Saturday, December 20, 2008

game over... steams wins, best buy loses

In the previous and unbacked-up incarnation of this blog, I had a few posts gushing about how Steam was cool because it basically offered up online delivery of PC games.

A while back, Activision (now Activision Blizzard) started releasing their stuff through Steam, and now EA has jumped aboard for the big win.

I like Steam because it gets rid of the hardcopy, real-world product. That means it takes less time to purchase a game through Steam than it does to jump in the Spoonmobile and run down to Best Buy or Wally World and grab it from amongst the shuffle hordes of shopping zombies. After I get the game, I don't have to enter the ever-growing string of alphanumeric characters just to play it. Nor do I have to worry about finding the CD or hunting down a nocd crack and rolling the dice on picking up a virus when I want to play it later on down the road.

What the game companies like about Steam is that the authentication system providing proof of purchase. It doesn't make piracy impossible, but it does make your product more customer friendly and removes the need to license DRM and other copyright protection schemes. That decreases the cost to deliver the product to the customer, and oddly enough might contribute to actual legit sales because the lower price might make the hassle/risk of pirating a game less likely. They also like that Steam opens up the potential for episodic releases of game content, which further drives down production costs because instead of needing $10m and 2 years to produce art for a 30 hour AAA title, you can just break off $1m and 6 months for the first episode and see if the game is popular enough to warrant going on to episode 2, etc.

This is absolutely crucial for us PC gamers, because Steam is about the last ray of hope for convincing publishers to stick with the PC platform. They have been increasingly looking towards consoles as the solution to the problems of being able to reuse IP and reduce piracy, and the PC game market has taken a hit as more and more stuff gets designed for the Xbox first.

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