In which Gozu talks about online game distribution, Steam, Half-Life 2 and more

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.

But… But I like the physical distribution. I want the disc, and the box, and the instruction manual, so I sit there and rub against my chin while hissing “my precious!” over and over.

I want to be able to have a physical object that clearly states my ownership of my copy of the game. I’d like to be able to install it and play it without being connected to the internet if say, my connection goes down and I want to play a single player game. I want to be able to reinstall if I switch to a new hard drive after my previous one crashes spectacularly (as happened to me a month ago).

So - your points 3, 4, and 5 are the ones that get me frothing. But I’ll have to stave that, since this isn’t really the place and the board’s about to close for the night.

The game that I work* on has one big problem; there’s no box. We’ve found that people like buying a box. Advertising is good, but not as good as actually having a box on the shelf.

Our game is free to dowload, and comes with a free month of play (after which there’s a monthly subscription). We’d like to be able to afford to put a box on the shelf, but boy is that expensive.

I think a Valve’s scheme of a monthly subscription is a bad one- I know I won’t subscribe to it. I’ll just buy the games, thanks. And I am extremely annoyed that, to play a Lan game, I need to connect to the 'Net.

[SUB]* I only call it work because I have to work on it- it’s been months since I’ve gotten a paycheck.[/SUB]

Go figure.

I think game manufacturers went a little nuts when Everquest got as big as it did. They discovered that it is possible to get us to PAY RENT on games! Yes, you buy the disc, but you can’t play the thing unless you PAY RENT, in the form of a monthly fee!

And they’ve been trying to figure out a way to get rich, rich, rich like the Everquest people ever since.

I think the folks at Valve have been annoyed with the success of Counterstrike… and the fact that they aren’t making as much money on it as the Everquest people. So, since Counterstrike is the most insanely popular team-based internet shootemup, they decided that they would try and get people to pay to play, even to the point of making LAN parties impossible without the participants coughing up some dough.

As to paying for downloads: I don’t give a damn how great your game is, I want something TANGIBLE for my money.

I like Bejeweled. I like it a lot. But I flatly refused to pay for a download. Man, what if my computer gets a virus? What if Bill Gates burps or something, and my hard drive explodes? What happens to this download I paid for, then?

…and then, one day, in the store, I noticed that I could buy both Bejeweled and Alchemy, on one disk, for twenty bucks. My wife promptly pounced on the thing, and we’ve had a fine time with it ever since.

Completely legally, too – the manufacturers have been paid, and I have a fine shiny CD just in case the internet implodes or something, and takes my data with it.

Want me to buy your product? Sell me something tangible. Sell me something I can OWN, not a little cluster of ones and zeroes on my hard drive that could vanish at any time, or get corrupted, or some durn thing. Yes, I know, I’m probably irritating the techheads, but that’s how I am… and if you’re gonna sell a product, you need to cater to the customer, to some extent. Perhaps some future generation will be completely comfortable with buying non-tangible products, but not me… and not yet.

…which may have something to do with my resistance to most online games. I’ve seen several of these online games for sale at rock bottom prices at used software and book outlets. Hell, today, I must have seen twenty copies of WWII ONLINE at Half Price Books in San Antonio. This tells me that the game is not selling well… and that unless something changes hard and fast, those big shiny servers will no longer be operating, whether or not your online fees are paid up.

…which means your fine new computer game is now a shiny new drink coaster. Hell, what happens if I want to play the damn thing ten years from now?

Point 4 kills it for me, and a lot of other people. I have a cable modem, but I may not have it forever. And, it goes down occasionally, like it did half an hour ago.

I personally don’t care about the box and such. I’d gladly pay less and simply download the title. But if I have to be online to play single-player, no dice. I ain’t goin’ for it.

Almost all of your points are based on misrepresentation and misconception.

They always said this, from the start. But if you have bought ANY HL product (original HL, CS, Op4, Blue Shift, TFC, etc.), EVER, and still have the cdkey, you still get free access to all the “free” games for eternity: even if you never bought Op4, and only bought HL, you now have Op4. For free. I think that’s more than generous, even though these are old games.

