Valve is not your friend, and Steam is not healthy for gaming

I’m not sure that I agree with the extremes in this essay, but I think it raises some interesting points.


i’m surprised the author didn’t mention all the gambling sites that valve both allows and enables. some of the sites target kids, and at least one was nothing but a scam - but it never seemed valve minded much, because they were making their cut.

from the developer side, on greenlight, their rules seem pretty obscure. and ive read complaints where projects are getting good rankings but are never greenlit. and valve, ive heard, doesn’t give individuals any insight ( unless they have a pretty big name. )

they have a good service, but from my very casual view, they seem pretty mercenary about it.


It reads a lot like manufactured outrage, but I need more time to pick it apart. My main takeaways are that
Valve is a company that tries to make money
Their governance isn’t particularly good
It’s their fault you haven’t played all the games you bought from them.


Valve is neither a friend of gamers, nor a foe that seeks to conquer them (as Microsoft does).

Valve has created an open ecosystem of gaming machines, based on open source code, that is affordable and accessible. I’m speaking of Steam Machines. You can run any application on a Steam Machine. But not on, say, Windows 10s. And good luck playing homebrew on that Xbox One.

Steam is the gaming platform the world needed. An easy, accessible storefront and integrated modding and multiplayer. But it also isn’t the only player in the game; on the casual side, there’s Big Fish Games, on the nerdier side there’s GOG. And

Valve runs as an adhocracy. Valve moves extraordinarily slow to throw its weight around, often relying on buying a team to finish a project (Portal 2).

Steam exists to sell you games, yes, but also to keep you playing them. And unlike Microsoft, you can play them on all OSes. And unlike Origin, their client isn’t total crap. And unlike both EA and Ubisoft, Valve releases SDKs so anybody can build on what Valve created.


The whole article seems rather unnecessarily shrill to me. Steam is basically responsible for PC gaming still existing; before it became big, more and more devs were abandoning making PC ports of their titles because there was no way to protect against the rampant piracy that was not only destroying their profits for PC games but undermining their console sales too. Why buy the PlayStation version of a given game when you can just download the PC version for free?

The reason people hate EA Origin is because it exists solely to further EA’s profits. Steam is open to any​ dev or publisher who wants to use its services, unlike Origin, which only sells EA games, for more than they would likely cost on Steam.

The arguments against Steam Workshop are also strange. Skin design and modding has always been a hobbyist scene but Steam gives a platform that gives you enough exposure that you can choose to sell your designs rather than put them out for free and hope you get enough exposure to land a job at a developer.

25% of something is better than 100% of nothing, surely? 25% of a sale is far better than any other media publishing system I can think of; when I worked at a record label years ago, we paid artists between five and ten percent…


“Valve is not your friend” - no shit, they’re a corporation.

Yeah, no. I use my PC to play games, not push the hardware. If gamers truly subscribed to this idea, Minecraft (a non-Steam game!) would never have gained traction.

Sure, beautiful graphics and an immersive experience can be important, depending on the game. But there are tons of ways to be clever about that. Myst still looks gorgeous in its original form after all these years, 256 colours at a time. Portal and more recently Firewatch use a limited palette to create an incredibly immersive environment.

I was surprised in all the business practice criticisms that followed that Linux wasn’t mentioned once. Sure, it’s a tiny sliver of the market, but on Linux Steam is the game platform, and that has a knock-on effect on other gamers.

The rest… sounds like a software company. Getting a refund on a game/interactive thing has always been more fraught than getting one for something mundane life a word processor. I think I still have a CD kicking around that was supposed to be an interactive book in the 90s (think early multimedia), only the port from Mac to PC wouldn’t work unless your PC was exactly the same as the developer’s. No refund because the box’s seal had been broken and therefore the software could have been played/copied.

I just don’t see those problems being unique to Valve, however I may want them to be resolved.


I sympathise with the refund thing, as well. If you’re dealing with a game that has at most 20 hours of gameplay and no replayability after that, what’s to stop you buying it for a week and then demanding a refund? Given that Steam asks you to waive these rights on purchase and doesn’t hide the “no refunds” clause in their EULA, it’s entirely up to you to accept their terms or buy elsewhere.

I don’t normally side with corporations but none of the supposedly shady dealings in the OP are actually shady at all and are demonstrably more shady in every other comparable business model.

