7 February 2008

Steaming ahead...

What with Valve's Steam seemingly set to become ubiquitous across the PC gaming spectrum with the introduction of the 'free' (read: a way to lock everyone into a good system) Steamworks still no one in the mainstream media is questioning the service.

While i do like Steam - i have an account and have bought games on the service - they are pretty poor with regards to customer service and accountability. I'm afraid i've beaten this issue a couple of times in other places but, for my piece of mind at least, something needs to be done sooner rather than later. It worries me to have an account that houses and ties together possibly hundreds of pounds worth of games but has no protection past your own password.

That's right. If anything 'bad' happens on your account - if your password is hacked or phished and your account is banned or stolen or games auctioned off - it's your fault. Valve refuses to recognise that mistakes can be made or that their VAC system could be fallible - in fact they state that VAC is never wrong and if your account is banned for suspicious activity then there is no recourse apart from getting a new account and buying the games again - for multiplayer, as singleplayer will continue to work for owned games and games bought after the ban.

Not only do valve have this ridiculous system in place - a system that your bank would be taken to court for applying to their customers - but they allow third parties to police their systems (which makes sense with respect to steamworks)... On the face of it, there should be no problem as long as the two don't conflict in terms of service but in practice you end up with schemes like the Bioshock debacle were you not only have the Steam DRM in place but the retail copy DRM in place. This was partly rectified but in my opinion the issue should never have come up. Steam DRM is all you need... there is no excuse for adding another, more complex layer on top of that.

This would all be a non-issue if only everything was transparent... but of course, the gaming industry (Publishers and developers) do not trust the people to whom they are selling their products. This is why we end up with licences rather than owning the product - and i'm not talking about the code, we should be able to own the game we bought for the premium price we paid for it or they should be cheaper. It's also why we don't know what draconian (or not) measures are put in place before buying because, quite frankly, they are (rightly) scared that consumers won't buy their products.

It's a shame and i hope it gets sorted soon. The music industry, and soon the movie industry, is learning that consumers like some control and transparency.... the game industry needs to learn this as well.

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