Valve shouldn’t be barking at the wrong tree

Valve isn’t exactly used to competition when it comes to digital platforms. Most games that are on GOG can be found on Steam in some form, so the competition for exclusive content isn’t exactly that high. However, Epic Games store has been making some waves recently by having a deal with Ubisoft to be the seller for their Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, and now nabbed Metro Exodus. Sure, people who already pre-ordered them via Steam will get ’em from there, but Valve’s slightly salty about the whole business, claiming that this is unfair towards customers who are using Steam.

This, of course, is rather bullshit.

Valve does have their priorities just as any other company does, but thus far this is the first time a large company like this is commenting on losing an exclusivity with a title. Hell, they’re not even having that, seeing the game did have a long pre-sales period. Nothing prevents the consumer to jump into Epic Games store and throw their money at the title there. That’s something Valve doesn’t want, as it distorts their own economy. Valve might be used to the idea that they are the ranking king on the PC, a platforms that gets all the big name titles while the rest straggle along to deal with their own in-house titles. Almost any and all big titles that are being released outside of consoles is released on Steam, like Monster Hunter World or the Yakuza series. (Then again, why would the glorious PC master race stoop down and play dirty ports of console games?) This makes Steam such a massive platform, and a platform it is despite some arguing that it is simply a store. No store would have a need to be analogous to digital version of physical DRM that are video game consoles, but Steam is exactly that. Both DL Site and GOG are more stores than Steam, especially considering you are forced to use their software for their service at their terms to play someone else’s games.

This is business, and Valve recognises that when few notable titles move to away from their platform in favour of another, it can lead further titles to move away from them and that could lead them losing their competitive edge. Unfair to Steam customers my ass. Valve knows why their platform is so popular, so much used and that’s because all the titles they effectively have exclusivity on. Steam as a platforms isn’t particularly great in overall terms, their customer service sucks, they take 30% cut on all sales initially, Valve decides what titles go to sale and when, and they don’t stick to their own rulings when it comes to controlling why titles are banned from their store. Just like any platform of their kind, the reason why they’re used so much is due to exclusive games. Now, there’s a slight threat to their sales by losing titles. Valve’s not losing any sleep when the shoe is in the other foot.

Exclusivity is of course a thing this blog endorses. The argument that it is against consumer interests because the consumer can’t choose whatever platform they like to consume entertainment is, at its core, petty. At its extreme, you would only have one platform to play games one, and that would always end up being the PC. Not even via Steam, just the raw, undiluted PC. (Might actually be the best possible endpoint in many ways.) Nothing should be keeping you from picking up the title and platform if you really want to play a certain game. It often comes down to argument of money too, where the argument claims that with a title on multiple platforms would end up raking in more money. This has more merit to it, as it is a pure business argument. Hayes Madsen on Twinfinity has a post how Square Enix must hate money because they’re not releasing Kingdom Hearts titles on the Switch and Xbox One. As it always is, there are deals behind the door that is to benefit one platform.

Incidentally, this blog both supports and is against in Valve’s position as mentioned above. Not in that losing the titles from Steam is against customer interests, but the underlying reasons. Exclusive content should push competition for value and quality. The Classic Era of console gaming saw Sega and Nintendo competing for numerous titles with each other, most notably so-called mascot wars where Mario and Sonic were neck to neck to beat each other in similar games. The situation would be similar of Battlefield and Call of Duty were exclusive for PS4 and Xbox One; similar titles but with significant differences at their core. In current state of console gaming with titles existing across the board almost everywhere, there is no need for another company to make somewhat similar product in their own way and image in order to compete. When you have one title everywhere, it fills the niche and competition struggles. Have more similar titles on one console, and its a red ocean of competition, companies fighting over the same scraps of consumers. Thus, exclusivity helps the situation to some extent, raising that one platform a bit higher on the sale what it can offer and thus draw in more customers, which most likely will put more money in consuming further titles on the same platform. If the company has concentrated their titles to exist solely on this platform, they’ll most likely also rack loyal customers that will buy most of their other product. When it comes to console exclusive, the fact that a game can be optimised to for that hardware is also important, though arguably not as important as it used to be, outside the Switch. As for Kingdom Hearts, you can bet there’s a deal that benefits both corporations. Who knows, perhaps its not even about the money, but some romantic reasons why a title should only exist on one platforms because that’s where it truly belongs to due to history and success.  The extreme end of this would be that each console and platform would have totally and widely different libraries. (Which would too be the best possible endpoint for other reasons.)

Nintendo of course is always a different beast in this. They are both console and game manufacturer. They design their own devices and games to play on them. Exclusivity is their bread and butter, their model of service and business. Theirs is a unique console each time one is released due to this very nature. It is something the competition should go for, aim to have just as many exclusive titles with the same level of quality to compete. Instead, more often than not, there’s a divide where two consoles share majority of their libraries while Nintendo kinda just stands there doing its own thing. At least currently, things weren’t like that in the Classic Era. Valve is effectively in a Nintendo-ish position when it comes to the PC ecosystem, but it has no real competition outside GOG. Perhaps what we need is more titles moving away from Valve’s juggernaut for everywhere else like Epic Games store just to spread about a little more and encourage some healthy competition, something Valve’s not really used to.

As an end note, Epic Games store is one of the few stores that I’ve seen to have a clearly marked section for Fan art policy.

Valve’s hard candy

Here we go again, talking about games being banned.

