The grumbling has become so loud that key retailers of PC games who are of the physical “bricks and mortar” variety have threatened that they will refuse to stock games that integrate the Steam service in order to stop a growing monopoly that they believe is “killing the PC market”.
The digital PC game store and online multiplayer platform was developed by Valve, who brought the revolutionary Half-Life series into being. Through a combination of low prices, sound reliability, a wide selection of games and regular online sales, Steam has rapidly grown from its humble beginnings in late 2003 to control the vast majority of the PC game digital distribution market share.
The company now stocks the games of some of the biggest names in PC publishing such as Ubisoft, EA, Capcom, LucasArts, Bethesda, Rockstar Games and Firaxis who have enjoyed successful game launches through Steam’s distribution platform.
It is estimated the somewhere between 70-80 per cent of the PC game download sector belongs to Steam. Its competitors are in the form of a host of small digital distributors such as Direct2Drive and GamersGate, many of whom have complained bitterly about Steam’s market dominance.
Essentially, certain retailers hope to put pressure on game publishers to avoid integrating a Steam service into their games so that more physical copies will be sold in stores, or sold digitally through the smaller distributors.
However, many industry experts have caught the taste of sour grapes in the vehement Steam-bashing buffet that has been served up by the currently unnamed retailers. Steam have managed to provide a platform that allows PC gamers to quickly and reliably download the games that they want, often at a better price than the physical gaming stores.
Usually the games cannot be downloaded as quickly as they could be installed from an optical disc, but Steam users are willing to wait a little longer in order to have the security of a digital copy that is permanently saved to their account and cannot be scratched, broken, lost or stolen.
In addition, Steam offers regular patches and updates for the users’ games that are downloaded automatically when available after users log in. Thus far, no other digital distributor has managed to create a platform with the same overall quality as Steam.
The strategy of banning the sale of games that can also be bought through Steam is not without risk. Rather than driving games publishers away from Steam, such a move could simply drive them into its waiting arms.