Steam Rises to Power

STEAM: And the Future of the Video Game Industry

Digital distribution giant and gaming platform, Steam, has fast become the Google of the gaming world – reaping in an estimated US$468 million (roughly R3.1 billion) in revenues through June 2011, according to This attests to the fact the gaming industry has become one of the fastest growing industries in history.

Using Steam has become compulsory for ardent PC gamers, who are forced to use the platform to buy, install and update several of the latest gaming titles. According to Wikipedia, as of July 2011, Steam had over 30 million active users and offered over 1 300 game titles. It is estimated that Steam has a 70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.

The Steam Platform

The Steam Platform

The idea of creating a centralised online platform to distribute games and related media online was, in part, a move towards combating software piracy – specifically pirated games. To play a store bought game that is powered through steam requires one to register a Steam account. One then has to be logged into Steam to install the game, update the game, play the game and be offered a host of promotional adverts upon exiting the game.

In bandwidth-stricken countries such as South Africa, one can imagine what a schlep this can be. In my experience, if a newly released game if bought through Steam, it can take up to two days to download and install. Thereafter Steam automatically updates your newly bought game, which can take another day or two. If your bandwidth hasn’t run dry by this point, you then have to log into Steam before you can play your new game for the first time.

Steam Error

The Benefits of Steam

One can understand the benefits that gaming platforms such as Steam offer. They have made it extremely difficult for impoverished gamers to play pirated titles; it automatically patches and updates your game collection, and it offers you downloadable content for your favourite titles. It does also offer a lot of specials and promotions, whereby one can easily transfer and convert your money into US dollars and buy games via the web for cheap. In fact, purchasing games through Steam is so simple that it can be dangerously addictive.

However, this is not to mention that the Steam servers are often running at full capacity whereby one is put on a waiting list to play. I was once informed that my newly installed and updated game would launch in approximately five days. Bearing all this in mind it’s fair to say that Steam is having a negative impact on many game consumers who don’t necessarily want to play multiplayer.

Market Research

Anti-piracy aside, Steam most certainly uses its cleverly crafted platform for market research purposes. A Steam user’s page includes some brief personal information, details of any games owned, as well as the number of hours played in each game. Steam admits that it collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance and uses this information to justify implementing new features.

However, a lot of this information is collected without notifying the user or offering an opt-out. Some of these metrics are also available publicly, such as what games are being played or statistics of a player’s progress in certain games. Last year, Steam announced that they would begin collecting a list of users’ installed software as well.

Steam Critiques

Steam has been criticised for allowing developers and game publishers to change prices and restrict game availability depending on the locations of users. Despite the reduction in manufacturing, packaging, design and distribution costs, this can cause some games to cost more than their retail prices. Steam has also been heavily criticised by European users for pricing games much higher in Euro-zone countries.

Furthermore, according to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, “Steam’s availability is not guaranteed and Valve is under no legal obligation to release an update disabling the authentication system in the event that Steam becomes permanently unavailable.” –

Ardent PC gamers can argue for or against the value of Steam. However, if history has taught us anything, it is always wise to be cautious of that which is powerful. However, with Steam now being in the position of power that it is, has implications for gamers worldwide. In our liberal and democratic age, I suppose the biggest concern is a lack of choice.


Galen (name), meaning: "Curious One". A lover of language, human ingenuity and the forces of the universe. Hugely drawn towards the mysterious and unknown. Regular laughter and escapism essential.

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13 Responses

  1. Graal says:

    Bullshit article. Firstly, your opinion lost 50% of its credibility the moment you used secondary sources to stave information (Mygaming is not a proper resource, as they got their information from a primary resource. Get it from an official Steam statement or just don’t say where you got the information at all).

    Also, waiting 2 days for a store bought game to install? Bullshit. Unless your computer is 30 years old, you put the disk in, press install, and it finishes installing within 30 minutes. Updating also doesn’t take as long to update your game, unless you’re still on 56k.

    Also, where did you get that bullshit about waiting in a queue to play a game from? That’s absolutely ridiculous, pure lies. The only time it can tell you to wait and give an approximate waiting time is while it’s updating the game. You don’t have to wait in queues to play games.

    This article stinks of *rag rag gaf i just don’t like steam whine whine it’s my opinion*. You downplay the (very few that you listed) positive points of Steam, and try to overexagerate the negative critique YOU have about the game. You’re just a typical Steam hater, experiencing issues with Steam nobody else has even heard about or encountered before.

  2. Galen says:

    Thanks for the comment Graal.