We don’t know about the latter part, and indeed, neither does Valve. The only reason we’ve heard of the subscription was because Gabe was kind enough to let fans in on the discussions they were having internally. They haven’t fully decided how it will work yet as far as what happens when you cancel.

That said, you are missing some very key points here:

  1. Steam itself is ENTIRELY FREE (no subscription for IT is required). (Valve is personally paying millions to supply free bandwidth for it)

  2. You can STILL BUY GAMES IN THE CONVENTIONAL WAY. Nothing has changed for those that don’t want it to change.

  3. The subscription option entitles you to more than just Steam: it entitles you to every bit of content Valve ever has, and ever will create. They are talking about releasing official new content to supplement HL2, as well as their own official mods, including TF2, and CS2. The subscription fee covers all of these: otherwise you’d have to buy them seperately.

  4. Subscription is OPTIONAL. It is one of many different ways to buy Valve products. Even over steam, you can still buy HL2 via a one time purchase. And after that, purchasing third-party mods (if they cost anything) is entirely between you and the mod developer.

Wrong. First of all, the SP game does not require you to be online if you bought it retail (it’s true only for the Steam version, which is a big duh, because the game is run over the net)

As for LAN games, there will be a two week period where this is true while they transition. After that, there will be a system that will allow LAN games offline. This is already confirmed.

This is sort of true… by why is it a big deal? If you don’t have a net connection, it wont be a problem. If you do have a net connection… what’s the problem? The whole point of going online is that Steam updates the game and controls the MP to prevent cheating and copyright theft. Once you go online, Steam starts verifying your game to continually upgrade it with patches and new features.

I don’t even know what this means. Out of what? patches? Free content? Copy protection? You can always uninstall it if you don’t like it.

Eh? Yes, copyprotection. Consider how Steam works. You can litterally go ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD with a net connection, download Steam, log into your account, and start playing any game you own. Given that this is possible, they have to find some way to prevent theft. This is also key to preventing cheating.

Key summary point: THERE IS NO MANDATORY PAY TO PLAY. The onyl thing even remotely close is the premium subscription, which is not really like PtP (since you get other games and content for it, not just the single game), and in case is optional. It makes no sense to have PtP for Valve’s MP, which is run on private servers, not on large central servers run by the company.

Oh: about swarming (individual users supplying extra upload bandwidth). It is, and always has been, something they’re considering for the future. But it was never a promised feature, and there are a lot of legal and technical issues right now. It won’t be in Steam for the HL2 release era, for sure (which is a shame, because the recent release is totally crushing their content servers).

What if you have a net connection, then you don’t? For example, my cable modem goes out fairly frequently. I don’t want to have to wait for a resource to run software that the software doesn’t really need. It’s like saying my hot water heater has to be working for my car to start.

Well, again, this isn’t finalized, and I imagine that if people (like you) have problems, they’ll find some way to give you a work around. I admit: I’m not entirely happy about the way Steam manages new content in SP games, though Gabe has talked about how it WILL work, and his vision seems somewhat different from how it does work (in his vision, it downloads the needed content long before you need it, whereas now, it seems to download content like the next map on demand), and it would be very irritating to have the game crash out if a net connection drops.

If you want, I can try to ask Gabe for you (or you can ask him yourself at He’s been VERY good about responding to fans, though obviously he’s a little more busy with the gold date coming up) about this matter. We’re doing an interview with him soon over at with a couple of Steam questions related to this.

That’s OK Apos, I’ll just wait and see how this hashes out. Thanks though!

I can’t be the only one with an unreliable 'net connection, I’m sure they’re not going to make such a mistake.

Even more common; what about the kids living at home with their family, who have to wait for the phone to be free before they can connect to the net? When I was a kid, if I had to wait for my sister to get off the phone before I could play a game… well, I might have been an only child by the time I left the house!

Mmm… I don’t much like what I’m hearing.