Despite Valve openly advertising their take on allowing any game that doesn’t break laws on Steam, this clearly has not been the case thus far. Few days ago, HuniePop 2 was announced to release in censored form on Steam. This shouldn’t be necessary, seeing how the game’s contents wouldn’t break any laws and Valve themselves shouldn’t have anything against it.

That is not the case, however. It is somewhat evident that Valve is practicing behind-the-scenes ruling based on whatever they wish rather than sticking to their guns. Visual Novels are included in these banned and removed games, whilst some are self-playing games like MaoMao Discovery Team. It would seem Valve is mostly covering their asses in case of someone might come down on them whether or not they’re selling titles with child pornography. The aforementioned MaoMao Discovery Team most likely falls directly into this category, seeing Maomao herself has a petite look, though this is more a stylistics choice in design. After all, the design does harken back to the 1980’s character designs, where a lot of adult characters were still portrayed as petite. It can go the other way around, with Pokémon being a good example how all the main characters are about ten years old but look older. Valve did confirm this one by telling the developer that the game exploited children, and thus they deemed to be illegal.

Outside the apparent visual design of the characters, a common element with some of the banned titles is the school setting. Usually this was circumvented by either removing any references to the characters’ ages, like they did in one of the Senran Kagura titles, or just up them to 18 and be done with it. However, Valve’s having none of that at this moment. An All-Ages VN named Hello, Good-bye got the banhammer brought down on it as well.

This raises a question I’ve hard tried to avoid; do games exploit children if they have characters that are younger 18 and in risque situations? Look at me trying to be all politically correct and not mention about games showing teens fucking.

There’s no one answer, there never is. Cultural differences are vastly different across the board, and what goes in Japan doesn’t fly in the US. Most of the titles that have been banned from Steam are Japanese made, and especially the Visual Novels tend to hit that tender ever-seventeen range with its characters. Arguably Muv-Luv should see some scrutiny as well due to Tamase Miki being an effective lolicon bait. In the US, some states legislation state any kind of depiction of children, be it real or fictional, in risque or sexual, or even just overall nudity situations counts as child exploitation. The same applies to numerous European countries, which do no make a difference between reality and fictional. Valve can’t juggle across the board, and most likely has a dedicated person who has been given the command to remove content that might offend any of the laws around. It is effectively a business necessity to cover their assess as one of the larger digital games platform. I discussed how Valve seems to follow the Washington state laws inaccurately, so read on that.

However, there are platforms who would rather fight this mentality. Some of the titles, like the aforementioned Maomao Discovery Team, has been re-released on JAST USA alongside Cross Love and Imolicious. You also have English language DLSite, which effectively gives you free pass to any and all titles that would be banned on Steam the moment they were submitted. This is stupidly evident by itself, but nothing else matters; if it looks wrong, it gets the banhammer.

There are no nuances in the issue as far as Valve or numerous groups and national laws are concerned. To use an example where law was read by its letter, let’s take a look at a case in North Carolina from 2015. In this case, a couple was charged with making and distributing child pornography by sending nude photos of themselves to each other. The couple was sixteen at the time. To many this was a case of dysfunctional law, and was not put into force according to the spirit of the law. To some this was an example of law being exercised as it was written. This case did bring up the question whether or not babyhood and childhood pictures where people can happen to be nude would count as child exploitation as well, and if we go by this example, any and all such pictures would. The same would apply to many television commercials that have nude babies advertising diapers or such, despite having no depiction of genitals. A sensible person probably would dismiss most, if not all of these, as unnecessary noise about nothing and over reaction.

So why are we acting like fictional depictions of nudity count as any worse?

There really isn’t an answer. It might be how humans are creatures that constantly contrast themselves to everything around them in trying to recognise a pattern, like seeing a face on a power outlet, and seeing an immoral depiction of a character having sex or simply nude hits that center hard, forcing us to empathise with non-living entities and attributing them with human characteristics. We anthropomorphise everything by nature, and thus everything that has a human shape or depicts humanity fictionally automatically is given a human status. A drawing of an underage character is not seen just as a drawing or depiction, but as some sort of mirror to reality. This is doubled when it comes to realistic 3D models, especially if details are modeled in with care.

It’s almost as of we automatically install moral ideas and practices to what isn’t there. A drawing having sex is not real, but its depiction of possible reality as true. The more offensive and hard the fiction is, the more we think how wrong it is. That’s the point where we have to remind ourselves that vast majority of fictional characters are not real, nobody could ever exploit them to any extent.

That of course is mostly lost to us. Humans are strange creatures.

If you’d like to hear my own view on this, it’s as follows; you draw and publish anything you like. You should have no limits, as long nobody has been hurt in the making. Nowadays you can do wonders with 3D models anyway, no need for human models to be present.

There’s no real end for this post. While I’d like to directly argue how fictional characters and their situations do not count as exploitation unto themselves, that’s a rabbit hole very few can get out.

Valve continues to ban titles despite guidelines

Hoo boy.

Sometimes I have to wonder what the hell Valve is thinking as a company. Back in September Valve opened up their rules and restriction regarding the games and allowed anything legal on the platform, that that was great. That was a large step forwards when it comes to the market. However, recently there has been multiple takedowns and bans regarding visual novels and few adventure games and there seems to be one unifying theme across the board; children, be it in a school or fantasy setting .

It would seem that Valve is using Washington state legislature  in order to cover their bases regarding obscene content, but as One Angry Gamer points out, Valve is technically already complying with the state law by usage of adult filter, preventing the general public from viewing the material. However, that’s not really the issue, is it?

