Today my Steam account is one year old. And twenty days. I suck at anniversaries.
On September 9th 2013 I bought Far Cry 3 on Steam for 14,99 euros. Probably at a discount. It would have had to be because I had already completed the game. Don’t ask how. I had encountered a problem, though. Ziggy’s mod for FC3 refused to work properly with my copy and explicitly stated that it wouldn’t do so with non-authorized copies. I really liked Far Cry 3 and the thought of playing it stripped of magical super powers was genuinely thrilling. So I paid up and took the medicine. It was a bitter pill to swallow: Not only did I have to down Valve’s client, I had to take Ubisoft’s Uplay client too as part of the treatment. If you’ve never come across Uplay count yourself lucky. It’s the essence of DRM bullshitware masquerading as a social network. It figuratively made me throw up in my mouth. If I was being cured of my piratical tendencies, the cure felt decidedly worse than the disease.
It was worth it, though. Ziggied Far Cry 3 is exciting as all hell.
A month later I added a second game – the original Crysis – for 3,24 euros. It was cheap and I had already the Steam client installed. I also seem to recall finding it difficult to track down on certain Swedish sites. Here also started the glorious tradition of buying on-sale games on Steam that you never get round to playing. Nice business model if you can get it.
After three months I paid for an AAA title I had played out back in 2012. I haven’t really touched it since. I guess I figured that I just owed Bethesda that little something. If they could give me back two months of my life I think we’d be even.
A couple of months ago I wiped a hard disk full of disk images and suspicious looking exe’s. I have a Steam library of some 20 games – and the same or more on Humble and GOG. I checked into the site several times a day during the past two season sales. I have a decenty amount of spending money in credit on my account so I’m ready to jump on a suddenly advertised sale. When a friend told me he had been playing Skyrim on pc I asked him if we could be friends on Steam. He stared at me blankly. He had never heard of it. So you got it on DVD, I enquired? Well, no, he was unemployed and poor, he said. He had pirated the game, since I insisted. Oh, right. The idea hadn’t even suggested itself to me.
I never really got around to feeling unethical about piracy. At least as long as we were talking about Windows-only AAA titles. You didn’t pirate a small indie developer’s cross-platform game. Now, I have got significantly more disposable income than I used to. But I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that Steam just made things easier. That was the first hook. The second was the ritual around sales. Sales turns shopping into gaming and games into loot. The way you get a game is a large factor in how much it’s worth to you. When all games are free, they aren’t really worth anything. When you get a gem like Spelunky for 2 euros and feel like you’re getting 60 euros worth from it, that’s added value.
The third hook, though, took me by surprise. The Steam client has been there throughout, occasionally slowing me down and getting in between me and full-on Spelunky immersion. But lately I’ve been enjoying it’s features. You heard that Uplay? Genine, bona fide features. When I was sick and bedridden I played Crusader Kings 2 on my gaming desktop by the magic of Steam streaming to my humble work laptop. I recently installed the Steam client on my absolutely unsupported Arch linux install – and encountered just one hickup with a single game. Yesterday I got sick of the endless faux-medieval soundtrack of CK2 and remembered that Steam had just launched a music player – now the overlay isn’t just that annoying thing that happens when I try to switch guns mid-run in Borderlands 2. (The To the Moon soundtrack might not be the best mood setter for the Irish invasion of Great Britain but it’s still all kinds of lovely and sure beats hearing Non Nobis for the hundreth time)
There still are a lot of things that are be troubling about Steam. The fact that you’re only really renting the games for one. The sense of a garden being slowly walled off. And so I’m grateful that there also are Humble Bundles and GOG. But if Steam is still to be likened to medicine, it’s more like sipping rum toddies to prevent the onset of a cold than pills being forced down your throat.