Should We Still Be Supporting Steam?
Valve's flagship service isn't all sugar and spice under the hood - perhaps it's time to stop cutting them so much slack.
So recently I had a little rum-do with a Steam developer after writing an article on the text simulation game Music Wars Empire. The game had disappointing Steam reviews, a number of bug issues and a highly disillusioned fan base. Despite my impeccable research on the article, the developer was rather unhappy with the article and made a number of threats against myself and my editor. We dropped the article to avoid any further interaction with the developer, and the fact that no one actually gives a flying fox about Music Wars Empire.
The backlash from the developer was to delete threads I’d made on the Steam discussion page and the official forum. I was also banned from the Steam Discussion and had my IP address completely blocked from accessing the official site. This left me with no way to ask for any assistance when it came to dealing with Music Wars Empire’s many issues. So I headed over to Steam Support for help. No matter what I did, Steam directed me back to the developer, but that’s the person I have the issue with.
I attempted to find several ways to contact Steam about this wonky game and its aggressive developer. Steam has now left me attempting to deal with a childish and arrogant individual, who really doesn’t deserve my time. So it leads me to a question that pops up from time to time; should we still be supporting Steam? The main reason why people still do? The answer is simple: Valve.
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Valve are known for the Portal, Team Fortress and Left 4 Dead franchises. They hit it big back in 1998 with Half-Life, which changed the face of the first-person shooter for years to come. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were loved by fans, as were the other game series that Valve developed. While most gamers these days are aware of Half-Life (some purely due to the “Half-Life 3 Confirmed” meme), many do not realise how big a release it was. At the time of its release it was easily the best first person shooter I had ever played.
Valve are now known for their Steam client. PC gaming was struggling by 2004 and wasn’t getting any better, and piracy was a huge issue. Steam first debuted in 2002 and following the 2003 Half-Life 2 leak, Valve needed a way to combat piracy – Steam was the solution. In late 2005, Valve announced it would partner with developers to release games on Steam.
Fast forward to 2017, and while there have been other services online for purchasing and downloading games over the years, Steam has remained the big dog of PC gaming. But whereas other online services have grown and expanded their customer support across the board, Steam has remained with its feet firmly rooted in the turn of the century. Amazon and Netflix are two prime examples of companies who have successfully grown with their size and importance.
Amazon and Netflix were both formed around the turn of the century and are today the biggest companies in their respective online businesses. They’ve grown to massive sizes and have expanded their customer service in accordance with their growth. If you’ve a problem with your product or service, just contact customer service and you’ll likely have a response within 24 hours, if not sooner. This still isn’t a service that Steam offers.
If you have a similar issue with Steam, then you won’t receive such support. Generally, you’ll be automatically redirected to the developers support page. While that will often help, it doesn’t always provide a solution. Older games don’t have the kind of levels of support modern titles enjoy. Small developers, such as the creators of Music Wars Empire, have to be their own PR and support and perhaps can’t keep up with all the support (few actually seem to like MWE, so that wasn’t his excuse!). And games just get full-on abandoned, leaving gamers with no way to solve their issues.
A friend of mine discussed his experiences dealing with Steam directly some years ago. He had bought a copy of Knights of the Old Republic and it simply didn’t work for unknown reasons. He had this to say on the customer service he received:
“Valve basically shrugged their shoulders and pointed me toward a dead forum. They simply weren’t interested in helping me. I’d purchased a game that didn’t work and I couldn’t play. This was at a time where Steam wasn’t offering refunds.”
Refunds have been a sticking point with Valve over the years. Despite the fact that Steam has been available for over ten years, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Steam actually started offering refunds to customers. There are specific circumstances, a game must be less than 14 days old and have less than two hours play time attached to it. Previously if you bought a game like the aforementioned Music Wars Empire, which didn’t work at all when I first purchased it, you would be stuck with it.
Valve tried desperately to escape having to offer refunds within the EU. With Valve selling games to gamers in EU based countries, it found itself contravening EU consumer rights. To get around this, Valve added terms and conditions to each purchase, which had to be agreed to before the purchase could be made, forcing Steam users to waive their right to a refund if they bought their game through Steam. This remained the case until the European Union Consumer Rights Directive came into effect, meaning Steam had to now offer refunds within in the EU. All of a sudden it doesn’t feel like Valve is on your side, does it?
Aside from refunds, it is still very difficult to get assistance from Steam support. There’s no direct contact email as Valve forces most issues to be solved by the developer. If you do need help from Valve for any reason, well, you could be in for a wait. I’ve tried to gauge how long it takes to get a first response from a support ticket, but I haven’t been able to get an accurate reading. Some people claim it’s less than 24 hours, but many more report a wait for up to 15 days for a first response. I’ve waited for one once, many years ago, and it took 10 days to get a response from Steam. The average wait time seems to be around 7-10 days. To put that into context, Amazon’s first response usually comes in within a few hours, rarely more than 24 hours, depending on the issue.
Valve also takes a huge slice of the profit pie from developers, eating up a whopping 30% of all profit from each sales. Early indie hits on Steam have fooled developers into thinking that Steam is the way forward: get your game on Steam and watch the dollar roll in. Sadly that’s simply not the case. So many fantastic games get buried within the mountain of dross (and gold) that Steam pumps out on a weekly basis. Sceal: An Irish Folklore Adventure has a wonderfully simple game with well designed graphics, music and overall design. Yet, despite its release on Steam back in October, it has only managed four user reviews on the platform.
Steam is a titan of PC gaming and it’s not going to change any time soon. However, while it proudly promotes itself as the ‘nice guy’ giant of PC gaming, it acts like a dodgy dealer selling shady merch from a suitcase on a street corner and then not being there the week after when your fake Rolex watch has fallen apart. Maybe it’s time we all took a look around at alternative online stores, and with Humble Bundle, GOG Galaxy and Green Man Gaming all providing an alternative service (some sites do require the Steam Client to redeem game codes), maybe it’s time to make the switch from Gabe’s pet project.