Valve Software’s ambitious online subscription and multiplayer service, Steam, was released recently. If you’re not aware, Valve developed the 1998 Game of the Year “Half-Life”, the anticipated soon-to-be-released “Half-Life 2”, as well as “Counter-strike”, currently the most popular multiplayer game in the world. So Valve (made up of ex-Microserfs) has a pretty good pedigree.
So it may be a good idea for content delivery providers to take a look at Steam, which could possibly revolutionize the game industry. Steam allows players to connect and battle each other, but also allows players to purchase games online and download them. Patches and bugfixes also are downloaded automatically. Game installations can be scanned for cheats and pirated versions can be disabled.
It’s a tall order. You need secure servers, big pipes, low latency games. By using distributed file servers push content to end users, Valve can cut out the middle men – publishers and stores, laminated cardboard boxes and jewel cases.
That is, assuming this works. Steam has been in beta for over 12 months already, but its stunning debut seems to have fallen short on expectations. The Steam client is sluggish, unresponsive and the UI was not designed to give much user feedback – the client occasionally takes a minute or two to load, but without a splash screen or progress bar, it appears as if it has crashed. Of course, a lot of these weird crashes and slowness can be attributed to the unprecedent server load of thousands of people trying to connect and download game caches, which can be over 300MB in size. Releasing a new version of Counter-strike two days later only added to the feeding frenzy.
Steam also lacks a few features. Currently, to play a singleplayer or LAN game, you must be online. So no blasting headcrabs in Half-Life on the train with your laptop, at least for now.
So was Steam a failure? I doubt it. No one has ever attempted this before, on such a grand scale. As for the load, well, Steam is offering some very popular games. And as the mad rush dies down in the coming days and more servers will be added, the Steam network should become more responsive.
Gamers are screaming for Gabe Newell’s head, but then again, the gaming demographic was never known for its compassion or reception for change. They just want to play their games, right now.
In several days, Valve will be closing down its old multiplaying stomping grounds, the World Opponent Network (WON), for good. They’re not looking back.