Tag Archives: Valve

Steam Does Not Have A Monopoly Over PC Gaming

I recently saw an article on Tom’s Hardware which asks if Steam has a monopoly over PC gaming. It should be noted that at in the headline of the article, Tom’s mentions that some “report” (I’m assuming it’s the linked Tech Radar article) says that Steam, “has a monopoly over PC gaming”. It points to preparation for a Mac version of Steam and explains that the eventual release twists the panties of conspiracy theorists and that fingers are all pointing at Steam saying, “You see! They did it!”

Tom’s links to this article in Tech Radar. While Tom’s declares that this “report” (again, Tech Radar?) says that Steam is a monopoly, Tech Radar merely poses to question to the reader while giving the POV of all sides. My take on this is simple, while Steam is the most successful PC game digital distribution platform, it’s not the only one. This already busts the myth without even mentioning that it’s fair to say that Steam does not control PC gaming. I say control, simply because this is what’s in the dictionary definition of a monopoly. I wouldn’t even be talking about this if Steam didn’t have competitors (like Games for Windows and Direct2Drive) and Valve was forcing game makers to allow it to distribute CDs and DVDs of the games it sells. Direct2Drive sells games for the Mac and PC yet no one will even mention monopoly because, simply, it’s just not as successful as Steam.

In other words, Steam is not a monopoly. So, go relax and have some dip.

Fear of a word

Over in the States, the fear buzzword of the day is Socialism. You’ll be damned if someone points their grimy little finger at you and shouts, “This one’s a socialist!” In the tech world, ever since the big anti-trust cases against Microsoft, if you are called a monopoly, you shit yourself. Just ask Google what it feels like when they become the target of someone’s monopoly rage. Of course, this is not limited to the tech world but my point is that if you repeat a word enough and sprinkle a dash of fearmongering, you’ll get any weak-minded sheep to believe whatever drivel you wish to spew from that hole in your mouth.

Free speech is a pain, ain’t it? 😀

iTunes == Steam?

It wasn’t too long ago that these same questions were being posed when talking about iTunes. Fortunately for Apple, they learned from the demise of the industry whipping boy (Napster) that you need to make deals with the Recording mafia err… Recording companies so you can sell digital files for mass consumption. You need to make it worth their while and you need to show them that it will work. Apple apparently did just that and they became the most successful digital distribution platform for music – and that was before they dropped the crappy DRM scheme!

If anything, people should be thanking Apple for iTunes because now other retailers have gotten their act together and are now selling DRM-free digital music. Places such as Amazon and CDON.fi here in Finland. I’ve purchased music from both iTunes and CDON. I believe the same thing will happen in the digital game area once companies get their act together and figure out how to compete against Steam. To call a more successful company a monopoly, when it doesn’t even fit the definition, is giving other competitors excuses and crutches.

Steam and I, Steam and you

So, am I biased about Steam because I use it? I don’t think so. I happen to believe that someone or something deserves a label when it actually fits the definition of that label. I have bought games from Steam and I have criticisms and questions that I do not believe have been properly addressed.

Some of the comments I read on the Tom’s article are a little silly. They refer to reasons why some do not use Steam:

“I don’t use Steam because I don’t want to re-download the games if something should happen to my computer and I have to reinstall everything.”

-You can make backup copies of your games you purchase from Steam by right-clicking on the game in the Games tab and selecting “Backup game files…” This will create a backup copy that you can store wherever you like. It also creates an installer which you can use to reinstall the game.

“Steam does not allow me to play games offline. I have to be online in order to play.”

-This has already been proven false for most games. This is the Steam support article addressing how to play games offline.

In closing

The whole point of this article was to basically say that Steam does not have a monopoly over PC gaming. In fact, the whole topic should not have even been addressed and it was ludicrous to have even suggested it. In my personal opinion (Read: not fact), both Tom’s and Tech Radar wasted everyone’s time writing fluffy, fear pieces intended to drive up traffic. While Tech Radar gets kudos for merely posing the question to it’s readers, Tom’s fails hard for a sensationalist headline that was not representative of the meaning behind the Tech Radar. Assuming, that is what Tom’s meant by the so-called “report”…


Valve/Steam Rambling

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??? 😀


Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Thoughts

The demo for Left 4 Dead 2 was released last week. After the controversy and boycott groups I finally get a chance to see if publishing a sequel not more than a year after the first was a good idea.