That might be a problem, depending on how you look at it, but Valve is not the hill on which we should fight this battle.


In before the “isn’t this the same as the bullshit from the MPAA/RIAA?” comments:

No, it’s absolutely not. Steam is what the RIAA should have turned Napster into; a free publishing platform that was open to all, demanded (compared to the RIAA, at least) a much-smaller cut, and that provided a huge customer base of people who were prepared to pay money for a brief diversion.

Where the MPAA and RIAA were so addicted to the revenue streams provided by their own monopolies, Steam provided a digital download outlet to people who wanted to give devs money but had no use for a $60 game in a box with a poster if they could download a $15 version of it that was guaranteed to send the money to where it needed to go and didn’t have any viruses.

The result? Transformers and Pitbull on one end; the most incredibly diverse PC gaming market ever on the other. I know which one I prefer…


Exactly. Another thing people forget is that digital game distribution on PC would not exist without Steam. In a world without Steam, the only digital markets would be that crapware WildTangent in its bajillion branded versions. And we all remember how terrible that was. The only reason it didn’t tank PC gaming was because games were still primarily a physical medium.

GOG exists today because Valve paved the way. Ditto with the publishers’ me-too platforms (Origin, uPlay).

Steam was an incredible gamble on the part of Valve way back in 2004. Who would have thought that in just ten short years, the majority of PC game purchases would be digital? Who would have thought that PC gaming would grow to be a multi-billion dollar market?

Not EA, that’s who.


Well, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with most of this. I’m going to ramble for a bit.

The Steam client is a slow piece of crap, especially when compared to Origin or Uplay (yes, I went there). It has a lot of functionality, but in the same way Firefox did about 6 years ago - at the expense of being nimble software.

Their customer service is legendary for being awful. The recent change in refunds suspiciously tied in with lawsuits from government agencies, you now can’t run games via Steam if they haven’t updated - so if you’re not wanting a game to get updated you need to dig up the actual exe file and trust that it works (most do, some don’t).

As far as Valve themselves, they seem to have fully migrated to “software as a service” and nickle & diming. Not coincidentally, a good number of their writers have left in the last year - well, it’s not like HL3 or Portal 3…or Left 4 Dead 3…are poking on to the horizon. Funnily enough, all of their multiplayer game communities (TF2, DOTA & CS:GO) all complain that they are ignored by Valve and the other two games are favoured. I suppose there they must be doing something right :wink: but of late, the decent percentages that in-game creators could receive have been massively slashed. Seeing as virtual hats is what keeps TF2 - a decade old game - still earning 9 figures a year, that’s a bit dickish.

Finally, all they actually do is provide a platform for the games, not any support for them. Game doesn’t work? Tough shit, wade through the crap that is the User Forums and hope someone else has had the same problem. At least GOG patches their games to work on newer OS’…and GOG Galaxy, a WIP client is a lot smoother than Steam.

On the plus side, I’ve got enough games on there to last me until I retire. No one said that gamers are ever consistent :smile:


Yes it would. Do you think that an opportunity like that would be allowed to pass unfilled? It was an idea whose time had come, and the first company to fill that void without being too dickish about it would pretty much come to dominate the market (which is pretty much what happened).

GOG, however, exists because their management wanted to bring older games free of DRM into Poland - a much more niche market, but quite viable. (Good Old Games, yes?) They still do old games exceedingly well. If they have been marching steadily into Steam’s turf, I’d call it less “me-too-ism” than widening an already existing clientele by leveraging a well-deserved reputation. I’ll be blunt: I think GOG is starting to do Steam better than Steam does Steam.


GOG is hands down the best publisher and digital storefront I have ever used. My GOG library is small compared to mine on Steam or Origin, but GOG does fantastic work in ensuring everything works and sponsoring mod development.

GOG. By CD Projekt Red.

The first digital distributor in the PC world was WildTangent (via branded storefronts for RealMedia and HP). It had a few problems - demanding a credit card every game, limited download attempts, no community features whatsoever. Today, nobody remembers them. This is good.

(I bought Worms 3 off them, in 2004 for 30 CAD)


I’m a Linux person. I stand by this to the point that I will not contaminate my computer by dual-booting Windows in any form, even thought I know it means I can’t play most of the latest craze games, at least not without futzing with WINE a lot. In general, I’m OK with this for a variety of reasons.

