Gabe Newell has a vision for Steam, and he can’t shake it.
Steam has already changed the way PC gamers look at games, almost completely eradicating physical media from the western PC games market. Of course, we still have draconian data transfer caps in India, so we haven’t yet been able to fully realise the benefits of Steam. But where it is viable, it rules unmatched. Now Valve is looking to capture the console market, with it’s ‘Steam Box’ offerings that can be plugged into TVs, much like your regular consoles.
But how will that change the platform itself? Valve’s head honcho, Gabe Newell, has some ideas. During a recent talk given at the University of Texas, he outlined Steam’s direction in the coming years.
1. Doing away with the approval process
Gabe wants Steam to be an open platform, much like the Google Play Store. He says:
There’s so much content coming at us that we just don’t have enough time to turn the crank on the production process of getting something up on Steam. […] we’re creating artificial shelf space scarcity. […] So Steam should stop being a curated process and start becoming a networking API.
Which is an interesting position to take, as much of Steam’s popularity comes from it’s reputation as the be-all and end-all of PC gaming. As it stands, if your game makes it on Steam, you’ve made it. You’ve reached the pinnacle of PC gaming, and can call yourself an ‘indie developer’ without looking like an idiot. And reputation is very, very important to brand value. As much as I love the Play Store’s open nature, it does lead to a lot of low-quality, dud applications; even the odd malware gets in. Steam can’t afford that. How will this work? Only time – and Gabe – can tell.
2. User generated stores.
Another interesting feature, one that could’ve come from nary a mind but the man himself. He wants to do away with store listings done by the publishers. I quote:
Another piece of Steam is the store. The store is… I don’t know about you, but I think the store is really boring. It’s like this super middle-ground marketing thing. Like, oh, here’s a list of features in our game.The stores instead should become user-generated content.
Other companies can take advantage of this as well, but if a user can create his own store — essentially add an editorial perspective and content on top of the purchase process… then we’ve created a mechanism where everybody, in the same way we’ve seen a huge upsurge of user-generated content with hats, we think that there’s a lot of aggregate value that can be created by allowing people to create stores.
He wants to create a marketplace where you can put up the details for games. Right now, you open up Steam, you go to a game’s page, where the features are listed by the publisher, and decide if you want to buy it. With Gabe’s idea, you can create your own store. You can create your own feature lists for games, upload your screenshots, take your own videos. Obviously no one’s going to care if you’re a nobody, but for famous reviewers like Yahtzee and TotalBiscuit? I’d trust their word over the publishers’ any day.
Of course, I can’t see the publishers being too happy with this. It can’t be completely open, or it would face the wrath of Metacritic’s user reviewers, who mindlessly rate any game they hate a 1/10. But Valve, and Steam, have incredible influence in the gaming industry right now. And if anyone could do it, it’s them.
3. Goodbye Greenlight?
Greenlight has been controversial, to say the least. The feature sounds good enough – users upload their games, people vote for them, maximum votes gets in on the Steam pie. But there was a tiny little problem that Valve certainly should have foreseen – fake and troll games. Half finished, unpolished games being voted for, through money or influence. Games which don’t, and are never intended to exist, being on Steam. Valve’s knee-jerk reaction was to increase the entry fee to $100, and it somewhat worked. But there was still crapware like Towns on the Steam store, which can’t be acceptable.
Therefore, Gabe wants to do away with Greenlight. And somehow, make an even more open platform.
It’s probably bad for the Steam community, in the long run, not to move to a different way of thinking about that. In other words, we should stop being a dictator and move towards much more participatory, peer-based methods of sanctioning player behavior.
Greenlight is a bad example of an election process. We came to the conclusion pretty quickly that we could just do away with Greenlight completely
I personally have no idea how this could work. Greenlight is somewhat of a mess as it stands, and people being able to upload any games without sanction just seems too open to exploitation. But again, if anyone knows what they’re doing, it’s Valve.
These are certainly not features you can expect tomorrow, but a general idea of the direction Valve is taking Steam in. It may seem a little far fetched, but try going back to 1999 and explaining the concept of an online-only gaming store. Change will come, and I’d rather Valve herald it in than anyone else.