Madden and NHL anyone?

Left 4 Dead 2 charger

The Charger is trying out for the WWE.

Anyone who has played Madden (insert year here), an American football game, or any NHL (insert year here) game on many consoles knows that new versions of these games are released year after year. You could look at these games as simulators. New players are hired to teams in these leagues. Also, players retire, get traded to different teams or they are simply let go. This is the nature of pro sports. This is one of the reasons why new versions of these games are released every year.

Where’s the beef?

The decision to announce Left 4 Dead 2 so early, I think, did not help Valve’s case to justify a sequel a year after the first. This was only part of the controversy surrounding this game. The second part of the controversy was what gamers saw as a promise from Valve to support it by adding new content. What happened instead was the SDK was slow to be released and the only new content released prior to the annoucement was the new game mode, Survival and the one map campaign, The Last Stand.

Left 4 Dead 2 horde attack

Valve staff ready to take on hordes of angry gamers.

I tried Survival and I wasn’t that impressed by it and the The Last Stand just wasn’t enough. I was very excited about the release and a little disappointed after the release. The release was free for us PC players so I can’t complain too much – well, just a little… 😀

Sometime after the L4D2 announcement, Valve announced a new two map campaign called Crash Course. This campaign ties together No Mercy and Death Toll. However, while mainly Co-op players like myself can enjoy the campaign, this new campaign was targeted more for the Versus crowd. I wasn’t nearly as disappointed with this release but it still wasn’t enough. Feed me Seymour! Feed me!

Taking a stroll through the French Quarter

Left 4 Dead 2 riverfront

I guess someone lost too much playing the slots on the boat.

The demo starts off with a boat operator dropping off four survivors. Here we get to see our new characters: Rochelle, Coach, Nick and Ellis. Immediately, you can tell that they picked up Nick from a shoot of the remake of Scarface and they dug up Ellis from some crap gas station in the middle of nowhere Alabama.

The drop off point is along the Riverfront, I assume the Mississippi River. At that point, our four new kickers of dead ass can pick up their weapon of choice, a pump action shotgun or a silenced Uzi submachine gun. They can also choose to take a melee weapon and leave their pistol behind. Another survivor can immediately pick up the pistol for dual-pistol goodness. From there, team Rape the Dead make their way into the streets of New Orleans.

The infected

Left 4 Dead 2 JockeyI have been able to play the demo quite a few times. In this turn, my team was confronted immediately by the Jockey. The Jockey’s ability is to jump onto the shoulders of any survivor and control them. From there, the Jockey can steer it’s victim into a rushing horde or towards an approaching Tank.

You can tell when a Jockey is coming because it likes to laugh a lot. It’s probably listening to Dice’s The Day The Laughter Died on it’s iPod.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Spitter AcidThe next special infected we came across was the Spitter. This zombie spits out green acid onto the survivors. The acid burns and deals damage to the survivors. The acid pool is actually quite large and it presents a problem for survivors trying to get away from the pool or survivors trying to revive fallen comrades.

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo SpitterThe Spitter is a female zombie and obviously enjoyed Timmy Chan’s fried chicken and fried rice a little too much. I know I did!! She also apparently listened to her mom at one point when her mom lectured her on wearing clean underwear in case you should ever die.

She also makes noises when she is approaching. It’s sort of like a laugh combined with the gargling of liquid.

Of course, we already met the Charger near the beginning of this article. The Charger gets it’s name from charging at it’s intended victim. When it comes, it sounds like a bull. Also, the Charger cannot stop once it begins charging. Meaning that if you pay well enough attention, you can dodge it’s attack. But if you get caught by the charger you will be knocked down and then it will repeatedly pick you up and slam you to the ground until someone kills it.

Left 4 Dead 2 ChargerThe purpose of the Charger is apparently to keep the survivors on their toes. Once of the tactics of players playing as survivors is to sit in a group during the time when the horde are attacking. The Charger can be thrown in to knock the group over like bowling pins. This will split them up and distract them long enough for the attacking horde to actually become a serious problem.