Due to these rumors, I will not be among the first to buy the product. I’ll wait, and see what they actually wind up releasing.

And if I cannot use the singleplayer game, at ANY point, without a net connection, forget it. I ain’t buyin’ it. Hell, what if I install the game, play it online, then uninstall it? What happens when I reinstall it later?

There is a limit to the amount of nonsense I am willing to put up with in order to let the game-makers protect their copyrights. After that point, I will vote with my wallet: I’ll put it back in my pocket, and leave. Without buying the product.

Some people are still on dial up, yes. Some people still pay per minute!

Having to be online to play single player is a shockingly bad idea and it seems to me they’re preparing to make HL2 a patchfest which isn’t a habit I want to encourage either. When I buy a game I want to do as little as possible by way of tinkering my setup and applying patches. I want to lay out my cash, own the game and be able to play it hassle free at whim.

I understand why patches exist, I work for a game developer! I still think Steam is going to just make the whole process too complicated and fiddly to bother with. I’ll be waiting to see how it pans out as well. I understood that the old school way of buying and playing the game would still be available, so that’s the way I’ll be going initially. If it isn’t available, I’ll just not bother, thanks.

Copy protection is all well and good, but when your copy protection makes using the legitimate software /more/ of a hassle than using cracked software, you’re on idiot street (are you listening Discreet?).

All I know is I could play CS for free and I liked Valve and now they took it away from me and I don’t like them anymore. Do they gain anything by doing this? Are they going to sell more HL and CS copies? Nope. Therefore, they were mean to me (and a few hundred thousands more) for no apparent reason. (on a sidenote, I owned a copy of HL 5 years ago so, morally, I’m not a freeloader . I just happened to lose the cd-key and the game.)

True. We don’t know. But we can make reasonable assumptions. I see 3 possibilities for the end user.

1- Pay a one time fee to download HL2 then pay $10 a month for the privilege of playing it online, the privilege of downloading and playing any subsequent Valve products at no additional cost. Stop paying and you can still play HL2 single player as long as you are online but you cannot play online multiplayer anymore.

2- Only pay $10 a month and you can play all present and upcoming Valve products (including HL2) in single and multiplayer mode as long as you keep paying. Stop paying and you can’t play anything at all, single player or otherwise.

3- Go the old fashioned way. Buy both HL2 and mods at the store or maybe online for one time fees.

Well, this doesn’t look so bad now, does it? But wait, how is this BETTER than buying HL2 at the store and subsequently getting ALL the mods for free? Because that’s how it was for the original Half-Life. Well, the short answer is: It’s NOT better. People often forget about the long term and don’t bother doing the math. Let me give it a shot. Let’s assume that a gamer wants to play HL2, DoD2, TF2 and CS2 over a period of two years. I have to make assumptions about the costs of each game but I hope we can all agree that they are reasonable assumptions and that minor fluctuations will not affect the overall conclusion.

Option1: 30 + (10*24) = $270.
Used product value: I guess you could sell your “used” HL2 by transferring your Steam ID to someone. Maybe you’d get $15 for it on Ebay or something.

Option2: $(10*24) = $240
Used product value: none. Unless Valve devises some kind of “loyalty bonus” scheme allowing people to “own” HL2 and/or a certain number of mods depending on how long they have been paying subscribers. They might do just that.

Option3: $50 + $20 + $20 +$30 = $120
Used product Value: Maybe half of that. $60

So, in the long run, Option3 is definitely more appealing to the diehard fan. The same diehard fan towards whom the whole Steam subscription process is aimed at. At least, that is my humble and subjective view. Please feel free to point major flaws in my reasoning.

Without getting into an argument over the true essence of kindness, this is off-topic.

Well, I addressed this point now and offered a few alternatives.

Yes. Steam is free. It is also completely useless (remember? beta is over, no more free games), buggy, bloated (it uses around 16Mb idle) and slow. And that is not my opinion, that is the opinion of 90% of Steam users.