Visual Novels and most products based on Japanese culture tend to follow the culture of cute. It’s not uncommon for some of the materials to, especially material directed at an adult audience, porn or not, to throw some sexiness into the mix. The whole concept of sexy and cute isn’t anything new, but we can see that Japan has the whole thing on another level. I’ve discussed Comic Lemon People (planning on a historical on that for next year), Iczer-1 and numerous other series and products that have their roots in lolicon culture to some extent, and that sub-culture does seem to be partially responsible to these bans and removals.

This clashes harshly with American mentality when it comes to character designs and settings. The aforementioned sub-culture does have sexually suggestive themes regardless of its settings or characters and also in terms of visual design. To most Westerners, the lolicon culture seem to depict child characters, which would be somewhat inaccurate. It is not just a genre and way to depict something, but a sub-culture movement that began in the mid-70’s and came together in the 80’s. However, all that is lost in the discussion about the topic with pretty much anyone.

So you’re saying cultural differences are the reason why Valve is banning titles with minor-looking characters in a school setting? Partially. Whether or not we follow Washington state laws or not, the overall consensus about characters is that they’re depicting people or reality to some extent. We naturally refer characters as she or he, rather than it; we anthropomorphise characters naturally and give them humanity by sheer nature of our brain. Characters seem real, and in some cases, we regard them as real. Nevertheless, your favourite fiction is just that, fiction. It’s all make believe, and no real people are hurt. We know that, of course, but at the same time we can’t disassociate with the fact that an action made in fictional setting towards a character seems real.

The question I am asking of myself while reading these news stories and finally writing about the subject is whether or not it’s lolicon content as understood in modern Western terms, rather than in its popular culture context, should be allowed freely on Steam? Within the writer personae the answer is yes. In principle, the market should be voting with their wallets. But in person, I understand and see all the troubles and arguments that can be made left and right. Even if there was no sexual depiction, the issue is muddy. Japanese design, in and out of lolicon culture, often clash with the Western designs overall. There’s no winning against design choices that seem to sexualise schoolgirls, especially if the style makes them extremely cute. At the same time, I do feel Valve, and Western values overall in this subject, are taken to an extreme rather than concentrating at the core of the matter.

The problem here is the following: the core is different based on who views it.

Fictional depiction is regarded on the same level as photography (or real things as a whole) in certain parts of the world, and that’s the angle we most often see. The rest doesn’t even count as far as most modern Western legal systems are counted. How far are things going with this? Dead or Alive Dimensions on the Nintendo 3Ds and comic named Love Hina was pulled from sales as they were deemed to sexually depict minors. That might be ‘just Sweden’, but this is the exact same mindset Valve is employing, though not across the board. There are numerous titles on Steam that would fulfill the criteria they’re using behind the curtains with titles like Nipleheim’s Hunter and The Key to Home. However, to what extent Valve’s staff are extending their rules is unknown, as it seems to be based on the personal views and issues of the person who makes the decision. Those, ultimately, can’t be swayed.

Is this censorship under the guise of law? Most likely, but at the same time I understand Valve not wanting to be blamed for supporting child abuse through fictional characters. After all, Vale is ultimately responsible what’s on Steam, for better or worse. None of us need to like it, but at the same time, we can’t really achieve that utopian goal with things being still banned. Or is the problem the characters and settings? Some would say there wouldn’t be any bans if people weren’t creating hurtful and mentally sick content like this. The core of the matter is always different with different views.

You know what? No, I have a habit of making clear statements with the blogger’s angle, so let’s wrap this post up with a little bow; Valve has set up its rules. If the developer follows them and their title directly does not break law to any extent, it should not be banned. Screw personal views, screw cultural contexts or whether or not people like seeing things that make them uncomfortable. If it’s not breaking the law, Valve’s employees should hold their fingers off from the ban button.

Consumer control over titles coming to Steam?

In hindsight, this was to come. Developer named Love in Space has stated that Valve has halted their title’s submission in order to overhaul Steam to give more control to the consumer on what they see. This isn’t the standard Family friendly control centre Steam currently has, but something more robust.

This seems to indicate two things. First, Valve is taking their hands off as they’ve mentioned previously and accept pretty much anything legal on Steam. This would mean the end developers have to indicate elements in their software whilst submitting to Valve. This would tie directly into the second element, which is the user driven control.

How do you implement it? is the  question.The best, quickest way would probably be to use the pre-existing tags Steam already uses for its titles, but whether or not these would be fitting is an open question. Sometimes, how a tag works for a title is rather obscure, referring to some element that’s not a major part in the title. Then you have the occasional tag that has nothing to do with the title. There would be a need for a far more stricter set of rules in order have a properly functioning control device. While possible that they’ll just use these tags, it’s also probable that something completely new will be used, as the aforementioned developer mentions that there is going to be completely new features that their title requires before Valve accepts it for Steam.

Was there a reason for a system like this? As Steam functions as a sales platform as much as it is a digital console, there is a need to split adult-only material from the more kid-friendly content. The split is similar how kids’ magazines are in one section in store, while all the rest are moved on the side or above the their stand. Another example would be how family movies and adult movies had different sections on a VHS rental store. Wasn’t the Family View already like this? Apparently not, as it seems to only limit what games are shown in the Library section rather in Store.

