Steam: A Cynical View

While not attempting to broadcast it on a global scale, I also have not hidden my dislike for Steam. Dislike probably isn’t a strong enough word, but it’s the best I can hope for with my editor metaphorically staring over my shoulder with a Scottish slang booklet in one hand and a guide to Japanese cursing in the other in case I try to get creative.

A very important differentiation needs to be made here. While I really, really dislike Steam that is not to say that I dislike Valve (at least not to the same degree). There is a distinction between the two. It’s like in school when you had that one friend with the really horrible sibling you had to spend time with when you visited them. You put up with it, because…well, because your friend had a Mega Drive in my case. Moving on.

Whether or not to include a paragraph explaining exactly what Steam is threw up the first issue for me. I mean, even if you have managed to successfully dodge the need to ever install it, chances are you’ll still have heard of it. Besides, if someone truly doesn’t know and goes through this thinking I have some intense vendetta against evaporated water, it’d be quite funny.

The most likely bunch who haven’t heard of Steam or at least not had to put up with it is the console-only crowd. It feels like they win out a bit, getting Valve’s games but without the compulsory Steam install and all the horrors contained within. That’s until they need to start paying for DLC that would otherwise be free or if they have a PS3, which is as void of Valve games as Activision is of souls.

Almost comparing Steam to Pandora’s Box is a little unfair. I don’t believe Steam holds inside it nightmarish monstrosities powerful enough to destroy the world. Well, actually…no, not quite yet. If you ever load it up and a sound file plays “I’m Mr. Newell and this is my favourite shop on the Citadel” then you’ll know it truly is the end.

Hopefully I’m not the only one who remembers the first Steam incarnation. Granted it looked essentially the same and offered the same basic service of finding servers to play Counter Strike on or mods for Half-Life and things like that, but quickly changes started to appear. As a non-invasive helping hand for server finding it was perfect for those who wanted it. More importantly it was not a compulsory install to actually play a game nor did it whore any other games than its own back catalogue – again for those who wanted it.

I can almost pinpoint the exact day I really started to hate Steam with burning passion because I remember ranting about it like a lunatic on a forum (Twitter wasn’t the in way of giving your opinion to no-one interested in it back then). It was around 19th February 2009. But I already disliked it by that point, so we need to go back a year or two further first to where it started.

Out of nowhere one day, I loaded up Steam and found that something was different. An in-Steam advert popped up after loading which I had to click away. That was new. Then it didn’t open my game list, it automatically opened in the store with no apparent way to alter that particular setting. Alright, I thought to myself. They want to compete with D2D (Direct-2-Drive) and that’s okay. They even give some lesser known developers exposure and that’s a good thing. Forced pop-up adverts and store front views aren’t to my taste, but fine.

It really was fine, for a little while. But I found myself using Steam quite a bit back then as there were a number of HL1 mods I really enjoyed. Each and every time I was forced to look at adverts and that store front it chipped away at my very strained patience. This became even less avoidable when the first generation of Steam compulsory installs started appearing. Unfortunately I can’t state as a fact that Counter Strike Source was the first, but I believe that was the first I had a run in with.

It reminded me at the time of Gamespy from back in the day. Nearly every other PC game had a pre-ticked box during install to put that rubbish software on your PC, but you could still opt out. When Half-Life 2 came around it was annoying Steam was required which also basically meant an internet connection was required, but reasonably understandable since it was their own big name game.

The problem intensified when bigger developers started bending over forwards for Steam. In a different article I’ve already moaned about the premium price hikes Steam uses but I can’t believe I’m the only one who thinks that thinks this is ridiculous. Actually, I’m probably not. Chances are there are a lot of equally frustrated gamers who dislike Steam as well, but we don’t matter.

How much would you be willing to pay to play a new release the day before it was released to the rest of the world? One day. Twenty four hours. Name your price. Want to know how much Steam users are willing to pay? In a specific real example I’m about to go into, they paid £10.

We’ve now reached February of last year and the horrible experience I had. I should point out that the game involved in this example was not the first to have such a thing within it. Again I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it may have been F.E.A.R 2 that did.

In my first foray into PC gaming in quite some time, I decided to purchase Dawn of War 2. I ordered online from a retail store and got the fancy steel book limited edition which came with some extra downloadable Wargear and a keyring for no extra cost above the RRP of £24.99. Steam users could purchase just the basic game digitally but with one day early access (and possibly a day or two early access to the demo some weeks previously) for the quite frankly maddening price of £34.99.