    The figures stated are according to the Research & Analysis division of analyst firm Forecasting & Analyzing Digital Entertainment, which is where mygaming got them from. Lost credibility? That sounds like your opinion. You don’t have to believe them.

    The worst experience I’ve had with Steam was when I bought Call of Duty 4. Granted this wasn’t store bought but it’s now being nearly two weeks and I still haven’t been able to play it. Issues seem to occur during the update – it’s gets to about 90% and then often resets and starts again. I am not the only one to have experienced this.

    When I first bought Duke Nukem Forever (retail) it installed and updated in an afternoon after which a Steam message popped up that said exactly what I mention above, that: “Game will launch in approximately five days”. Needless to say I wasn’t able to play it on the day I bought it.

    Myself and others have also been given the message, “This game is currently unavailable please try again later” (something to that effect). What does that mean? One would assume that it means the Steam servers are running at full capacity.

    My biggest concern (as mentioned) is the lack of choice in the matter. Gone are the days of being able to buy a retail game, install it and play it without having to endure a waiting period or be connected to the Internet. Granted uncapped Internet has become cheaper, but there are still many gamers with either very slow lines or limited Internet access. In Africa this is an issue for many. Think of others.

    Arguing that I have issues with Steam that “nobody else has even heard about or encountered before”, is simply erroneous. Take a look at the following:

    There are clearly many gamers who feel the same.

  3. Galen says:

    This is not to mention that Steam does tend to crash and there isn’t much one can do if your service provider fails. These things happen and it’s important to be skeptical and hold Steam to account. But if you’re happy to be Steam’s bitch that’s your democratic right too. The fact that Steam is now in the position of power that it is has implications for gamers worldwide. Some choice would be nice and competition is important – especially in an industry such as the gaming one.

  4. PeterB says:

    I feel I have to weigh-in here…in defense of Galen.

    I was an avid gamer at varsity and used Steam all the time to get new games. it used to drive my digsmates crazy as I was always using the broadband cap up. Needless to say, this is now largely a non-issue with the introduction of cheap(er) uncapped broadband options.

    I don’t ever remember having a huge issue technically with Steam back then and waiting 2 days while the game downloaded was par for the course.

    BUT, in my last year of varsity I switched to Mac (mostly for work) and never really looked back. You can imagine my excitement when Steam for Mac came out! I rushed over to the Steam site and downloaded it but it just. won’t. work. It keeps trying to update itself, gets to a point and then fails ad infinitum. I have tried everything to resolve this issue (deleting it, doing a clean install, downloading a new copy yadda yadda) to no avail and I am not alone in having this problem. I am naturally disappointed.

    I suppose my point is: what sort of experience is Steam giving us (I don’t really give a rats ass about all that fluff you said about being cautious of that which is powerful- as long as it works and works well it can have all the power it wants, I am a Mac user,Steve Jobs anyone, hello?- sorry Galen)?

    Back on point: It is STILL quicker for me to get in my car and go and buy the game off the shelf somewhere than to wait for a download. Just like it is still quicker for me to go and buy a book from a bookshop instead of ordering it from Kalahari (average wait time for an item is 10-12 working days BEFORE they will post it to you- pathetic).

    Steam is not perfect and, in the internet backwater of SA, these imperfections are magnified 20-fold due to our slow broadband and generally crap infrastructure.

    However, like most things internet shopping related…it is convenient…if you are 2 days from your nearest computer games outlet that is.

  5. Galen says:

    Thanks for your input Peter.

    I most certainly prefer buying hard-copy games from stores and adding them to my gaming bookshelf. Yet the fact that more and more games are becoming steam-powered forces one to have to use their platform in order to install, update and play these games. Again, it boils down to a lack of choice. If you can’t get Steam to run (as in your case) you’re pretty much screwed. If you share an Internet line with digsmates or family, there are feelings of “screw you”, if you have a slow line, you’re forced to endure a significant waiting period.

    People don’t seem to find this a problem in a broader sense. I’m getting the general impression from Steam users that if it’s working well for them then screw everyone else.

  6. PeterB says:

    Well I have always had an issue with the broadband speed in SA. Would love to know where all the folks who said it was not a problem live so I can go round and use their internet! ;-)

  7. Adam says:

    I have numerous issues with steam. One of the most forebearing is the fact that can’t play any of the steam-powered games offline after the installation. This is a problem for me because I travel in and out for work, and after work hours I would like to be able to play a game I just bought that matched minimum requirements. However, not having an Internet line available at the work camp slams shut any opportunity to do so. In my opinion, steam is going to become a Microsoft of gaming industry and we’ve all seen how that turned out.