The conventional way was to buy HL then to download all the mods for free. If it hasn’t changed, then what’s the point of the $10 monthly subscription?

Let me quote from the official website for you:

**How can I have a LAN party or similar event using Steam?

Any Steam game, when played on a LAN or otherwise, requires that each individual client be able to authenticate via the Internet. At a LAN party, this means that Internet access must be available to every machine on which Steam games are being played.

Do I have to be connected to the Internet when I play Steam games?

The short answer is yes.

All Steam-enabled games require you to be connected to the Internet in order to play. Note: some Steam-enabled single-player games (such as Half-Life 2) purchased at a retail store will allow offline play until the user decides to play online or enable other Steam functionality. From that point on, an Internet connection will be required.**

First, it’s not “sort of true”. It’s true. Period. Second, why in God’s name are you defending Valve on this issue? It’s blatantly evil. You can upgrade and patch a game without having to be online to play singleplayer mode. It’s been done for about 200 years. Also, online cheating has nothing to do with singleplayer.

Sigh…Out of having to be online to play single player of course!!!

Baloney. There’s no subscription charge, but the cost of the service is reflected in the cost of the games. It’s part of the game. I don’t buy any game these days if it isn’t multiplayer, or if the multiplayer has a fee, so it’s not like Valve is doing this out of the good of their hearts.

Yes, and if you’d paid $13/mo. (the latest fee I’ve seen, not $10) since half-life shipped that’d be nearly $800 by now. That’s a bit more than paying for HL and every mod/single player mission. Valve is simply buying into the idea of getting a subscription-based revenue. Buyers don’t like the idea because it’s a subscription to an unknown. When I get a magazine subscription, I get one magazine every month. I know that in a year, I’ll get 12 magazines. I have no idea how many (or few) games Valve will put out in a year.

This just brought up a question: is every third-party mod required to provide their mod to Steam? If so, do they get a cut? If not, that’s even less of a reason to subscribe.

Here is where you show yourself as a shill for Valve, or at least a rabid Vavle apologist. The other weekend, I was travelling (with my laptop) and played some HL. I only found the single missions POV and Azure Sheep recently and was playing those. I didn’t have a connection where I was or I likely would have played Team Fortress. What you are acknowledging is that I couldn’t have played a game I purchased because I didn’t have a phone line, even if I paid for the retail box.

That’s totally unacceptable. If I’m not playing online, I shouldn’t be forced to validate online. And if that really is a requirement, I simply won’t buy the game (though I’d like to). This last week, Steam has been barely alive. I haven’t been able to play TFC since the rollover, all because of Valve. There have been periods in the past where MS has been unable to “activate” products for legitimate consumers because its servers were down, and yet they don’t seem to have a problem with it. Valve seems to be emulating the wrong company.

Copy prevention is a pain, doesn’t work, and treats the legitimate consumer as a thief first, customer second. The very first thing I do when I buy a game is rip it to ISO so I don’t have to worry about my CD getting scratched. I was royally pissed when Blizzard put copy prevention on Warcraft III. It was a gift from my boss, and I played it at work and home. I had to have a CD to play, and playing in both places meant carrying the original CD around. I resolved this with the help of Alcohol120% and D-Tools, but it pissed me off that for a game with nearly 5 million preorders (that’s $300 million retail folks) they put copy prevention on the CD’s.

Which accomplished nothing, of course. You can download the ISO just about anywhere, and there are key generators that work on A coworker was getting bumped off because someone had generated the same key he had–Blizzard’s answer was that he had to send them his CD, pay a fee, and get a replacement key. That’s right, punish the paying customer while not preventing copies. Nice work Blizzard. Funny–Starcraft battle chest is still selling for $10-$15 a box. Warcraft 3 is selling for $20. And Starcraft didn’t have any copy prevention. After the hassle of War3 (and the fact that the gameply isn’t very good) I didn’t bother buying the expansion.

