Steam – A Curse and a Blessing?

Yesterday I posted about Goozex and how excellent the service can be.  Note that I write “can” be.  Goozex and online game trading is far from perfect.  New games still need to be purchased in order for the used market to exist and thrive.  Obviously, used copies will never exist if no one is buying them new.  Also, as you can image, demand is extremely high for used copies of newly released games.

Back in January, when Mass Effect 2 was released, there were 3 ways I could have obtained a copy (legally).  I could buy it new on release date from any big box store.  I could have waited in line for a used copy on Goozex, potentially waiting a month or more with only a slight savings.  Or I could have purchased a downloadable copy from Steam.

Steam is the content delivery system developed by Valve (the makers of Half Life) – clicking the logo to the left will take you there.  Initially developed for the delivery of Valve developed games and updates, the system has evolved to carrying titles for many game developers.

The setup if pretty straight forward.  Sign up an account and purchase games using various purchasing methods (even Paypal).  The purchased games are tied to your account, not your PC.  This allows you to install copies on any PC you like (sometimes there are limitations on this), assuming the Steam client is installed.  Only one copy can be played at any one time.  Various DRM schemes are used to prevent piracy.

What’s the catch you ask?  Well, if you are someone who normally buys games new and keeps them indefinitely, then Steam provides a lot of benefits.  Obtaining games is more convenient.  You always have an online backup whenever you want to re-install.  You never have to worry about loosing media and if you are patient you can often get the games you want on sale (sometimes half off).  Plus there are Steam rewards and an online community.

On the other hand, what happens when you finish the game?  If it’s a multiplayer game, that may never happen.  There are still folks playing Quake 3 online and that game is over 10 years old.  If the game is linear or story based, you may find that after playing through once or twice, you may no longer have any interest in playing it ever again.  If you purchased that game through Steam, well, that is the end of the line.  Steam does not allow games to be transfered or passed from one account to another.  It’s a one time deal.  Even if you have two accounts with Steam, there is no way to move games from one to another or consolidate them into a single account.

And thus the curse of content delivery systems for games.  Despite costing the game publishers significantly less to sell their product, the prices are often the same as retail (sometimes more) and once you buy it, it’s your forever.

When it came to buying Mass Effect 2, I choose retail.  I didn’t want to wait for a used copy, but I knew that once I was done with it, I could send it off through Goozex to someone more patient than I.  I paid $60 for my copy, but after playing it for 4 months I traded it for 650 points (the equivalent of about $32.50).

Despite this, I still use Steam.  Some of the sales are insane, especially around Christmas.  This past Boxing day I purchased several classic games for $2 or less.  Also, there are games that are available on Steam that you can not buy retail like Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

I love BioWare (I would even consider moving to Edmonton, AB if given the chance to work for them) and I realize that they don’t get a cut of used game sales, but not everyone can afford to buy video games at retail prices.

If you hate DRM, an alternative to Steam is Direct2Drive.


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