Steam, or You Shall Not Pass!

Do you ever think about how hard it is for a normal person who does not have a Steam account to play a game released on Steam?

I know that for many of us, not having a Steam account is something unimaginable, but despite the platform’s impressive number of users, which passed the 125 million mark in February, there’s still some many hundreds of millions to make up the 1.2 billion people who play games, a number that made the news in 2013 (and should now be bigger).

To play a game on Steam, you have to:

1. Go to the Steam website and Install the Steam client

2. After downloading the client, make a Steam account

3. Back and forth through your e-mail and back for Steam account verification

4. Get a confusing Store front page that you are not familiar with, and which is not tailored to you because you just started.

Now, you might be lucky to know the name of the game you want to play, in which case you need to spot the smallish search bar in the upper left screen, find the game, buy it, get accustomed to how you buy stuff on Steam which adds a few extra steps, redeem your key, go to your library, and download and play that game. That is the best case scenario. Think about a person who’s new on Steam, doesn’t really know the platform, and is just browsing for a game he might enjoy. I wouldn’t want to be that person…

Once upon a time, buying a game meant going to the store, getting a nice looking box that you can always admire in your library (and have a sense of ownership for it), and just insert a disk to play. It involved actually going to a store, but otherwise the experience was quite up front, meaning, not hard to explain to someone new to the stuff, and maybe not super familiar with these things called computers. In the consoles case, the process was even easier. Compare that to getting a game on Steam. I could never, ever, in a million years, get my parents to play on Steam. I barely got them on Facebook just so they see my photos.

Yet despite this lengthy process, everyone wants to be on Steam, and in many cases, exclusively on Steam, despite Valve itself advising game developers to “get your game in front of as many people as you can“, right on the very first page one might read if he considers having his game on Steam. Everybody wants to be in the most crowded place, where so many games are released in one single day, and I just don’t understand why. There’s itch.io, Humble Bundle widget, Kongregate, you can set up your on Buy button, or store, there’s of course GOG and other distribution platforms, there are so many ways today to distribute content, and you can and should be everywhere! But everybody wants on Steam, and most of that Everybody makes no effort to be anywhere else but on Steam, at least during initial release. And I just don’t understand why.

I have a gamedev friend who does not have Steam and only vaguely heard of it. She is used to the .exe you double click to play, and so is her husband who is also a game developer. They mainly developed games on consoles, but that didn’t excuse their ignorance in my mind. How wrong I was to judge them. And sometimes I wonder, how many people I speak to, especially those that I deem of my kind, in this gamedev now trendily Triple I indiepocalypse sort of drama, how many of them don’t have Steam, and would never admit it? And why when you are at a fair with lots of people, so many smile if they see games being shown, but draw back and wouldn’t try because games are not for them. But it’s true, we make little effort understanding these people and explaining games in an better way, which means we’re not that welcoming, or?

And regardless of how you think about it, Steam is simply not a user friendly distribution client to be on, and so few of us think of how to make the experience of our players an easy, accessible, non frustrating one. It feels like we are punishing them for their ignorance. You shall not pass! But omg, my game did not sell well on Steam…