When I first learned about Steam a month ago, I was impressed by what Valve had done. I thought:
Free Counter-Strike, Half-Life and a few other mods. Wow! What a smart move! nobody’s buying those old games anymore. Making them free not only is a nice thing to do for fans but will also bolster people’s sympathy towards Valve and increas the number of people who will buy their new products (ex: Half-Life 2). But that was just the tip of the iceberg as I saw it.
Steam had the potential to be the next revolution in pc game distribution. Here was my recipe for success:
Attract people with free games and increase Steam’s userbase. Make anyone who uses Steam agree to occasionally contribute some upload bandwidth as a compensation. Say you have to contribute 1Gb/month worth of upload, with the choice of when to enable it and full throttle abilities. A user in control is a happy user.
This will of course, be used by steam (which would a p2p system a la bittorrent) for content distribution.
Now comes the really cool part:
Say Half-Life 2 is ready. You (Valve) can offer the game through Steam. Since all the costs involved in distributing a physical item have beel cut, you can afford to sell it for maybe $20 a piece (How much money does valve get off the sale of one HL2 box? I’m assuming it’s $20 or less). No monthtly subscriptions fees or anything like that. One time fees. Always. It’s not like you are paying for servers! Other people are hosting them. When you release new content, Use a 100Mbit line to get things rolling (and maybe get some sponsors (the same ones that host demos, servers and such) to share some of the “seeding” burden with you in exchange for some advertising.
Soon enough, People will be contributing most of the bandwidth needed by their fellow leechers). And these are freaking happy people. These are people who got the game for 40% of it’s retail price.
Now, paying users have the game and the corresponding cd-keys that have been emailed to them. Keep being nice to them. Make the game protection free for your beloved customers. Hell, include a button for them that convert the game to .iso format so they can burn it if they wish to. Granted, some people will pirate it but it’s not like isoz of the cracked game aren’t going to surface a week before it’s released in stores anyways). Be pragmatic. Remember that low cost reduces the appeal of piracy. And grateful customers make for great word of mouth.(free advertising)
A little later, you and others are going to start releasing mods. Team Fortress 2, DoD 2 and eventually, the much expected Counter-Strike 2.
Sell those mods! Charge very little for them. Say $5 to $10 bucks depending on the mod. If the mod is not yours, charge a 5% or 10% commission for each sale. You’ll have millions of people willing to spend $10 for CS2 right? Many of the people who pirated HL2 will now buy it and spend $10 for CS2 because they want to play online. The number of quality mods will increase exponentially because of the money incentive. You get money, happy customers AND more users as time goes by. THe more users, the more appealing it is for other modders to jump on the bandwagon. and the cycle continues.
The constantly increasing userbase will start to full fledged game developpers (small and big alike) who will start releasing their games on Steam. And you’re getting a small slice of the pie for every single copy sold! More profit for you at very little expense. Remember the bandwidth is provided by the users (who will be more than happy to do so in exchange for those low prices I mentionned).
So there we have it, Everybody is happy. Valve is making tons of money, gamers are getting awesome price/value, modders and small time game developpers have an easy entry to the industry.
Am I crazy? Is all this stuff I mentionned so hard to implement? Isn’t this a valid business plan?
But nope. Valve is not going to do this.
1-After the beta ended, free HL and counter-strike was over. Say bye to to 50-75% of steam users.
2-Valve is going the monthly subscription route ($10 a month and you can play everything. Stop paying, and say bye bye to your games).
3-You must be online even if you want to play on a LAN
4-or even to play an offline game (such as HL2). Don’t believe me? Go read their faqs and Gabe Newell interviews. If you buy HL2 at a store, you can play the single player mode offline UNTIL you go online for the first time. Then you will have to be online to play single player.
5- Want out? You’ll probably will have to format your HD or use some program to crack steam (If it’s possible. Remember that they use encrypted “mini-partitions” to store the game in your HD, so a crack might not be feasible).
6- No copy protection? A button to make isoz? hahaha. Yah right.
Now, I’m sure that some people will disagree with some of the things I said in the second part of my post. I admit, I’m not 100% certain of everything in it because there is a lot of disinformation and rumors going on. But I just used it to contrast with the dream I described in the first part.
It’s just sad to see such potential wasted. I would probably cry if I wasn’t a cynical bastard who eats babies for breakfast and dissolves steel with his urine.