  8. Galen says:

    You might be interested to know that Steam originally approached both Microsoft and Yahoo with partnership propositions when they were first starting out – both of which turned them away. They must be kicking themselves now!

    I think things would be a lot better if gamers only had to do a once-off activation through Steam on the very first install and then have the choice to play offline. Things like achievements and updates can be done when you next log in.

    Steam crashing is my biggest issue. I leave my updates going overnight and throughout the day while I’m at work and it often simply stops responding. Not cool.

  9. Freesoul says:

    I think things would be a lot better if gamers only had to do a once-off activation through Steam on the very first install and then have the choice to play offline.

    Well, this is exactly what steam offers with the offline option… I don’t think you really know what steam offers as most of your statements are false (waiting list launch games??? no offline option ??)

    I live in New Caledonia, small island in south pacific, most games are downloaded and running in 3-4 hours.

    Unless you have limited bandwith, i really see no reason to buy physical version anymore. And with the cloud backup of your game save, you can install steam on multiple computer (laptop + desktop) and just play !

    Just love the fact that when you get your new computer, your game list is just waiting for you with all your game saves.

  10. Galen says:

    Hi Freesoul. Thank you for your comment.

    I wrote this at a time when I was sharing a 384K line with 5 other people; hence my frustration with having to use Steam back then (I literally had to wait days before I could play anything new).

    Things are better for me now, but it doesn’t erase the fact that gamers with slow lines (consider young gamers whose parents pay for the Internet) are still subject to these problems. The platform almost assumes that everyone has a fast internet connection, which, globally, is not the case.

    I personally enjoy the benefits that come with using Steam (updates, cheap games, Steam Cloud etc.), but do see a problem when gamers are left with little or no choice in the matter…

  11. Galen says:

    Also, offline mode wasn’t always available at the time of writing this article, which it seems to be now. Then, if your Internet was down, there wasn’t much you could play. If they have made offline mode fully available across the board then this post (and others) has served their purpose :)

  12. Glenroy says:

    I’m sorry, but this article seems to be rife with inaccuracies.

    Waiting days to simply install a game? Where do you get that from? Seeing as you say it has to update after installing I’m going to assume you mean the disk version, because if you install by directly downloading from Steam you get the fully updated version and don’t have to update it after install.
    If it does take you days to install using the disk, maybe it’s time you upgrade that 0.025 write speed DVD-Rom? Steam games installing directly from disks install the exact same way as any other disk-based installs, only difference being it has to check the Steam servers to see if you own the game before it can install. If it takes days to install from the disk, the issue is definitely not with Steam, but with your PC.

    And the line about waiting in a queue to play your game? That’s absolute nonsense. At most, if the Steam servers are overloaded, it might tell you that the servers are unable to handle your request, and even then, trying again once or twice will let the game launch. It is extremely rare for you to be unable to play a game due to the Steam servers being overcrowded. So rare, in fact, that it is just about unheard of. It happens often that the ‘cannot handle your request’ popup appears for people, but then it is always a technical issue with server, and not due to overcrowding.

    For the servers to tell you you have to wait days to play your game, it would require the servers to utilize ‘slots’ for the amount of players who can play a game simultaneously, which Steam does not do. When starting the game, the client only has to contact the Steam server to verify ownership of the game before starting and then after that only if a player receives an in-game achievement. It does not continue sending a stream of data to the server that results in other players being unable to play until you are done.

    As for offline mode not always being available, where’d you get that from? Offline mode has been available since I initially got my Steam account back in 2007, and probably even before that. Some people encounter technical issues with offline mode, yes, but there has never been a time when offline mode has simply not been available.

  13. Galen says:

    Thanks for your input Glenroy.

    Again, this was at a time when I was sharing a 384K line between 5 people. I was referring to the downloading and installing of games via Steam (not from disk), which, with such a shameful line speed, would understandably take ages. It makes sense that the latest version of Steam games would download, but there were often major updates that occurred before play time began. Perhaps that’s different now.

    A few times I had a Steam message which said “your game will launch in approximately X days/hours”. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a screen shot at the time, but I shit you not. Won’t likely see it again since getting a much faster line.

    Perhaps off-line mode is being confused with being offline altogether. What I meant was (at the time of writing) that it was not possible to play any of your Steam games if your Internet connected was down. I don’t know if this is still the case? For that matter, is it still possible to buy a hard-copy game on disk and play it independently of Steam and an Internet connection? More and more games are becoming “Steam-powered” which doesn’t make this possible for people without Internet connections and painful for those with slow Internet connections.

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