Seeing how the Internet really likes to rile people up and enjoy the outrage culture for better or worse, these last few years (or rather, last decade or so) has seen movements to accuse games, game developers and consumers for pretty much anything from sexism and racism to political agendas and lack of them. Valve has seen a lot of shit flung at them concerning their new policy, to the point of Kotaku labeling Valve irresponsible for allowing free market to decide on products.

This new feature that is being worked on is a solution that allows the user to censor their own Store page. This all fine and dandy, as this means people should be able to see what they want, ignoring the rest of the marketplace they might deem less of worth or somehow damaging for them or their family. As long as system does not force limitation to anyone else, or even suggest that certain content might be considered inappropriate, it should be passable.

However, it would seem this is a solution coming along way down, as Sekai Project mentioned some of their titles need to be re-submitted, and that they need to fill-in additional information for already passed software once the system has been implemented. Considering Valve has stopped accepting some titles like this for the time being, I’d guess they’re in a bit of a hurry with the system before publishers like Sekai find new avenues to move into. Valve wanting to put accepting software on hold for the time being until they’ve finished the system may be understandable, but it’s not the best approach concerning the publishers and developers who have their titles in this limbo state.

You will hear that this won’t solve any problems. Games that sites like Kotaku considers problematic won’t go away and will be developed and published. However, this is as good as any mediating solution, as the upcoming feature should allow these people can ignore their hated titles as much as they wish.

Open the Valves, full Steam ahead

Sometimes, Valve manages to surprise the cynic in me. Just as I mentioned that they should open the doors for free market, it seems that’s exactly what Valve did. Of course, it was received with both positive and negative press, with negative pretty much calling out Valve for allowing games that could have offensive content. Kotaku, for example, takes their usual stance all about wanting to keep games with gross content, as they put it, out of Steam. Furthermore, Kotaku’s beef with Valve being a reactionary corporation when it comes to controversies is old song by this point. Most corporations may go their way to appease sections of the consumers, but in this day and age where practically everything can cause an uproar and everything is offensive to someone in some myriad way, corporations can’t exactly be but reactionary.

This whole deal is interesting and dumbfounding, to say the least. For number of years, gaming snobs have wanted the electronic games industry to grow and mature. No medium is free of the growing pains of vast, endless multiple points of views and political leanings. For a rough comparison, banned games equate to banned books. This is especially important if we are to take games as an art, as simply banning or removing art because the subject is something you dislike or disagree with infringes the free expression of the artist.

Of course, the opposition of Valve’s new policies take the business view on things whenever it pleases them. Steam having games with content other developers don’t like shouldn’t matter to them. If their product is superior, they should be at ease of mind. The free market will tell what’s more demanded. Of course, it could always turn out that doing politically or otherwise controversial topically charged games might not sell well in overall terms. If the developer and/or publisher wishes to move their games off the platform because Valve has allowed games with offensive content in their mind, they can always move away to GOG.

After all, censorship and limited freedom of speech is something that can be easily expanded to serve only one master.

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Brands, such as Steam, should not partake in politics of any sorts. Valve’s stance of keeping trolling titles (how in the fuck would you even define that properly in hard-down legal form) and illegal content off their service is enough. The market will handle the rest. Simply because content exist for consumption does not mean one has to go their way and consume it.

Is it immoral to allow content that might be considered offensive on Steam, politically or otherwise? The question is No, considering Steam already has games with content that does offense someone. Valve’s Weik Johnson has the right stance; they’re not the one to decide what developers make. If we are to promote equal treatment of all, it is required to mean equal treatment in all terms, including games that have offensive content of any kind. It is up to you as the consumer to decide whether or not it is consumed, not by a committee, a busybody soccer mom or another developer.

Another criticism Valve has got is that this means they do not stand up to values, or more accurately, the values of the critics have set up. Just as morals, values are up to each person. Cultural values and morals set up by the society are ultimately what matter the most, not the ones sections of the Internet want to be upheld. In effect, it is equally morally reprehensible to allow one offensive content but not the other. Valve’s ultimate morals lay in what makes the most profit, and free market is the best way to make a buck.

Whether or not Valve is finished with underestimating their consumers with this is an open question. It can be expected them to flip flop on the matter in the future, especially when take into notion how vague their new stance is. What is illegal changes country by country, and there is always the remote possibility they’ll simplify things and use all of them. Somewhat unlikely, seeing Valve has always tried to stick with the US legislation and have a history of arguing against foreign laws to an extent. What is acceptable varies wildly, especially in places like China.

Secondly, trolling, as mentioned above, doesn’t exactly hold water. It is extremely subjective and sounds like a scapegoat wording that they can enact on a title whenever they find it applicable. Titles like Hatred may get hated out of the platform due to its content, as it was removed from Steam Greenlight. It took Gabe to get it back. The title’s developer certainly did use trolling as part of the marketing campaign, yet the title is nothing short of fully fledged isometric shooter.

For better or worse, Valve’s announcement on the subject does touch upon this. To quote the post; we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. While this could be viewed as slightly concerning, this sort of extension of corporation’s own decision making is expected. This allows Valve to cover their asses whenever its applicable while supporting the freedom of game development and publishing, as weird as it sounds, considering anyone could do that outside Steam on PC already.

In the end, all of Valve’s announcement ends up being PR speech. It’s not exactly virtue signaling either as much as itch.io’s Leaf’s tweet on the matter. How things will go down in practice will probably be a very different story, though only time will tell. Claiming that Valve has dropped any responsibility or the like is childish bitching, as the responsibility has always been with the developers and publishers, and even then to the extent of the law.