Since an article has already dealt with the insane prices, I’m not going to focus on that. The focus is where those two things clash. Thanks to, presumably, living close to a distribution warehouse I tend to get games I order online a day early. This meant that I got Dawn of War 2 on the day where only those who bought the Steam version could technically play.

Upon loading the game, there was the compulsory – and extremely slow – Steam load at which point an error message appeared. It was worded along the lines of ‘The following programs are not allowed in your country: Steam’ which as it turned out was about as accurate as a hungover person’s recollection of the night before. What it really meant was that I was trying to play a retail release game a day before release when only Steam buyers were allowed to. So I was time-locked out for no good reason. My purchase was 100% genuine, I’d paid my cash and by a stroke of luck got it early and now I was being blocked because fools paying a premium can’t have their purchase de-valued.

Despite probably sounding very sore about it still to this day, I did try to get over it. But I really wanted to play DoW2 you see, so I stayed up later than usual. It would unlock at midnight, I assumed. Nope. Steam apparently runs on Martian time or dwells in the make-it-up-as-we-go-along time zone of the world. The hours ticked by and still it didn’t unlock. Thinking back now it was probably going by US time since that’s the only one that matters. Still annoys me, though.

Steam in better and more useful days.

My own irritating experience aside, since that time last year Steam has continued to grow. It’s continued to get developers begging to be placed on that annoying store front and continues to hold an internet dominance that it neither deserves nor respects. If you take nothing else from this at the very least learn to shop around. Yes, Steam does do those good holiday deals every so often where it sells things off for about 50p, but it’s the new releases you need to watch out for. You’re being ripped off. You’re paying more for less and for no good reason at all. Steam has no right or reason to control gamers or our playing habits, that is my core belief. It certainly does not give them the right to fleece people out of more of their money.

Even the money of fools.

Additional Footnote: A year and some months after its original release, I decided to see just how the current (26/05/10) Steam price of Dawn of War 2 compared to what you can find it for elsewhere online after having discussed it at length in this article.

  • Steam – £19.99
  • The Hut – £15.93 (£13.93 for the Game of the Year Edition)
  • GAME – £12.99
  • Zavvi – £12.95 (Game of the Year Edition)
  • Amazon – £11.29 (£9.99 new from private sellers)
  • Play – £10.93

While searching for this information I also noticed the current asking price on Steam for the recent DoW2 expansion, Chaos Rising. This is even more ‘fun’ to do a current price comparison for.

I’m willing to bet that Steam is so high in this instance because the Steam version of Chaos Rising will be the only one compatible with original Steam DoW2 purchases. Don’t know for sure though, so if you do please chip in below. Even if that isn’t the case it makes you think, doesn’t it? …Doesn’t it?!

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. Despite your price check being two days ago, it seems Valve have somehow psychically anticipated your article – DOW Gold (both DOW II and Chaos Rising) is available for £19.99 with the expansion pack at £14.99 alone.

  2. Ian D /

    I double checked those prices sometime yesterday and they hadn’t changed, so this deal must have gone active in the last 24 hours. That’s very annoying for me, but a good deal for everyone else.

  3. Faraan /

    LOLzzzzz IAN you should have been a little more patient, steam is the best thing happened to PC gaming.

  4. ManiacsGnome /

    I guess no one told you it isn’t Steam who sets the prices, regardless of currency, it’s the publisher. You also have zero patience if you cant move your mouse a few centimeters to close a advert. You should also probably flip on an Xbox 360 or PS3 and see where it takes you at start up, ads and direct links to the store. It’s the nature of business, they’re TRYING to sell you stuff as well as provide a service.

    I agree that it sucks having to link some games to Steam, but thats the only real negative for me I can find. Living somewhere, where everything is cheaper on Steam then in retail is nice. I suggest you evaluate your argument and look a bit deeper.

    As a side note, you’re writing an article be a little bit more professional. A rant is just a rant.

  5. Kevin M /

    As a Mac owner Steam is a blessing, due to the lack of games for Apple’s OS. Also being a neglected PS3 owner, Steam let’s me play Valve’s catalogue of stellar titles. So I’m just thankful Valve are supporting Mac’s at all.