WTH? They said: hey for this free beta, you can play these games for free. When Steam goes final, you will need to enter a -key to keep getting them. It’s as if I buy you lunch one day, asking nothing in return from you, but when I don’t buy you lunch the next day, you get mad at me. It makes absolutely no sense. It’s too bad you lost your cd-key, but what do you expect them to do: allow any random person to play without having a trackable key? They can’t distinguish you from a freeloader any better than someone who walks into a store claiming that they bought a Tv from it, the tv broke, and got lost, and they don’t have a reciept for the purchase… but they want a new Tv as a replacement.

Its bad enough that cheaters are using keygens to get around bans without having totally anonymous people having free reign.

What we DO know is that you can buy HL in the store or over steam for a one time fee and get SP/MP/and all free mods, just like before, and never pay anything ever again. That makes pretty much everything you said moot. If you don’t think the subscription is a good value, DON’T BUY IT, end of story. We’ve yet to see exactly what they are offering for the subscription option, so any calculation of costs is premature (it’s not even worth pointing out that calculations that don’t take into account the time value of money aren’t very helpful)

I agree: Steam is great in theory, but so far, it’s been a mess. They obviously underestimated the bandwidth demands, and unfortunately Steam currently doesn’t handle slow networks well on the client end. However, that still doesn’t make it a bad idea if they can fix the problems, most of which seem to involve GUI bugs.

Consumer choice. They claim the subscription will be the best value. That remains to be seen, but no one has to get it if they don’t think so.

No, let me quote Gabe Newell for you: “There will be a brief transition (like two weeks) when it is necessary, but then it will go away. It’s a temporary issue.”

They are also still figuring out how to work with gaming cafes.

It’s not “blatantly evil.” It is potentially annoying for some users. But chances are, they will work to find a workaround if it is really a problem.

And “sort of true” because the game has yet to go gold, yet to be shipped, and we’ve yet to see how anything really shakes out.

From the link you posted: it clearly says:

Did you miss this? Or is it wrong?

That was a fan’s summary of the answer. But Gabe’s answer doesn’t mention SP. So it’s still an open question.

Just as an historical note, CS was origionally a player-made mod and completely free to everyone.

To clarify, since it is confusing, we HAVE seen confirmed that SP will not require a net connection at first: so Gabe’s answer could just be relating to that. I admit, it could be a quibble, but again, it IS something to worry about. It IS how games currently work on steam, even if you have downloaded them in their entirety. To be on the safe side, I’d want a better answer before telling someone like Revtim that he doesn’t have to worry. I’m very frustrated with what Steam currently does.

As I’ve disclosed before, it’s perfectly okay to consider me biased. Check who started that info thread. Check the list of mods on that site. I’m a big fan.

But I should also add that a lot of my Valve loves comes from the fact that the game designers have been really nice to me and others like me in answering our questions, and helping us resolve issues. So I have a lot of personal respect for the developers as being people you can talk to and reason with, and who will address problems. That respect may well bias me, and you are within your rights to take that into consideration.

Probably, but that’s not the same thing as Pay for Play at all, which is what we were being talked about. You pay nothing to get Steam. You pay for games: but you can pay one time prices. Perhaps those prices are higher than normal because of the money put into steam, but it isn’t like you are paying any monthly bandwidth fees at all.

I agree: without knowing what you will get, and with Valve’s record for late games, I wouldn’t buy the subscription either.

But it’s pretty much a moot point since they have yet to offer the subscription for sale, nor itemize what getting it entitles you to. And given that it is entirely optional, whether Gabe is right or wrong about it being a “better value” doesn’t affect me at all.

I would guess that this is up for the mod maker, but we just don’t know. It is exciting that mod-makers will be able to charge for their games. I think the Natural Selection guys would do very well selling their mod, and finanically, they really can’t keep on supporting it without SOME sort of way to get income, let alone develop a NS2.

Well, only if whatever this “going online” thing was had happened.

You didn’t need a copy of Half Life to play it? So it was only free to people who owned Half-Life.

If you did, then that is exactly the same as it is now (except that you can also buy just CS)