The consumers within the market will make their voice heard on the matter, and that is ultimately what matters, despite what different sociopolitical factions like to think. Let capitalism function as intended.

Then there’s the point that none of that matter jack shit if the gameplay is not up to the level. That is what matters the most after all.

Valve’s wake-up call for visual novel enthusiast and others

With Valve taking steps to remove numerous titles from Steam due to T&A, Mangagamer has decided to bring their titles to GOG. The last sentence in their post also mentions how Sekai Project, the infamous VN publisher, is joining them in this move.

Mangagamer questions Steam a retail platform for visual novels, and that has been an extremely good question from the start. Steam as a digital console has the exact same limitations as vast majority of other game consoles have had throughout the years when it has come to sexually mature content. The last console that allowed some sort of clothes-off action was the Sega Saturn with its R-18 rated gambling titles, though even then the titles were cleaned up from their arcade and PC counterparts. Whether or not it really is better to have violence than sex in media has always been brought to question, but that’s slightly outside the scope here.

The PR director for Mangagamer, John Picket, knows how to word this opening salvo towards GOG. There has been some friction why these titles have not appeared on GOG, mostly due to GOG having different set of guidelines than Valve, but calling this an opportunity rather than an option forced on them is standard marketing speech. Considering Steam has always been an unreliable publishing platform due to how Valve exercises their control over titles, developers, publishers and users, this movement should not have come out as a surprise to anyone. Valve’s customer support is legendarily terrible, and their ~30% cut of all sales, which yields less and less revenue to publishers down the line, especially when most users simply purchase everything from sales. In previous post about VN bans on Steam I mentioned how their policies went against EU legislation when it came to purchasing, resale and refunding titles, but what I didn’t mention was that Valve put in bit in their EULA before purchase where the consumer would waver their freedom for 14-day return period. Similarly, when Valve was in court in Australia over similar matter between 2014 and 2016, they stopped providing their financial information, which ended the judge giving them a middle finger in legalise form. All legal cases that they knew they couldn’t sensibly win has been elongated for PR reasons and to create proper backup whenever the inevitable end result comes to.

While EA is considered to be the Satan of game corporations, credit must be given where credit is due, and their did have refunding program as according to EU legislation two years prior to Valve, and even then Valve’s refunding program was in Steam credits, meaning they still keep your money. Valve’s policies get changed from time to time to reflect the pressure they’re under from outside forces, all to cover their own assets and revenues. That is ultimately the end goal of all corporations, after all.

Valve has the control over the PC side of game market like no other to the point of publishers and developers considering any other route a detriment to their product. After a company has partnered with Valve to get their titles to Steam, everything else gets so muddled down. Why would you want to publish games on other platforms when Steam has essentially become the Windows in terms of digital games publishing? We’re at a point where an anti-trust case about their monopoly could be made, but that won’t happen. Too many consumers and companies are tied to Steam both in terms of money and emotions. Only something that would break the glass would make them consider twice on Steam. Something like taking down titles for them having bare chests.

But Aalt, aren’t you the one always championing game exclusivity? Yes, with consoles. The PC is a different market than consoles and is based on user-end freedom, something that has been constantly eroding through the use programs like Steam, taking Operating System control away from the user and evermore increasing activity tracking to the point of end-user having no privacy. If consoles are tightly controlled platforms for single purpose only, the PC was its free counterpart, where everything from your hardware choice to how you modified your software was completely up to you. Now, if you modify software linked with Steam to any extent unsavory for them, you’re going to be banned.

Valve has no competition. GOG is a good second, but far behind Steam in terms of dedicated users, despite GOG always being the objectively better option for software. Japan has DLSite and DMM for both pornographic materials and normal titles, something that Nutaku reflects in the West. There are numerous smaller publishing platforms that do not tie the user to themselves, but due to lack of publishers on these platforms they’ve never reached the surface awareness.

There is a distinct lack of diverse competition on the PC currently and it is not because of exclusives. This has been case for a good decade now, with even vast majority of the small amount of physical titles needing to be connected to a service as a form of DRM. This had lead Valve to had an effective control over PC software when it comes to gaming and their like titles, like visual novels. It should come to no surprise to anyone when Valve decides to exert their control on anything that might be seen as unsavory for their own benefits.

A lack of steam in a machine

Valve’s Steam Machines were launched some seven months ago. They’ve made no impact on the consumers’ habits or to the general scene. The industry expected them to have an impact or challenge the existing consoles, but the reality is, nobody outside hardcore Steam fans gave a damn about them.

Not even their controller has made a huge impact. They’ve sold about a half million Steam controllers according to themselves (which may or may not be an exaggerated number) and the number compared to the amount of Steam’s users is laughably low. The thing is, computer is the king of input devices. You can essentially add any input device you want and even build your own, and then hope for the best the games on Steam support it, and that their anti-piracy system doesn’t screw you over. But that’s the point; PC itself is that Wild West of every thing’s free, but Steam limits the user, and Valve trying to push the Steam controller is an example of further putting that console twist to what essentially is a digital console.

However, are all these controller sold separately? Without a doubt no. This half million sales figure most likely includes sold Steam Machines as well, which would mean that the Machines have probably sold less than a half million in six month’s sales period. There are no exact numbers anywhere, and we’ll most likely never hear any. Valve had partnered with numerous companies from Alienware to NEN to deliver their machines, a thing that caused more confusion to the general public than anything else.

