What are Steam's current competitors

It's going downhill with Steam - that's a good thing!

For many years, Steam was the ultimate PC game download platform. There was competition in the form of publisher-specific solutions, such as Ubisoft's Uplay, EAs Origin, Blizzards and, more recently, Bethesda's Launcher, the Microsoft Store and much smaller competitors such as GOG Galaxy, Twitch and Discord, and then there was the indie - junk shop itch.io. None of them were any real competition for Steam.

Only with the start of the Epic Game Launcher before Christmas last year did a real rival stir - with particularly deep pockets. Thanks to the hyper-lucrative "Fortnite", Epics platform freshman can afford the ambition to throw the gauntlet to Valve. 125 million people are no small matter as initial capital. So many people play "Fortnite" and have therefore recently started using Epic's new store every time the game is started. And because this audience washed three billion dollars into Epic's coffers in the last year alone thanks to the global success of the F2P battle royale phenomenon, you also have the change to risk war. The attack type of choice is currently the recently announced platform exclusivity of hotly anticipated titles such as Metro: Exodus as well as the better conditions that attract developers and publishers.

Buried under hentai girls

You may think what you want from the rather unwieldy Epic Launcher and the dubious strategy of attracting the audience through platform-exclusive binding of big titles, but one thing is undisputed: Steam had problems before. Namely those that have resulted from the long-standing, comfortable top dog status: As a virtually unrivaled and unrivaled quasi monopoly, Valve was able to let loose on its laurels.

To the detriment of the ecosystem: To call Steam's catalog a jungle would be an understatement. There are 30,000 games to choose from, 9,300 were added in 2018 alone - 25 per day. In recent years in particular, Valve has vehemently opposed the often raised demand for curation or even more stringent quality controls. The hyper-liberal laissez-faire approach since the introduction of Steam Direct - any developer can publish on Steam as long as he pays a fee of $ 100 and complies with a number of formal and content-related rules - was only half-heartedly cushioned by community-based quality controls.

You can see that: Like the similarly structured mobile app stores from Apple and Google, Steam is literally inundated with junk, increasingly from cheap Chinese production. The low entry barrier literally brings hundreds of inferior, carelessly made new releases that bury higher quality little titles under the sheer mass and goofy-eyed hentai girl overkill. Most of the newly released indie titles don't even get a single review, even after weeks. Every day, Steam provides the sad proof of the "indie pocalypse" that has been lamented by developers for years.

Experiments, algorithms and trolls

In any case, Valve seems to have hardly any interest in the myriad of small developers who deliver an estimated 98 percent of the games on Steam: The new conditions announced in autumn are preferred by the manufacturers of large games that are particularly lucrative, and one that was also new in autumn last year The algorithm used to inform customers of games that are of interest to them has apparently been changed in such a way that it also makes mainly large titles more visible, regardless of the preferences of one's own game library. The fact that it was only a bug, as Valve assured, can at least be questioned in view of the continued decline in access to small titles and the increased wooing of large publishers on the part of Valve.

In general, despite all its success, Valve often seems to lack consistency or even just strategy. Ambitious projects in recent years to get into the hardware business - keyword: steam machines, steam links and steam controllers - were characterized by chaotic maneuverability and ultimately failure. For such a lucrative, market-dominating platform, these deadlocks, which sooner or later ended as half-orphaned technology ruins after full-bodied starts that were announced as revolutions, do not exactly testify to the farsightedness of the strategists at Valve. After all: it wasn't necessary either.

In view of such experiments on living objects, persistent uncurated flooding with games of inferior quality and, last but not least, a spoiled, often rabid, uncomfortable buyer base due to review bombing and taking advantage of the return deadlines, the developers are increasingly dissatisfied with Steam, not least with 30 percent from the sale into your own pockets.

Quo vadis, Steam?

The new, aggressive competition from the Epic Store may be uncomfortable in the short term for players who have for years got used to the one, single point of contact for all PC games and its relatively customer-friendly policy, for the market, the developers and ultimately the players and gamers themselves, however, challenging the incumbent who has grown fat is a blessing. It is far more likely that Valve will finally condescend to the sensible, urgently needed repairs of the store, visibility and concept at some point.

At the moment, Steam reacts to the aggressive duel announcement with a sniveling response: It was "unfair" to the customers that Metro: Exodus would only be found platform-exclusive at Epic, the apparently equally surprised quasi-monopoly complained - and at least there were numerous players who met followed this point of view with the usual loud protest.

A lucrative incumbent complains about "unfair" practices by challengers, especially on behalf of his customers - many dinosaurs have probably already died out with similar chants of fear. Of course, it's not that far yet. Yes, it may be inconvenient for players to have to install another front end on their computers, and yes, the fragmentation of the individual games libraries into lots of different programs is also a nuisance. However, viewed differently, it can only be an advantage if, in the face of the challenger, Steam finally takes on the construction sites with new motivation, which they have only worked slowly for years and ultimately improved to the greatest extent possible.

If the new competition leads to Steam solving its flooding problem - for example through curation and more sensible filtering options - it will undoubtedly remain just as lucrative and indispensable for gamers. If it can muster up not only to treat the particularly big titles fairly, but also to treat small, diverse indies fairly, thanks to its size alone it can become a marketplace that is not only commercially but also culturally significant. If the sometimes wildly rampant amphibian in its forums and reviews is also combated through increased community moderation, that is just as welcome.

In short: If Steam not only hoards its billions thanks to competition that has to be taken seriously, but also invests it sensibly in further development, ultimately everyone benefits. Mr. Newell - roll up your sleeves at last! (Rainer Sigl, 3.2.2019)