass the time between death and the next round.

Subscriptions are the final point of interest to arise from the announcement. They are popular with web portals thanks to the rate at which casual games can be developed, partly a result of their simplicity and partly a result of their frequent, let us say, borrowing of ideas from existing casual titles. Subscriptions are already a part of Steam, running in the background for the Valve Cybercafe Program, but to this day have never been offered to consumers. With only seventeen titles in the initial batch we could well be seeing the foundations of an option for monthly access to PopCap’s expanding Steam presence, alongside the standard à la carte and package purchase methods of course.


35 Responses to this post:

  1. Andy Simpson Says:

    Well, this is interesting. In many ways, Steam is the PC equivalent of Xbox Live, and this does bring Steam into the same casual games niche that Xbox Live Arcade does on the 360.

    I can see Valve thinking it’s terribly unfair that the Xbox 360 owners will be able to compare their acheivements and PC owners won’t, so I would say it’s a fair bet they’ll correct that.

    I agree that the Steam client is too heavyweight for this collection of casual games. The way I see it, Steam is a collection of services for games, like server listings, authentication, friends stuff, etc. etc. and the Steam client itself is only *really* necessary for the content delievery bit. It’s odd that Valve haven’t pushed these features out in a more a la carte way, like providing online authentication services without having to have the game served over Steam.

    I can’t see any technical reason not to have Steam purchases directly from a web page, for instance, or to load up a game and punch in your Steam username and password to get access to your friends and to play online, or to use some other authentication token.

    For example, say you get game X from a shop. You install it, play online, have some fun, close it down. Very normal. In the background, when you go online, a Steam component contacts the Steam servers, creates a Steam account, registers your CD-Key, and then sends you back the account info, or some equivalent measure of security like a 128-bit number, and the game automatically logs into Steam and then uses Steam authentication. I admit, I haven’t thought this all the way through, but the basic idea is sound(ish).

    The only downside I can see to that is a slight weakness to social engineering attacks that get people to give away their Steam account information to malicious programs or pages, but frankly, that happens enough anyway for it not to be a worry.

    I can see VGUI integration being tricky, but I think the PopCap games have web versions which could easily be integrated.

  2. Film11 Says:

    This is an interesting decision Valve have made. Like the article said, I’m not sure whether the gamers who use PopCap’s products will want to, or indeed be used to, starting up one more application to play their game.

    On the plus side, this will definitely strengthen the anti-piracy measures that are currently in place for PopCap’s games which are, quite frankly, rubbish.

    It’s a good idea to use Steam to compare scores however, as it’s usefulness has already been seen with DoD:S and SiN: Episodes. It will be a worthy replacement for the local scoreboard that is currently in place.

  3. Mikey Says:

    Whoo yeah! Im lovin this, i was gettin into popcap games yesturday and suddenly, they go onto steam, this rules!

  4. Ulf Jälmbrant Says:

    By default steam is always running. desktop shortcuts are fairly easy to make and after getting used to the actual steam interface can offer quite a good view on the available games.

    while the interface is a bit bulky for just installation handling and starting games it’s not terrible by any means.

    but it does give flexibility to play your games on any computer so it isn’t all drawbacks.

  5. bigburpco Says:

    I forecasted this.

    Oh dear.

  6. Tom Edwards Says:

    The Steam client itself is only *really* necessary for the content delievery bit. It’s odd that Valve haven’t pushed these features out in a more a la carte way, like providing online authentication services without having to have the game served over Steam.

    Steam sits in the desktop so that it can provide a centralised access point that interoperates between the various games. Splitting things off is discarding a great deal of what makes the formula successful.

    That said, because the Dark Messiah single-player demo was produced with minimum effort people have been able to get servers running with it which not only show up in the Steam server browser, but IIRC can be VAC secured with a little work. The demo does use a fair amount of Steam stuff, even GCFs, but it is still standalone.

  7. ally Says:

    i thought valve said some time ago that they wernt gonna put casual games on steam

  8. Tom Edwards Says:

    I don’t recall that.

  9. Andy Simpson Says:

    Steam sits in the desktop so that it can provide a centralised access point that interoperates between the various games. Splitting things off is discarding a great deal of what makes the formula successful.

    That said, because the Dark Messiah single-player demo was produced with minimum effort people have been able to get servers running with it which not only show up in the Steam server browser, but IIRC can be VAC secured with a little work. The demo does use a fair amount of Steam stuff, even GCFs, but it is still standalone.

    At the same time, shackling the Steam service to the Steam client will only limit uptake. For an example of what I mean, Gamespy have both a server browsing/game management client and a business selling server browsing middleware. They don’t require you to install the Gamespy client with a game that uses the Gamespy middleware, but it’s an option availiable to you to improve the experience.

    I would love to see Steam operating in a similar way. If you don’t want to have the Steam client running all the time, you don’t have to, but if you want the Steam client as a one-stop shop that server-browses for everything and has a unified desktop Friends client, keeps everything patched etc. then you can. Just with less adverts than Gamespy.

    It’s good that Dark Messiah seems to be going more this way, it seems. Just would be nice if the demo would become an option to launch from the Steam client once it’s installed, even if it’s not stored in the Steam folder. There’s still no technical reason why games have to be installed in SteamApps apart from that Steam would forget where they were if you delete clientregistry.blob!