People who already wanted to play console games on a power PC already had their gaming rig build and ready to go, and those who didn’t want to spend few thousands to build a supercomputer were satisfied with the console versions for their own reasons.

The Steam Machine is a physical iteration of a digital games console, and it showed that people aren’t willing to dish out money on yet another machine to play games when they have a computer to run Steam on. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbone sold over a million units on their first day back in 2013. To compare how well those two sold compared to Steam Machine, PS4 had sold 10.2 million units and Xbone 5.5 million in the same passing of time.

Steam Machine has been barely a splash in a puddle, comparable to any other dud console in the game history, especially with Valve’s status. If we’re completely honest, Steam OS is an idea worth jack shit as it supports no standards widely used. Linux is a nice thing but has its own problems, while Windows still rules as the standard OS across the world in most cases, followed and overtaken by Apple’s machines in certain fields. There is no reason for a consumer to move from their standard current setup to a dedicated Steam console. There are no benefits to do so, especially when Steam is free to download.

Steam Machines have nothing to do with PC gaming, much like how the only thing Steam has to do with PC gaming is that it’s a software on PC that functions like a game console. Giving Steam Machines any credit for driving Linux gaming is stupid, as Valve already released a version of Steam catered for Linux users before Steam Machines.

What appeal do the Steam Machines have? I have to ask this, as it seems that everything was against them. They had no exclusive deals that other consoles had as all titles that were offered through it were also available on the Windows Steam. The controller had put off a lot of people due to its general functions, especially in an environment where you can put a goddamn fleshlight into the USB jack and play games by using your hip movement. Their price range is rather on the high-end, starting from around five hundred dollars if their site is to be believed. That puts it automatically above the basic budget the common consumer wants to put into a game console, and both Xbone and PS4 are cheaper. Whatever capabilities the Steam OS is wasted on a  Steam Machine, when you probably have a computer sitting next to your desk.

Steam Machine baffles me. What was the point of it in the end? To make a computer more user-friendly for a console user?  If that was the intention, they’ve underestimated their consumer base in a major way.  A console is just a box to play games on, and without anything special on a particular console (especially in the price range they are in) Steam Machines withered fast. It doesn’t help that after the Steam Machines’ launch, Valve did exactly jack shit with them and their promotion has been worse than the new Ghostbusters’.

The only good thing from all this is the fact that Valve really is intending to push Linux gaming further, but as said, Valve had been pushing that before Steam Machines. Without a doubt they are one of the major reasons why they are doing it now, and perhaps had planned it beforehand. Valve should drop their nigh stupidly manical ideas of pushing a physical iteration of Steam any further or an Operating System dedicated to it, and stick with driving more Linux and OS compatible titles.

The last thing that shows that Valve failed with Steam Machines that there is no buzz about them. There is not discussion on the general level or even news about them. Occasionally you can see news about Xbox or PlayStation, even about the Wii U. People will discuss them and their games. Steam Machines will be a footnote on electronic gaming history alongside Atari Jaguar.

However, that controller of theirs has still something in it. It’s floating in the ether and pops up in discussion about controllers, but that seems to be it. Still a failure in the end.

Steam refunds brings out the Neelix in devs

Last year I talked about how Puppygamer, an indie developer, managed to distance themselves from their consumers by basically calling them worthless, blaming them on their own misfortune and on loss of monetary gain. They even call customers as ants. The post really is an ugly bit of text to read, and while it is true that Valve has managed to drop value in gaming by selling games for a nickel instead of at proper price, it’s also a fact that there are games that are barely worth that nickel. You’d better just save it to use in your favourite arcade machine.

With Steam now allowing refunds, fucking finally if I may say so, the consumers are able to voice their distaste for any low end product that does not deliver as promised and/or advertised. Steam has changed their practices before due to European laws before, as they had to change from costumer purchasing games  to subscribing to them. If you were purchasing a game from Steam, you should have every right to resell it or demand refunds.

The only real way to keep customers from demanding a refund is to make a product that they want to keep, a product that delivers as promised. If it does more, then it would be better. Apparently, some indie developers who work with Valve to release their products on Steam seem to have risen against the idea of refunds, like Puppygamer. At the moment, Puppygamer’s twitter seems to be on fire. Qwiboo is another. This applies to some other, but the common thing is that there now exists a group of game developers that are hurting from Steam refunds. There is also another group of developers that are not experiencing any notable decline in sales since refund policy’s implementation, like Running With Scissors.

And that’s how it exactly as it should be.

The customer is a force to be reckoned with. If a customer is an ant, then we’re all living in a colony. You don’t like ants when they’re attacking you, biting and stinging you. You may be able to sit on top of the ant hive and take all the pain, but unless you’re paid for doing that, it’s better just to leave the ants alone. Otherwise you make suddenly find yourself losing  million dollar ad revenues.

A market is all about competition. You either make competent product or you will lose. Any and all companies that have been releasing products via Steam have been able to enjoy a free ride of never giving two damns about refunds. Now that customers are able to request their money back for products that essentially have wasted their time and put them into more entertaining pieces, they’re feeling the heat. Either you compete, or you drop out. I would not pay any money for a five minute game, and it seems that Steam is full of small indie titles that offer very low value in entertainment and time.

