Over at Ars, there’s an interview Ars had with Valve’s Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman. In case you are unaware, Valve is the game development company that has brought us Counter-Strike, the Half-Life series and Left 4 Dead. Valve is also the company behind the downloadable PC game store, Steam. In the article, Holtman discusses Valve’s success with Steam as a platform for digital distribution of games.
Steam and DRM
I have been using Steam since 2005. At first, I didn’t trust Steam very much. I think I was a little apprehensive about what would happen to the games that I buy if Steam should ever close it’s doors. Steam distributes the games it sells with a form of DRM – a non-obtrusive form of DRM mind you. Some games you buy require you to have a connection to the internet to play. Most do not and you can choose to take Steam “offline” if you want to play a game offline.
It has been my experience, so far, that you can download and install games as many times as you want. Some 3rd party games still come with Activation Limits or Install Limits. However, some of these games also come with programs that you can use to deactivate a game before uninstall, thereby saving you 1 activation.
While I have become more trustworthy of Steam, I can’t help but wonder what the hell will happen if/when Steam dies? I think this is a question that has been asked far too many times and that has not had a clear, precise answer. Will this DRM that Steam uses keep us from enjoying these games we purchase should they go the way of the Dodo?
Purchasing games on Steam within the European Union
There is a lot of [obvious] convenience when it comes to buying games on Steam. You don’t have to go to the store or order games from another online site that will deliver the physical medium to your door. Steam used to charge in US dollars but changed that well over a year or so ago. Since I live in Finland, I have to purchase each game in euros. Fair enough, but the problem is that Steam seems to be charging the same number amount in both euros and US dollars. For example, Steam is currently having a 5-day sale. A couple of days ago, they were selling Left 4 Dead 2 for 25% off. The price in euros was 37,49€. I checked with some Steam users in the States and the price was exactly the same in dollars, $37.49!
Now, $37.49 does not equal 37,49€; it equals 25€ and 37,49€ equals $56. Now, I can understand and expect some price increase if this were a physical medium I was buying the game in, such as a DVD or a CD. Since you have to import the game into the country and we are talking supplies, shipping costs and import taxes. However, this is not the case. What about VAT (Value Added Tax) you say? Here is the price for a game that costs $37.49 with Finland’s VAT of 22% :
- Game in US dollars: $37.49 + $8.25 VAT = $45.74 or 30,55€
- Game in euros: 25€ + 5,5 VAT = 30,50€ or $45.65
So, I have to ask what the heck is going on here? Why is Steam price gouging it’s euro-using customers in Europe?
Steam isn’t the only company engaging in price gouging here in Finland. Finns have been complaining about this since the introduction of the euro. Products and services apparently used to cost way less under the old Finnish mark. My concern here is that some foreign and Finnish companies importing, physically or digitally, products into Finland are keeping their prices at the same number as they are in the States. Counting on the ignorance of Finns who do not understand what is going on here, either because of language issues or they genuinely do not understand. Meanwhile, hoping that the Finnish government will keep ignoring the will of the people as they have been doing in recent years.
I’ll end this by asking asking one more question, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3??? 😀