  10. demm Says:

    I wonder if we will see a new user interface for the games list. Because if you buy that popcap package (17 games) and already own HL and HL2 you will get around 40 games in that list even if you rarely play some of them. Valve has to find a solution for that.

  11. Tom Edwards Says:

    Here’s something I didn’t think about when making the post. Price. PopCap-style casual games are generally fifteen to twenty dollars: the same as Steam games like Day of Defeat, Episode One and X2/X3.

    Pricing casual games that were developed in a couple of months for a few hundred thousand next to those sorts of multi-million titles years in the making isn’t going to look too good. Could this deal lead to some reductions?

  12. hahnchen Says:

    As soon as I saw the front page post, I thought, why not just get the bloody parlour games going, because that’s pretty much what pop cap offers. I can’t imagine the uptake of these casual games in any great numbers on Steam, and it certainly won’t bring new customers onto the Steam platform when they can just play these games in the popcap browser window.

    A tie-in to Friends would be a great feature. But the question has to be asked, couldn’t Valve have done it themselves? These games aren’t exactly hard to code are they. Zuma itself is just a rip off of another existing puzzle game (who’s name escapes me right now). What have Popcap got to offer?

  13. Tom Edwards Says:

    What have Popcap got to offer?

    An established brand, an enourmous back catalogue, and years of experience.

  14. hahnchen Says:

    Sure, popcap have browser classics such as Bejewelled. But why would people want to pay through Steam? Sure, it’ll get a few passing sales, but throw a few Valve parlour games on Steam and you’ve got just a good an alternative.

  15. Tom Edwards Says:

    Have you actually played any of PopCap’s games?

    Also: EPISODE TWO GAMEPLAY, DEAR GOD!

  16. Andy Simpson Says:

    [Comment ID #1334 Will Be Quoted Here]

    I’d say you were over-excited, but I’ve seen ’em too…

    *jaw drops open*

  17. wizpig64 Says:

    I doubt people will be coming to steam just for popcap, but im not the marketing department are i?

    regarding ep2 (pardon my french)
    OMGWTFBBQ! (that first one looks a bit like zen o.O)

  18. Andy Simpson Says:

    Hey, is it just my imagination, or has the beta store gone live?

  19. Tom Edwards Says:

    Yes, there it is. Now on the front page. 🙂

  20. garry Says:

    It’s all good I guess. There’s already games on Steam that I would never buy so a few more won’t hurt.

    Also, Ep2 delayed – Q1 2007 😡

  21. Ed Says:

    Steampowered.com has just died, which made me find:

    http://www2.steampowered.com/

    Which works but seems to be about a year and a half old!

  22. DiSTuRbEd Says:

    Interesting, I wonder who decided to destroy the site? I get an apache web server software installed bs page when I let steampowered.com load all the way.

  23. Andy Simpson Says:

    steampowered.com resolves to two IP addresses, probably for load-balancing reasons. One of the two servers was misconfigured to give the Apache page, but that looks to be sorted now.

    And wow, retro. The status page is frozen in 2004. Wacky. It’s weird how it seems to be plugged into the latest news though.

  24. Tom Edwards Says:

    Good find on the status page. The monthy player count has risen by around 400 000 in two years (2 455 433 to 2 867 538), and available bandwidth has almost doubled (13GB/s to 25GB/s) although usage hasn’t really changed (yesterday’s CSS update prevents accurate readings).

    It’s a shame the readouts are from different times or we’d be able to compare the popularity of the different games. The top four haven’t changed since 2004!

  25. Ed Says:

    You mean 400,000 not 40,000…

  26. hahnchen Says:

    I noticed that kumawar2mp crops up on the status screen, anyone played this new source game? It’s got nothing to with Steam though does it?

  27. Andy Simpson Says:

    Heh, they’ve taken www2.steampowered.com down. Ever have the odd feeling you’re being watched?

  28. Tom Edwards Says:

    And that, gentlemen and gentlemen, was the 1000th comment. 🙂

  29. Andy Simpson Says:

    Mine? Yay! Here’s to the next 1000!

  30. wizpig64 Says:

    Hip Hip Huzzah!

  31. ATimson Says:

    I had a realization: these games aren’t aimed at normal Steam users.

    They’re aimed at their wives.

  32. Jason Says:

    It seems Popcap won’t be the only casual game distro’ed on Steam. Unknown Worlds’ (the creators of Natural Selection) Zen of Sudoku will be making its way to Steam come September.

  33. Jason Says:

    Bleh. I obviously screwed up my tags. That was meant to read” Unknown World Entertainment’s Zen of Sudoku will be…”

  34. Tom Edwards Says:

    And now it does.

  35. e. nonee moose Says:

    The Pop Cap games look way overpriced to me. Pay $20 for Bejeweled on Steam or buy it in the $9.99 and under bin at your local big box retailer. Hrm… not a difficult choice for me.

    I think what Valve really wants is for the Steam client to be included with all future Pop Cap releases. If Valve didn’t get that as part of the deal then this is a total waste of time for them. They aren’t going to sell too many copies of at $20 a pop to their established user base so the only hope is to get the Steam client installed on desktops where it would otherwise never find itself.

    Prediction: Steam will eventually work out a deal with a major PC distributor to include a free game and the Steam client with every desktop they sell.