I’ve been using Steam for a fair while now, in fact pretty much since the beginning, and have seen the program grow on from its fairly humble origins. There are now hundreds of titles available, including games from big-name publishers and independent game houses alike, and the usual crashes and quirks that afflicted the early releases are pretty much gone. Nevertheless, there are still a number of key areas in which Steam continues to live up to standards, at times making using the system a bit of a nightmare. This is a list of some of those issues which in my eyes prevent Steam from becoming a really top class product, delivering everything the platform really promises. Some of these issues admittedly have their origins outside of Valve’s headquarters, but the way in which they are dealt with only compounds the problems further, for both customers and clients.
How do you turn a free product into a profitable enterprise? That’s normally the challenging issue to be faced in today’s increasingly competitive online market. Internet giant Google continues to have issues attempting to monetise its expensively acquired YouTube daughter. Yet game developer Turbine is looking to do exactly the opposite, converting their current business model into a subscription-supported free product. But does ‘free’ pay?
It certainly appears that Turbine’s decision to offer their MMO Dungeons & Dragons Online for free has paid off. Hundreds of thousands of new players have signed up to take advantage of the new offer, and despite the ‘free’ price tag, subscriptions are up 40%. In addition, many players are taking advantage of an in-game payment mechanism to buy additional items and open up new sections of the game. Previously the game had required players to pay a one off purchase price, followed by a monthly subscription fee. Now just about anyone can download the game and be playing within half an hour, paying or otherwise. Turbine also maintain that some players are paying even more per month than the previous subscription fee alone, removing an important cap on how much individual players could pay into the game. Rather than seeing players who play without paying as freeloaders, Turbine are confident that such players bring their own benefit to the company, generating interest, advertising via word-of-mouth, and thereby generating new subscriptions and one-off payments.
For whatever reason, Valve deemed last weekend to be worthy of celebration, and in addition to offering a welcome discount, offered a free trial for their action-packed zombie fest Left 4 Dead. Never one to pass up on such offers, and having a few friends who’d already bought the game, I spent a fair few hours last weekend testing the game out, enough so to have convinced me to actually buy the thing!
Whilst Left 4 Dead sits firmly in the survival horror genre, it is without a doubt a shooter through and through. Whilst the genre may have its early origins with games like Alone in the Dark, Left 4 Dead is to that what 28 Days Later is to Night of the Living Dead. It’s a high-energy bloodbath, which is well and truly the game’s essence. Forget setting, plot or character development, the game boils down to an assault course for four, through levels strewn with zombies to some method of escape, with occasional safe points along the way.
That might not sound particularly novel, but the game’s central tenet is its co-operative side. Whilst there are plenty of games past that have featured zombies in one way or another, none have quite provided the experiences associated with the stereotypical zombie genre. Left 4 Dead clearly owes a lot to the zombie movie, from the opening intro to the closing credit sequences, and the gaming world has been truly aching for such a game. Mods such as Zombie Panic! or Zombie Master filled a gap, but Left 4 Dead has made full use of the Source engine to create a movie experience built for four.
After playing Valve’s last flagship multiplayer game, Team Fortress 2, on and off over the past year, I’ve had some of my initial thoughts change since my post earlier this year. A raft of modifications, patches and packs have tweaked the game’s dynamics and bolstered its features such that the game now exudes a certain amount more polish than previously. My earlier speculation that Valve would not have the time (or eventually the inclination) to produce ‘service packs’ for that other classes in the game, after the length of time the original Medic pack took to be released, seems to have been disproved, with two further releases in the intervening period. These packs not only added achievements and unlockable weapons to two further classes, the Pyro and the Heavy, but also added extra game modes and maps.
I had originally written this post, long lingering in the limbo of the drafts bin, pointing out a number of weaknesses with the game as it stood. The most recent patch has done much to address those problems, and is a welcome and rather unexpected update, given Valve had denied there would be any releases for Team Fortress 2 until 2009 on account of the amount of work going into their latest release, Left 4 Dead. I’ve gone through and added some comments or changes where necessary, to reflect the recent update, though on the whole this post retains its original state.
Valve’s Team Fortress 2 is already over six months old, so now might seem like an odd time to write a post on the games merits, but with the recent release of the Medic Achievement pack, and the rather surprising (though not unwelcome) news that Valve intends to integrate some of its popular features and improvements into the ageing Day of Defeat: Source, I decided I’d jot down a few of my impressions.
The release of Team Fortress 2 came as something of a surprise, after so little news about its development, with virtually nothing concrete after the initial revelations in 1999. The finished version bears absolutely no relation to those initial screenshots, instead maintaining much stronger links to the original modification Team Fortress Classic, with a strong glossy coat of The Incredibles style graphics and an uncut, Columbian-strength injection of humour.