So, yesterday, Valve Software announced that their cloud distribution service, Steam, was going to provide applications for purchase and download.
Steam began life as a distribution service for Counter-Strike in 2002, but really came in to its own for Half Life 21. Valve, at the time, was trying to get around difficulties in publishing software updates.
For the Half-Life 2 release, Steam was the primary distribution point, with Valve leading the way on large-scale digital distribution.
Initial load on the servers upon release was such that it could be hours, if not longer, before one’s purchase was activated, however.
Since then, Steam has gotten absolutely huge in the distribution market, and is currently the dominant player in digitial distribution2.
Steam is available on Windows, Mac and, with a new beta, Linux. Every gamer has Steam. This is a massive distribution network.
Competing with Microsoft and Apple
To understand the scope of what this changes, look at Microsoft, at Apple, at Google. Modern devices that are defined by closed, simple channels, or future devices that strive to be. Windows Store, the Mac App Store, these are nascent markets, extra hoops to jump through just to release software.
With Steam, developers can ignore those strict walled gardens, distribute software that’s not limited in what it can do. Apple, for instance, heavily limits3 what applications are permitted to accomplish. The carrot in that particular relationship is access to iCloud, which users are “expected” to want. Developers are also charged a 30% fee for this privilege.
Microsoft is enforcing a similar scheme4 with the Windows Store.
Google, on Android, provides an uncurated experience, but also takes a percentage of revenue.
The ace in the hole for Valve is that applications are able to integrate with Steam Cloud, the save game service. By providing access to Steam Cloud for applications, I can save a document on my Mac, and retrieve it anywhere that Steam is installed, anywhere that application is installed. I get all the purported advantages of iCloud, across Windows, Linux, and OSX, while developers aren’t hamstrung by entities “saving us from ourselves”.
This is nothing short of Valve declaring war.
The first truly powerful blow is that Steam makes discovery a joyful event, a social network and collaborative community effort that is fun. Search is relatively useful, and interesting discoveries are there to be found. In-app purchase, through DLC, is already available.
The entirety of Steam is viewable on a simple web browser, indexed by Google.
Steam is going to be the future of desktop distribution. Not Windows Store, not Mac App Store. A once-little game development studio, now a god of distribution, taking on the ancient titans.