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Monday, August 10, 2015

Me no likie Steam

No pictures this time. Instead, you get to experience me having a rant, so grab a drink, get some snacks and sit down and relax as I ramble on for a bit. Hopefully I don't come off as too much of and angry nutter.

Anyway, I'm here to whine about Valve's Steam service. It hasn't done anything specific recently to gain my ire, but these are some points I've been meaning to get across for a while now.

I dislike Steam. No - scratch that - I despise the service with every fibre of my being ever since I was first forced to use it. It began with Half Life 2. Up until that point, you used to buy a PC game, install it, maybe enter a CD key, then enjoy. But oh no, Valve wanted to complicate things by throwing in an online requirement. Installing Half Life 2 took ages. At first the game installs off the disc, but towards the end it decides it needs to download the rest (admittedly, these may be updates, but come on, leave it until AFTER I've been able to play and enjoy a bit of the game). Even later on after installation there were Steam updates and additional updates for Half Life 2. Now, even though this was 2004, we still had dial-up speed internet at our place, so anything that required a download was excruciatingly slow. These were speeds where 10Mb took an hour to download. Later on, an update for the game failed which left me being unable to run the game. 

Even when we upgraded to broadband, there were still plenty of problems. Steam would often fail to connect and the process of installing a game was often awkward and sluggish, even though I was installing off a disc. I wanted to avoid buying the game as a digital download, as file sizes would have taken too long for our internet. I had an odd issue with Serious Sam 3 (I didn't know at the time of purchase it was a Steam game. If I did, I wouldn't have bought it.). When attempting to install it, Steam decided to download the game from scratch. I bought the game on a disc! Why did it start dowloading and not install from the disc?! Then there was the time I was installing Company of Heroes 2. It installed from the disc but like I've mentioned with HL 2, it downloads the last few percent of the game. With CoH 2, this worked out to be several GB worth. While we did have broadband, it was slow broadband (welcome to Australia) and our speed meant 1 GB would take around 3 hours. Both the files sizes for Serious Sam 3 and the last 'little' bit of CoH 2 were 5 GB, so to hell with that. We also had data caps with our internet (again, hello Australian internet), so persevering with the download was not worth it.

I'll admit that most of my issues with Steam involved having less than ideal internet. What I have now is much faster and with a high data cap, so the process of downloading/installing is far less painful than what it once was, but Steam is still a flawed system. The problem is you HAVE to use Steam to access their games and if there is a problem at their end, you suffer. As I've mentioned, it occasionally takes a few attempts to be able to actually log onto Steam (I'm exaggerating a bit on the frequency, but it is annoying every time I can't connect), so if I can't access Steam, I can't play the games I paid good money for. 

There was one time when Steam just outright would not run. I tried to re-install it and that didn't work, so I had to delete Steam, then install it again. Deleting the Steam Client also erases ALL associated games from your hard drive. The save game files still remain, but you still have to install all your games all over again.

This is not good for the world of gaming. The ability to play and enjoy your games should not be riding on the functionality of a single program. Look at it this way - what if the Steam service had to be shut down suddenly? In an instant, everyone would have access cut off from their games (and no, Steam's Offline Mode does not count). It gets worse - in an online video I once watched that talked about what would happen if Steam disappeared, one of the issues they brought up was a clause in the Steam EULA stating that Valve/Steam/whatever are not obligated to compensate anyone for the games they bought in the past and can no longer play, should Steam eff off and die. Of course with the amount of money Valve make, shutting down does not seem likely. However with recent events like the suggestion of paid mods, the lack of quality control with games through Steam Greenlight and various other things that have gained the ire of customers, they risk pushing us too far. I've already stopped buying games over Steam. Fallout 4 will probably be an exception, though. Dammit.

This brings me to a point of how things should be done and so, I point you towards This is digital distribution done much better. The first benefit is simple - you can access the website and browse the library of games, even without creating an account first. Everything else - Steam, Origin, UPlay etc, is very much 'closed doors'. You don't get to see anything  until you commit to creating an account (Pretty sure this is how they operate but I admit I haven't double checked). One of the other benefits with GOG is that when you download a game, you download a separate install file, rather than downloading something attached to the system's client. So if you happen to say, buy a new computer, you can copy your downloaded files onto your new system without having to go through the download process all over again. The third benefit is the obvious one - in that provide games DRM free. No external application to be shackled to in order to enjoy your games. I love it how trust us in this way and I do hope we uphold this trust by not unlawfully distributing games they buy. Of course, this DRM-free approach means it has limited the range of games compared to other digital distribution sites, as various publishers are a bit iffy providing games DRM-free (see? This is what you've done, you game pirates!) but if we continue to support services like in the way they intend, then maybe the gaming industry will treat consumers like human beings again.

I will say something that Steam does better is updates. When an update is available, it automatically downloads it for the game and away you go. GOG is less straightforward. Sometimes a separate update .exe file is available for a game, but most other times it's the main install files that are updated, meaning the whole game has to be downloaded again. Although in recent times have launched GOG Galaxy. I haven't used it much, but it seems to provide the ability to update games in a more efficient manner.

So, yeah. It would be nice if everyone stopped supporting Steam and their draconian ways, but I know a lot of you don't mind Steam one bit and this blog entry is nothing more than the ranting of a madman. Overall Steam is... ok I admit, I just find it poorly implemented. If they got rid of the DRM, it would be great.

But I can understand why it was called Steam - it burns.