However, I do like games and want to be able to play something other than AisleRiot Solitaire. When I went all in on Linux about four years ago, Steam had only recently released their client as Linux native. I had perhaps 20 or 30 games at the time, and most of them were ones like Bejeweled. (I had Portal, of course, as that’s what lured me into installing Steam in the first place.)

I installed the Steam client, signed in and it popped up with a fair amount of my collection available as Linux native and ready for installation. Steam isn’t alone in this, but not making me buy something over again when I change format (e.g., VHS to DVD) is still somewhat novel.

Valve may not be my friend(*), but they’ve treated me well as a customer and that’s earned more than a bit of loyalty. I’ve not only bought a lot more games from them since going Linux, but many of my other titles bought when I was running Windows have come back to me. Sure, some of the games I’m playing are five+ years old, but I’m enjoying them, which is what really counts.

(* - I’m not sure why anyone would consider any for-profit company as their friend.)


In any form? Surely a VM wouldn’t hurt…?

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I’ve considered one for development purposes, but since I’ve convinced my client to add a tester or two this shouldn’t be needed. Beyond that, there’s nothing in my criteria list which would justify the feeling of dread that I’d get from installing Windows.

(Note that my criteria is not universal. I do not advocate any OS as the universal answer for everyone! I do understand that I’m apparently a borderline traitor in the OS wars or something like that …)



I started Steam when i got the computer version of some board game I play and then was able to easily buy a copy for my brother and send him the gift code.

And between a couple of the Steam Sales and Humble Bundles, I have a large collection of games - that I never actually play much - but will be available on whatever machine I install Steam on.

Are there better alternatives? Maybe, I don’t play enough games to go looking.

Steam has met my expectations and hasn’t left me cursing them, so I’m happy.


I’m the same. I was recently given an older (still running Vista) machine, and I’m keeping Windows on it for now, but mostly its purpose seems to be to remind me how much better I like Ubuntu, warts and all. If that limits what games I can play… so be it, as much as I’d love to check out Obduction. There’s plenty of other things to do in my spare time, and Linux works great for all my personal computing.

And yes, we have Steam.


This passage from Cory’s article on childcare at the new Apple campus seems appropriate here as well.

Companies and organizations are not intrinsic forces for good. They are good when they do good. Apple was good when it fought the FBI on decryption backdoors in their devices. It was good when it fought North Carolina on transphobic bathroom laws. It was not good when it asked the Copyright Office to continue to felonize repairing or disclosing vulnerabilities in Apple products. It was not good when it ordered its recycler to shred used Apple products to prevent the development of a secondary market in used products, when it instructed its employees to covertly change the screws in its products to lock out independent repairers, or when it sued journalists for reporting on leaks from its own employees. They were not good when they colluded with other firms to rig employment markets. They were not good when they stashed billions offshore in a massive, fraudulent tax-evasion scheme.

(For the record, Google was also not good when it did this. Nor was Amazon. Nor was Starbucks, or Ikea)

Companies aren’t our friends. Mottoes like “don’t be evil” matter only to the extent that the companies that evince them follow them. The people who work for companies can be good, even while the companies aren’t. Sometimes, badness is an emergent property of good people.

But the tactic of pointing to other companies that have done bad things when your favorite company is caught in its own misdeeds is the “But her emails!” of technology fanboyism.

I am most definitely a fan of Steam’s service, and I appreciate the things that they get right. That doesn’t entitle them to a free pass on the things that they get wrong. I think the article at polygon rightfully points out some of those failings. Where it gets tenuous for me, though, is the comparison between Valve and companies like Uber. It’s the whole malice vs. incompetence thing.


I think it gets tenuous when it starts saying that using Marketing is ‘teh Evil’

Really? This is your big reveal? This is the Evil they do? A Steam sale? Oh, the humanity!


I think he’s trying to bolster the unpaid work angle. He’s arguing that fans are doing the work that a marketing firm or department would normally do, which just allows Valve to line their pockets further. Similar to how landlords in high-demand areas don’t have to work hard to find tenants, since market forces do most of that for them. Again, I would argue that the material harm that Valve does is less than a more traditional rent collector, but what they are doing isn’t exactly good either.