Customer satisfaction is incredibly important. To strand off from games for a moment, there’s one franchise with a stark contrast how the customers’ opinions were and handled. In both Star Trek Deep Space 9 and ST Voyager there are two side characters that were made more or less to ease the viewer into the world; Quark and Neelix respectively. Both characters were met with criticism and displeasure, as most viewers saw both of them annoying. They didn’t do their job and were hindering both shows’ success. Both series’ writers’ went The audience seems to hate out breakthrough characters, and while the DS9 staff asked what was wrong with their writing and how they could fix it, the Voyager staff asked what the hell was wrong with the audience. Quark was then soon naturally written to become far less annoying and incredibly well balanced support cast member to a point I would directly argue that he was a main character and the show could not have been as well received as it was. Neelix on the other hand stayed as an annoying idiot and practically lost every and all worth as a member of the Voyager crew by fucking things up as the series went on and couldn’t even offer guidance through space he claimed to have knowledge off. Rather than removing him from the show, the writers decided to remove Neelix’s competent and interesting ex-girlfriend. It was a middle finger to the viewers and series overall.

Puppygamers is an example of a developer who is doing the Neelix. Instead of looking at their product and wondering how the hell they could fix this shit, they are looking at everybody else and blaming them for their shortcomings. When you enter the any market as a provider, be prepared to cater to make money. You can make that trophy product you want, the shining example your ideal product, but don’t expect it to be successful. It’s most likely going to be something the consumer doesn’t want.  It’s a harsh truth, but unless you are able to cater to the consumer, you shouldn’t expect much gain.

If Puppygamer was any sort of developer that mattered on the larger scale, this would be some sort of PR fiasco right here. As an independent developer, which isn’t the case when they are partnered with Valve Corporation, they have little to no effect on anything. They are just a decent example how any group of people who are hate how a system is enforcing further competition and allows the ants, the consumers, to have ways to voice their displeasure. Consumer reviews are all good and give some idea how games are, but ultimately they don’t offer the thing actually testing the game does. As most developers don’t offers demos anymore because it takes away from the sales, the only thing the consumer on Steam can do is demand refunds when the products ends up being shit after all.

Perhaps the developers should continue to offer demos to consumers. Then they would not need to report loss of sales when consumers decide not to waste their time with the full product.

Will the current model for mods pay out like companies want them to?

The Internet has gone a bit loco with the whole Steam and mods thing going on. For those who have happened to miss what’s going on, Steam has mods for sale.

For a long line PC gamer, that may sound absolutely horrible.

While I agree with that notion, it’s never that simple when it comes to money. Mods have been more often than not been there from the community for the community. In some cases a mod or similar has been deemed good enough by the original product owner to see the day of light in commercial form, and it’s not too rare to see unlicensed mods to see the day of light on disc. Sometimes from Chinese selling free mods, but that’s another matter as a whole.

However, I also agree that a provider has the right to apply a price to their product, and thus request a payment in exchange for their effort. As an idea, Steam allowing or encouraging the sales of mods doesn’t sound too bad. Enforcing however is laughable at best, and seeing how the modder doesn’t actually benefit from the mods to the same degree as Valve and the original product owners do. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

This, however, is nothing new when it comes to Steam and Valve runs it. All the sales and such have been degrading the small developers position for some time, indie or not. People buy hundreds upon hundreds of games for just few dollars from various sales and bundles, making the games’ value essentially worthless. A developer has little to no control over the pricetag of their product. For a small developer, getting a dollar from a game that should sell at least at twenty dollars is not a punch to the gut, it’s knife stab with some skewing to go with it.

Steam at one point seemed to get every single console game ported to it. Big companies with large libraries from their almost thirty years of existence, or more, can do quick and cheap conversions to Steam and have that low price. The occasional big name then will rake in some bucks at the full price, and then it’ll go into sale. After this the company barely will even note the revenue it might bring in. Much like how children are criticised to want instant gratification nowadays, it could be argued that these companies are the exact same. Only the first few weeks matter, then forget it. Wait for the next five years or more until you get a new game for the series. Push out some DLC that was made during the production and all that, so you can rake in some more money, perhaps put a microtransaction element to fully abuse the consumer’s enthusiasm.

There is a group of people who have seen this as a last straw and are quitting Steam. All I really want to know is why are they quitting at this point, as this is the environment they helped to built.

Steam, as a whole, is unnecessary. Has always been, more or less. Why do we have Steam, the digital video game console on PC? PC used to be a free platform in the sense that anyone could produce something and put it on sale. Now it seems it has to be on Steam, or otherwise it will be doomed. Or at least that’s what the company and the most fanatic users want you to believe. In reality, Steam did nothing to make Minecraft a success it is. In Japan, where PC market is more or less solely for the otaku pandering porn games and visual novels, some franchises have stricken gold outside Steam, both before and after its arrival.

The whole selling mods thing seems more like a way to outsource actual content of a game like Skyrim to the consumers themselves. If a game sees high amounts of mods that add content to the game, why should the developer do any additional content themselves? The modders at Steam also need to make hundreds of dollars before they see any money from their work, and it seems it is Bethesda that rakes in the bucks.

Another issue is that mods are not the most reliable thing in the world. They will be broken by other mods, they will be broken by game updates and simple incompatible details in folders or other trivial things. What then when a game gets updated and a mod you purchased doesn’t work anymore? The modder is not liable to update the mod in any way, even if it would be decent ethics. Now that the mod is tied to a shop system like Steam, no other party can just take it and make it work with or without the original modder. I’m sure there is some sort of unwritten code with PC modders, something like honour among thieves sort of thing.

