Friday, March 12, 2010

Cross Platform Multiplayer in Valve's Steam Play Option

Obviously opening up the Steam platform to Mac users is an attempt to make Steam a universal gaming platform. Steam Play is a big step towards that business model in a couple different ways.

Obviously the first step towards a universal platform is making one purchase on Windows equal one purchase on Mac. Valve is doing that. The next step is cross-platform multiplayer, universal multiplayer, if you will. Valve will have that too. At launch, Mac gamers will connect to the same servers PC gamers will connect to in order to play Team Fortress 2.

Obviously, many of Valve's titles rely heavily on multiplayer content and the community therein. Splintering that community would be a complete deservice to what has made games like Counter Strike: Source or Team Fortress 2. This is all great news for both Valve as a business and consumers and users of Valve's games and services.

I have a lot of respect for Valve, and that is because I feel like Valve has a lot of respect for me as a gamer and consumer. How does this differ from companies like Activision who have earned the contempt and derision of so many vocal Internet using gamers?

Well, obviously, Valve listens to their consumers, or at least emulates with them. Activision may know what consumers want, but controlling their products is clearly a lot more important to them. Corporations like Activision (and Ubisoft) could certainly learn something from Valve's model of DRM. Does anyone think of Steam as a form of DRM? In the beginning, with the launch of Half-Life 2, which was stolen out of their offices well before launch in the first place, consumers may have griped about the installation of Steam before getting to their new game, but now, Steam allows users to preload games they've preordered on the service so that they can play it the second it is available.

That's the trick, that's the way corporation and consumer can come together in understanding. Make the security, the DRM, a value, a bonus to the consumer, rather than a headache or irritation. Steam isn't exactly celebrated as good DRM, mostly because consumers don't really consider Steam as a form of DRM. Despite that, it is celebrated as a store front for a PC gamer's every need. Steam presents a community site, games store, application manager, DRM, sales tracker, and online profile all-in-one. Steam does so much for the consumer that what it does for the corporation is hardly the focus.

Now all of that is coming to the Mac. Steam Play presents a way for purchases to become universal, and not tied to one platform. Cross platform play will only serve to bolster the multiplayer communities of all games that choose to utilize the service. In a way, Valve alone is doing more for the gaming scene on the Mac than Apple has ever done.

What do I think? You need more? Valve is preparing, posturing for the day streaming game services like OnLive become more of a reality. When there are no hardware limitations, no platform limitations, and a massive revenue stream thanks to a subscription model based business and a ton of licensed games for consumers to try at any given time, Valve will have a hard time maintaining a strong value proposition.

Personally, I think I'll always be more interested in owning games, rather than licensing them, and Valve's consumerist ways are certain to build loyalty in me as a user of their Steam platform.

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