The older special infected are also around. They have been made over a bit but I have not been close enough to them to actually notice. However, Valve has created a female Boomer as variety. This was a nice touch. Women can be Boomers too ya know!

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo S.W.A.TThere are also new horde members that Valve has thrown in for our amusement, the one that we get to go against is the infected S.W.A.T member. I won’t let those who haven’t played this wait, you cannot kill it by shooting it’s front. Knock it back with your weapon and shoot it in the back.

There are a couple more new horde members, a clown zombie and a protective suit wearing zombie. The protective suit zombie apparently can withstand fire which could make it a problem for those expecting a wall of fire to protect them. Unfortunately, we see neither of these two in this demo.

Boomsticks

Left 4 Dead 2 PistolValve has thrown in new weapons along with the multitude of new zombies. You get to see a few of them in the demo. The normal pistol, which is my most used weapon in Left 4 Dead, has received a make over. Along with the Uzi, pump action shotgun, M-16, auto-shotgun and sniper rifle from Left 4 Dead, you can expect to see the silenced Uzi, Ak-47, combat shotgun, what looked like a Desert Eagle pistol and a newer sniper rifle I haven’t tried yet. It looked like a semi-automatic rifle. You can also pick up melee weapons such as the electric guitar, frying pan and machete in the demo. They deal quite a bit of damage to the infected when you use them so, they make up for the fact that you have to drop your pistol in order to pick up a melee weapon. I tried the guitar last night, it was wonderful! 😛

Detrimental to your health

Along with the red med packs and the pills you can also pick up adrenaline shots and a defibrillator. In case you never saw Pulp Fiction, shooting yourself with adrenaline allows you move faster and act faster. It also makes your eyesight sharper and brighter. It does deafen you a bit.

The defibrillator revives dead teammates. This is an interesting new addition to this game. Now you no longer have to wait till you stumble upon a spawn closet. If you have a defibrillator handy you can simply revive a dead teammate. I have seen this approach in another game I used to play, Battlefield 2. My favorite class was a medic and I had to revive a lot of dead guys with my trusty paddles. Since, I play more of a support role throughout the online games that I play. I might pick this up the next time I play this demo.

Chariots of Fire

Note: Once I get a screenshot of this area, I will post it to this section.

A new alert sequence has been added to Left 4 Dead 2 and you can see it here in the demo. In left 4 Dead, you could prepare yourself for the inevitable onslaught of the pissed off dead when you move something big or blow up something. However, Valve has mixed things up here. Players, including myself, have grown accustomed to finding a spot and camping there. Using a wall of fire and bullets to get us through the sequence. Now we have to run for our lives. Now if you even stop for a second, your ass is in trouble.

In the second map of the Parish demo, the action sequence is when you reach a safety trailer (it looks like a sealed research trailer). When you close the first door, you will have very little available to pick up before you open the second door. Maybe there will be a couple of adrenaline shots or pills sitting there… but that’s it. As soon as you open the second door you need to run. It’s imperative that you run and shoot. You will run through what looks like an area that was used to keep people in line. You have to run to a large structure where you will have to climb a couple of ladders and run some more to reach the alarm button. Once the button is pressed, the alarm will shut off. But before that, the alarm stays on and the horde keeps attacking. This is, in my opinion, an awesome addition to the game and it is much needed.

Visuals

This game looks just as if not better than the first game. The one thing that I wanted to point out is that when you deal damage to a zombie, you might shoot an arm off but it keeps coming. If you tear through it enough, it will expose the innards of the zombie for the world to see. This is a really nice touch to the game. However, in Australia, this has caused a problem with a government that apparently still believes that only kids play video games. You can read about that at Kotaku.

 

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Dead BodyLeft 4 Dead 2 Dead Body

 

Some thoughts

Like a lot of other people, I was put off by Valve announcing a sequel to Left 4 Dead so early. They had hardly put out any content. Why couldn’t they have just added the new characters, weapons, infected and campaigns to the original Left 4 Dead? I still don’t know the answer to this question. I understand that a company needs to make money in order to survive. However, I think in the future anyone working for Valve should be careful when they say someone that might be construed as a promise to all of the people that buy a game.