Steam: A Monopoly

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According to The Escapist and several other game journalist sites Steam is on the verge of a monopoly in the digital distribution of games. Consumers don’t want this, developers don’t want this, publishers don’t want this. In fact Valve is the only company who would enjoy it if they became the Walmart of digital game distribution, for a while at least.

The Walmart analogy doesn’t end there though. In the article they mention that Walmart has determined the size of PC game boxes. They refuse to stock them if they aren’t the dimensions that they have demanded, and this causes the gaming industry to meet their demands or lose billions.

Do you want to know another reason for which Steam is like Walmart? It’s because it’s the best out there for what it is. I can get almost anything at Walmart as long as I’m not worried about quality. Honestly I’m not a Q-Tip aficionado and I don’t care if there is a real quality $100 for 10 version, I just want some damn Q-Tips.

With Steam I can get any computer game I want, regardless of whether local stores have it “in stock” or not. I can get it at any time of the day or night, just like Walmart. Of course the same holds true for any digital distribution site, so why will I stick with Steam instead of trying out Direct2Drive or Impulse? The answer is simplicity and extras. With Steam I don’t have to load up my browser, go to their site, log in, look up what I want (if they haven’t decided not to carry it on principle *cough*Modern Warfare 2 *cough*) and then get it. I just click the little Steam icon and I am in a program where I can easily buy something OR launch my games.

The biggest thing for me though? Connecting with my friends and family. If I buy a game through steam I can IM people while in game, I can know if my friends are online, what they are playing and if they just bought a game I really like and if I should invite them to play it with me. And sure, Steam can load non-Steam games and allow some of that, but why would I not buy through Steam if their service is the best around? That’d be like refusing to buy a Mercedes because you can get a Honda Civic with an MP3 player, but the Mercedes costs the exact same in this case.

If Impulse and Direct2Drive want to compete then they need to offer me the same enjoyment I get from Steam, complete with achievements, social networking, video game news, an easy to navigate store, and then add in something I’m not expecting but really want because at this point they are so far behind they need to not only match Steam, but exceed it in order to draw me away.

I hope Steam does NOT get a monopoly. I hope this because competition breeds improvement and I want the best gaming experience possible.
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  1. I had no idea Steam offered so much more other than just digital distribution of games. I guess I use it because it’s the biggest name out there, but I don’t really care about the social networking, achievements or news. In order to draw me away, all a competitor has to do is offer a better price…though I think Steam does pretty well, if they’re not the best in that department already.

    • That’s part of the problem. If Steam gets a monopoly they can determine prices. Amazon right now is the biggest distributer for digital books, and for a long time they demanded of publishers certain prices. Walmart also demands certain prices for books, but they demand that no publisher sells a certain book for less than Walmart sells it for, otherwise they won’t stock the book.

      Steam may or may not have that power right now. Imagine no one else being able to sell new games for less than Steam. Sure Steam will probably still offer good deals like they do now, but add in all the extra stuff they do and there is no reason NOT to use them.

  2. Just wanted to mention a reason why you might not always want to buy from Steam: MMOs have their own patching process.

    I bought Fallen Earth a while back through Steam, as I do the majority of my digital downloads. However I had problems running the game, because it required admin privileges and Steam was not running as admin. Unfortunately Steam didn’t really report this error it just said that the game was currently unavailable. It took a bit of hunting to figure out was what really going on.

    I also remember a lot of Star Trek players complaining because Steam re-downloaded a patch around launch even though the clients had be pre-patched.

    I still buy most of my single player PC games through Steam, but I’ve started getting my MMOs direct from the developer, from Direct2Drive, and from GameStop’s digital service. Just something to consider.

    • This is the truth. I’ve heard terrible things about Steam and MMOs, and the little I dealt with Eve Online on Steam, it was a hassle.

      • So far I have STO through Steam and it hasn’t been a problem. In fact the worst patching experience I’ve had was Games For Windows Live. Still, good points and something to remember going forward. The sad part is that what I love about steam (allowing me to IM people in game who are playing other things or just surfing the net) will keep me at least launching through Steam.

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