Steam and the Future of Software Distribution

I don’t know about you, but I view Valve’s decision to open up Steam to non-gaming apps as a doorway to some potentially great opportunities for the platform’s exposure in the years going forward. It’s also kind of telling of where computer software in general might be going which I guess is why Valve has also expressed worry.

I can definitely understand the desire for Valve to just stick to what they’re good at – selling games. You might not want non-gaming software clogging up the front page of the store when you log in, or for this to divert Valve’s focus from selling, and more importantly, developing games. I still like to look at the bigger picture.

There are a lot of ways Valve can handle this, but somehow I see them trying to leverage this as a gateway to more exposure for their games and PC gaming in general. Steam already breaks down a lot of the barriers between laymen and PC gaming – installing, updating, and running games properly. Why not do the same thing for general purpose software and expose more people to PC games at the same time?

I could possibly see someone looking for photoshop, or an educational app, and discovering that they can also buy Plants vs Zombies, or Bejeweled, or Call of Duty, or Civilization. I think if non-gaming software did help expose more people to the kinds of games you can buy and play on your PC it would be worth it. It just depends on how they advertise it.

That’s the weird thing: I’ve never seen Valve actually advertise Steam. It’s kinda just been word of mouth since day one. The most exposure Steam itself has gotten has probably been from popular games that require Steam to install like Modern Warfare and Skyrim, and that’s just for people savvy enough to buy the PC version in the first place.

From there it’s a pretty large leap to seeing the service ever get the kind of popularity that, say, iOS has. How can Valve convince everyday consumers to go out of their way to install Steam on their computers? It is after all a 3rd party storefront – not its own operating system that has or will soon have its own app store installed from the start.

Valve and other game studios have criticized Windows 8 for what it might mean for PC gaming – suggesting that it presents a slippery slope that might lead to Windows becoming a closed platform like Mac OS. The more immediate problem though is Steam and other digital stores having to compete with one that comes pre-installed with Windows.

Then again, Firefox and Chrome seem to be doing well against Internet Explorer which people blame for the downfall of Netscape. The real difference though will probably be with the distinction between Metro and desktop apps. The Windows store won’t even really sell desktop apps, just list links to their websites (Steam itself could possibly get listed). That’s where that slippery slope lies, but at the same time Valve could use that opportunity to make Steam the most accessible way to purchase desktop apps.

We don’t even know how much Microsoft is gonna push games through the Windows app store. If they did push PC games, it would be a sign of the return of GFWL with Microsoft actually giving a damn this time, but somehow I doubt it with Xbox being their main games business. That would make Steam still the main place to buy games on PC.

On the subject of desktop apps though, how much desktop software do you actually buy? Not install, buy. Maybe it’s different for people in certain professions or people who mainly work on Mac, but I don’t think I’ve purchased a single non-game PC application since buying my current Windows installation with Microsoft Office. It would be great to get a Steam deal on the latest version of Photoshop, but I can’t think of anything else I’d buy. Maybe Turbo Tax but that’s probably it.

BULLETS:

  • This article from gamesindustry.biz is exactly what I’m talking about: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-08-10-steams-greatest-challenge-yet
  • Super Mario Bros. 2: 6 Golden Coins is on sale for $3 on the 3DS eShop until next Thursday. Personally my favorite handheld Mario.
  • I just found a reason to maybe invest in that upcoming Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Collection – it’s gonna have a full documentary produced by Area 5 on it.
  • Mod support coming to The Witcher 2: http://t.co/OfImqG7e
  • Apparently Rhythm Heaven Fever is gonna be $5 at Best Buy on Sunday. Buy it.
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Stephanie Carmichael

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