  6. FuKuy /

    Actually. STEAM IS PC GAMING.

  7. Jash /

    for Australia steam is amazing because our stores are over priced we just get American prices and get nice exchange rates
    we get up too 50% cheaper on some games so we don’t complain

  8. Nathan Lecona /

    Well i’m a cheap bastard, so i only buy games when they are on discount, but i have something to say, how can other companies give 75% discount and valve can only give 30%, they own the bloody platform and yet they can’t give a decent discount, how can this be?, i’m guessing they just don’t want to, and other thing they don’t have the same promotions for every region, thanks to that i couldn’t buy max payne.

  9. Adam R. /

    I just had time to glance the article, and read a paragraph or two, but why are these old images of Steam with the old UI?

  10. Rawr P. /

    Man, you’re like, bad at computers or something.
    Steam main window > Steam > Settings > Interface. Want to see games first? Favorite window > Library. No ads after exiting a game? Uncheck the notify me box.

    So lazy.

    All the money bitching is what the publisher wants. They generally keep digital prices high (or release at a later date) so they can keep good with retailers. It’s not Valve’s fault. We could probably get our games for 10-20 less if it weren’t for damn retailers (no shipping, no retail middle man snaggin’ a piece of the pie).

    Steam’s great. Free automatic updates for all my steam owned games. No hassle with trying to find a good place to download a patch (or being forced to use torrent software for patching). No extreme DRM for Valve games. Free easy communication and group creation community options.

    You might wanna talk with those shitty publishers that like to rape the hell out of digital distro prices and misplace digital activation dates. They seem to be your only valid point (of which you only have one game that you go by…lots of research, I’m sure).

  11. Poster /

    As one sided as it sounds, and probanly is, I feel I should let you know that every complaint has nothing to do with Valve or Steam. They may own the Steam platform, but prices are set by publishers or developers. It is also very clearly noted on every online store page and game case when a game requires Steam to play, in which case it acts as any other game on the servers. As this is the case you should not expect to be able to break the release date, which is the Steam release date. As for the advertisements, I enjoy keeping up to date, but for those who don’t, go to View – Setting – Interface – and uncheck “Notify me (with Steam messages) about additions or changes to my games, new releases and upcoming releases.” You will no longer recieve the updates. And frankly, if you didn’t manage to find that and simply complained for several months, you’re a fool.

  12. Olly /

    So a program comes along and it offers new titles for more, so those who are willing to pay for it will, and with that extra profit they can afford to decrease the price after some time, and then on top of that they can put it on sale (which is when I buy it, no-one forces me to buy a £40 game, I would refuse to). That, my friend, is why digital distribution is the new king of the market. Since everyone is informed of prices and prices are constantly changing as demand for game changes, the market model works so much better. And the crazy thing about your article is that I have only ever saved by buying off Steam because I am at least somewhat patient in waiting for the bargains to appear.

    If you are that impatient for a game, then buy it off Amazon or somewhere. If they had it for £50 would you go on a rant and be offended? No, they’re a flipping shop, they can charge what they want, it’s how the market works.

    Besides, adverts make the world go round and that’s how it’s gonna stay for as long as you and me are alive methinks.
    So, please, for goodness’ sake, stop being a 5-year-old. Steam offers features such as achievements, low-priced games (every so often), instant updates (that you can stop happening now if you don’t want), and all the usual benefits of a digital delivery service.
    Why, only the other day they updated Half-Life 2 with achievements and new graphics. If it was a purely boxed copy that people would have to manually find out about and download to reap the benefits, why would they bother? They wouldn’t, it would hardly be viable.

    Anyway, I’m gonna shut up now, your article felt very ignorant though.

  13. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this rant. I have several PCs networked, and trying to track the CDs/DVDs for the games we play would be a complete pain in the arse.
    That in itself is enough reason for me, but even if i’m only buying one copy of a game, for my main system, I’ll only buy it if it’s on Steam. The old hunt the CD/DVD hassle has gone. I can’t remember the last time I had to download and install a patch. I can jump back and forward between games whe I want. When I get new PC I can transfer my entire game library in minutes, although admittedly, when I went to Win7 64 I had to just install Steam, tell it to download the games I was immediately interested in and (gasp) forget about it.
    I’m sorry, but I’m fanboy.


    Why has a rant been passed off as an article?

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