Steam may be the worst thing to happen to gaming since the “Half-Life 3 confirmed” meme. Ever since Half-Life 2 forced users to use the client, Steam has set the precedent for digital distribution and DRM practices. Unfortunately, the standards were never high, and its borderline dysfunctional client (which is just a glorified browser) is nothing short of a joke. It’s plain to see that a lot of problems facing games today can be attributed to Steam, and it all starts with that login box.
Before I even start thinking about the problems with Steam, let’s take a step back and ask why I need to log in to play my games. To download, update and modify my games, sure, a login is understandable (not necessarily justified, though), but to just play them? They’re already installed on my PC, and it’s not like I’m guaranteed to play multiplayer or care who’s online, yet every game requires me to log into Steam because that’s just the way it goes. I can’t just sit down and fire up a game anymore, I need to go through a pre-game routine, and all of it is done through a superfluous client.
When it comes down to it, the Steam client is just a glorified browser. Three of the four categories at the top just lead to web pages, and the other one is your games list. There is a chat function that lets you see who’s playing what, but it’s hardly as nuanced as other dedicated chat programs. Sure, you can shift-tab and bring up an overlay with some information, but you can also alt-tab just as quickly to access better versions of what Steam’s offering. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad that the browser is borderline superfluous if it wasn’t such a clunky mess.
Calling the client ‘chugtastic’ would be an egregious understatement. It feels about a decade too old and seems to struggle to do anything from downloading to opening games without stalling. It works, but it often feels like it barely scrapes through anything you want it to do. It offers everything from chat to music, but none of it works particularly well, and it all becomes a hassle to trawl through just to get to my games. Of course, just hope that the auto-update hasn’t started, because it’ll game-block you.
And pray you have internet
The updating mechanism Steam uses is way better than having to manually patch things, but there’s a bigger issue: I can’t play my game until the patch is finished downloading. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but downloading a patch and installing a patch are two very different processes. Even if I pause the download, Steam will start it back up again if I hit that play button, and I just have to sit and wait. It’s like an overbearing mother that won’t let you eat your ice cream until they finish scooping the next bowl, but mothers support their children better than Steam does.
Steam Support has garnered a reputation for being less than delightful, which is terrifying to hear. You just need to Google “Steam Support horror stories” to witness how deplorable it’s gotten. Steam has the biggest gaming community in the known universe, and the support services rival something a shady Chinese organ shiller could muster up. It might eventually work, but the waiting and the sometimes ridiculous amount of validation required to get what you need is astonishing. Of course, validating you own a game doesn’t matter if you don’t own it in the first place.
All these games and nothing is owned
Digital distribution has brought about something of a paradigm shift in game ownership, and Steam is the trendsetter thanks to its popularity. Rather than owning your Steam games, you agree to something more like a subscription service. You’re allowed to access the game, download it and play it, but you don’t own it per se. It’s a strange issue that I’ve written about before, and it still troubles me now because it’s become the norm of game ownership. Services like Uplay and Origin have adopted a similar approach, and while they’ve proliferated the problem, Steam was the one that started it all.
The thing that troubles me the most is that this answer my first question: Why do I need to log in? Because my game isn’t just locked to my account; it’s locked to the client. To play a game, I need to log into the client, and this doesn’t just apply to Steam. Uplay, Origin, and others (remember GFWL?) all require a login to play your game of choice. Now, I’m not saying Steam caused this to become the norm, but its popularity was more than a significant factor. Its acceptance has allowed some less than desirable practices go unnoticed, such as the almighty Steam sales.
It’s far from a miracle
Everyone loves cheap games, and that’s the problem with the Steam sales. Seeing 50% off a game relatively unimpressive during a sale, and because of the consistency of their appearance, it’s started to diminish the value of games in the long run. It gives the impression that Steam is more interested in pushing out games than curating a high-quality catalog, and some of the Greenlight/Early Access stuff on sale adds credence to that line of thinking. It certainly makes Valve look a bit dodgy, and I wouldn’t be willing to trust my games to them if they didn’t get their act together.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Steam is a blight upon all who succumb to it. It’s been the trendsetter for some overbearing practices that have proliferated to become the norm, all the while diminishing the value of games through insane sales without proper curation. It won’t even let me play my games until it’s finished downloading the patches for it, and don’t get me started on the haggard old client. Steam is awful, and without it, the gaming world wouldn’t be what it is today.
* This article has been written as part of a dual-article pairing. To see the argument for the other side, click right here.