While I missed the whole golden age of modding scenes with consoles and arcade games, I’m no stranger in scrounging the Internet for rumoured mods and applying them. I remember the small crusade I had to do for a total conversion UC Gundam mod for Homeworld 2. I doubt there exists any downloads for that anymore, unless they actually managed to roll out that 3.0 or similar version. That poses another issue for the mod store; you are unable to get any license contradicting mods there of any kind. I doubt you could beforehand, but the point stands. You wouldn’t find something like that UC Gundam conversion on Steam, because the modder didn’t own any legal rights. But then again, it’s not uncommon to hear Cease and Desists letters arriving to modders’ mail boxes. It seems that current license holders are far too eager to protect their IP

It’s a harsh reality, but companies have rights to their products and they will take any chance to maximise their profits even when it is at the expense of the more enthusiastic consumers. While I can understand that, this really is a short term thing and will only create revenue on the short term, if at all, the real question is if they should do things like this at all. On the long run it is better to keep your customers happy and have a steady stream rather than sudden arguable spikes and then low income when the hype is gone and people have gone. Satisfied customer is returning customer, and lately it seems less and less customers come out satisfied.

The dynamics between the consumer and modder will decide whether or not the current situation is acceptable.

Steam tags going haywire, or showing proper characteristics?

Valve has allowed interesting transparency with Steam with the use of user generated tags with the software their system provides. This gives a lot of freedom to the customer to voice their mind to the publishers through the tags. Unsurprisingly, these tags have become abused as of late. Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 have been tagged with some seriously harsh tags, such as Don’t Preorder, remember watchdogs and Uplay warning. I understand the last of these, as nobody wants to use Uplay. Then again, it’s just another layer of DRM on top of Steam itself, so it can be argued that the point is moot. I don’t really know who would want to preorder digital games, it’s not like it is possible to run out of digital goods. Artificially limiting the amount the distributor is willing to give out in digital products nothing short of stupid and strange. Watch-underscore-dogs is understandable, as the whole issue of keeping the better looks stashed away shows how little the industry thinks of PC nowadays and further shows how forcefully mixed and confused PC and console markets are.

Of course, the tags contain childish additions to boot. Tags like peasantry, casual and Kawaii are the closest thing you get of useless shit throw on the Internet for the mentioned games. They don’t support the claim the PC games should have; furthermore they undermine the little weight the developers put on negative customer feedback nowadays.

While the users, yours include, have an issue with modern Ubisoft titles and their forced Uplay, the way this dissatisfaction should be brought out in a far more constructive manner rather slamming stupid shit in the tags. As always, hitting Ubisoft where it hurts most is most effective. Refusal to purchase their products and spreading the information around is the best way to tackle their current game handling.

Granted, the whole tag function appears to be in some sort of beta stage and not wholly finished, and this sort of event just shows how a freeform system needs certain level of administration to weed out all the bullshit tags out. I am sure things will be changed when the final version of the tag system rolls out, but part of me does enjoy seeing things going like this to rather large extent. If Valve would care about the users, they would find a golden middle between the demands of the developers and the customers.

I wouldn’t mind if they’d favour the customer a bit more in their choice, whatever it is in the end.

It’s a good question whether or not PC is seen as a worthwhile system by Ubisoft. The thing is, both Assassin’s Creed Unity and far Cry 4 are, at their very core, PC games. If PC was the platform they would develop these games from the ground up, and only for PC, these products would eclipse their brethren. Of course, when console games are developed with the same mindset and the machines’ strengths are played out, the results should be something akin to the first Rayman in both success and popularity. Then again, perhaps Rayman is not the best example, as it was developed for Atari Jaguar.

I don’t really remember a time when Ubisoft’s PC games were not panned. It’s expected from Ubisoft to have a horrible PC port of their PC game on a console.

The current state of Steam tags is really interesting in another way as well. At this moment, they allow the users to add the very things they see describing the games most accurately in both negative and positive tones. A negative tag for one can be a positive to another, like No multiplayer.

It is expected that the developers want to control the tags they’re given. This is very foolish, in a manner of speaking, as it would also mean that honest interaction between the customers as well as the developers would be prevented. Tagging a game with something like Low FPS might be seen as a negative tag from the developers’ perspective, but it’s their damn fault such that tag is related to their games. Tags could be seen as one of the methods to do slightly invasive customer research, as the companies would see what sort of tags the customers value over others if done well.

It would be highly damaging if Ubisoft would come out and claim that these tags damage the image of their product. The thing is that of course it does; the customer decide the image of your product in the long run. Customers are fickle beings, especially on the Internet, especially in a place like Steam, and putting extra effort to meet their wants and needs are things that would need some attention.

In a perfect world, a good game would receive no bad tags but we know that’s not going to happen. We should also question if the tag system would need more emphasize on adding positive or negative views. For example, a tag could have plus and minus relations to a game. How this system would work in all actuality is a whole another issue, but it’s an interesting thing that might work if well designed. Could be a training exercise for future, I guess.

It will be interesting to see how Ubisoft will reply to these user made tags. I doubt that they will make any official statements and almost everything will be done behind the scenes. While I support the curtain between the provider and the customer, Valve’s transparency with the tags will pose some problems to the developers rather than Valve itself. It’s an interesting, and most likely unintentional, feature which can either give the developers a lot possibilities or fire back like as it has with Ubisoft.

Actually, screw that. Allow the users to put whatever tags they want and vote which tags describe the games most. Have few thousand people voting on Awful controls for a game as the most appropriate tag and let the developer sweat a bit. Perhaps this way the customer could put some pressure on the developers.