Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?

Posted on 9th May 2014 at 08:58 by Rick Lane with 27 comments

Rick Lane
Earlier this week the post-apocalypse FPS Earth: Year 2066 was withdrawn from sale on Steam. The game had come under fire from fans and journalists alike on account of being severely underdeveloped even for an Early Access title, and misleading players about its rudimentary and broken state on the product page. This came to a head on the sixth of May when Valve dubbed the game a scam and removed all mention of it from the service.

Earth: Year 2066 isn't the only steaming plate of rubbish served to players through Steam lately. This has been highlighted by Escapist Reviews Editor Jim Sterling, who has spent the past few months slowly shovelling his way through the mounting pile of excrement which alongside 2066 include the likes of Overcast: Walden and the Werewolf, the multiplayer FPS Rekoil, and Day One: Garry's Incident. All as part of an effort to demonstrate that Steam needs better quality control.

But Steam's problems don't end with publishing a growing number of games that should never have been put up for sale. These dreadfully designed and barely functional lumps of code are launched alongside your mainstream titles, indie games, Early Access releases and entire publisher back-catalogues, including such memorable classics as "Actua Soccer3" and "Eurofighter Typhoon". Up to this point these have all been clumped together under the rather confusing category of "New Releases".

Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?
Old games are shown alongside brand new titles in Steam's "New Releases" tab - Click to enlarge

Eighteen months ago very few of them would have seen the light of day on the service. This tsunami of titles has come about as a consequence of a change in policy at Valve which began with the creation of the Early Access model. Basically, Valve no longer want to be the gatekeepers of Steam. Instead they want to give developers and publishers complete control over how their games are released and marketed on the service. And this is a problem.

The issue doesn't stem from Valve's intent. The company's position is in many ways an admirable one. When most publishers and distributors are becoming increasingly draconian, obsessed with controlling how games are seen, played, produced and marketed right down to the smallest detail, usually to the inconvenience of both developers and players (just try using Ubisoft's Uplay service if you want to understand what I'm getting at), Valve's open and relaxed approach is certainly more benign.

It's also understandable when you consider how Steam Greenlight has failed as a way to measure which indie games deserve a full Steam release. But there's a fundamental contradiction at the heart of how Valve want to be seen as and what they are, while giving companies that aren't Valve Valve-like powers on Steam is a terrible idea.

Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?
Games like Earth: Year 2066 only serve to fuel player concerns about Steam's Early Access program - Click to enlarge

As was the case with Earth 2066, Valve's waiving of all responsibility for publishing and marketing on Steam means that players have to police the service themselves when unscrupulous developers take advantage. 2066 was only taken down after an extended campaign on Reddit. This is an unfair position to place players in, especially when developers have the power to modify edit and censor their own Steam communities as according to their will.

In addition, despite their exhortations of giving developers a free market, Valve ultimately had to step in to take Earth: Year 2066 down. This is always going to be the case. No matter how much Gabe Newell wants Steam to look like a democracy, Valve will always have the final say on what the service offers and how it can be used. So vetting such games in the first place, giving them a brief overview to at least make sure the game has some intrinsic value to it would immediately prevent these dodgy titles from exploiting unwary players, and prevention is always better than cure.

Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?
On the Early Access about page, Valve state "This is the way games should be made" - Click to enlarge

It might be argued at this point that there are simply too many games for Valve to realistically do this, but Valve isn't exactly short on resources, so hiring a few people to perform basic quality control doesn't seem like too much to ask. They wouldn't have to judge whether the game is good or not, just ensure it isn't broken like a tumble-dryer filled with spanners before it launches.

It isn't merely players who are likely to suffer because of
Steam allowing anything under the sun to feature on its pages. While it might be easier for developers to get their games onto Steam, getting them noticed is another matter altogether. Locating quality titles amid the shovelware, half-finished Early Access games and re-released titles from twenty years ago is already becoming a challenge, even for someone whose job it is to do precisely that.

For customers simply looking for something fun to play, Steam's marketplace must be utterly bewildering, and it's no surprise that players are buying into games that aren't what they initially believe them to be. This is assuming developers are open and honest about what they are selling, which recent events have proved is not always the case.

Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?
Rekoil was published on Steam by 505 Games in a deeply unsatisfactory condition" - Click to enlarge

As players struggle to purchase the games they want in a marketplace where quality and truth are increasingly hard to guarantee, the inevitable consequence is that developers will struggle to sell them. Only a few days ago the developer of the Early Access city-building game Towns claimed the game isn't selling as well as they need it to, and so development has ceased. Whether this stated reason is true or not we obviously can't be certain (Towns sold around 200,000 copies, which seems like a substantial number), but either way this kind of event only further damages trust between Steam and its customers, and so the vicious cycle continues. It doesn't help that there are no guarantees for customers regarding the completion of Early Access games.

Valve has historically acted toward its customer base in a benevolent fashion. At least, as benevolent as you can expect a large company with almost complete control over a highly profitable market to be anyway. They're also a company that likes to experiment, and that experimentation has resulted in lots of great things - Steam sales and the enormous success of Dota 2 to name just two. But it's these two traits have also resulted in Steam's current messy and less trustworthy condition.

Valve has assumed that every developer and publisher will behave as ethically as it does, relying on honesty and goodwill to support their plans. The sad truth is there will always be individuals looking to exploit such open platforms for the sake of a quick buck, and Valve has decided to open the floodgates to them and see what happens.

Should we be concerned about the state of Steam?
Steam Greenlight was one one of the key factors in Valve taking the decision to remove themselves from the vetting process - Click to enlarge

Recently, Valve has taken some steps to address these problems. Early Access games have actually been removed from the "New Releases" tab on the front page, which is a good start in clearing those very muddy waters. But more needs to be done. At the very least, old games and new games should be distinct from one another, and some basic quality control ought to be put in place to prevent the very worst offenders from gaining an underserved platform.

Giving developers freedom to create and market their products on Steam undoubtedly has its benefits, but those benefits should not exist to the detriment of those who ultimately purchase the games.


Discuss in the forums Reply
StoneyMahoney 9th May 2014, 09:18 Quote
Valve need to step up, accept responsibility for the quality of the offerings on their platform and take the job they've created for themselves seriously. If they don't, Steam will strongly resemble the iOS App Store within weeks.
Dave Lister 9th May 2014, 09:20 Quote
I know i'm concerned with the state of steam. I have to contact tech support just to be able to buy a game and I can't add funds to my steam wallet at all. This is all caused by the fact that I split my time living in France and the UK.

More on subject, the store is a mess and it's difficult to find the gems among all the turds (new or otherwise) being released. And despite EU laws we still are not able to even give a game away let alone sell them on.

Oh I forgot to mention that the metacritic scores handily disappear for certain titles, normally the titles with low scores.

I really wish Steam had a suggestion box, as I have a few little complaints and suggestions for them.
collateral 9th May 2014, 09:31 Quote
Poor after-sales policies
Non-existent customer support
GeorgeK 9th May 2014, 09:45 Quote
lol at "barely functional lumps of code" :)

In all seriousness though, Valve do really need to take some responsibility for this - personally I think they should take the blame if they publish substandard games as, effectively, they've given them their recommendation by having them on their site in the first place. If Tesco was to stock something that was clearly not fit for purpose or substandard they'd have to refund you, not the manufacturer
Guinevere 9th May 2014, 10:38 Quote
IMHO Valve should have a bit more integrity on the products they wish to sell on their store, but there's also an argument for allowing an open doors policy and letting almost anyone in.

Take Amazon. They will sell you just about anything that's legal but they have an amazing customer service policy to go with it. Someone tries to sell worthless tat and Amazon are going to be stinging them for a lot of DPP returns.

Valve should improve its customer service, allow real easy refunds and bring reviews more to the fore. With these in place it'll be more self regulating.
Jim 9th May 2014, 10:51 Quote
Was going to post something very similar to Guinevere.

Steam is a marketplace, and there may well be some real rubbish on there. As a consumer, you shouldn't be relying on someone else to decide what you can and can't purchase. I might want to play Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing for the amusement value, and why shouldn't I be able to purchase it on Steam?

The big problem with Valve is that they seek to shirk their legal obligations, i.e. to provide goods that are fit for purpose, and more debatably DSR/Section 75.

However, that doesn't completely excuse the buyer. If you're buying games without reading reviews and looking at the community responses, then you've got to accept that you're taking a gamble. With early access games, for instance, I think you've got to accept everything that improves as a bonus.
Maki role 9th May 2014, 10:54 Quote
Personally I hate Steam, I only use it because everything's on it (not too dissimilar to Windows in that regard really). I've actually had more success with Origin actually, but that lacks a lot of the features and has the massive issue of dealing with purely EA content (so I don't use it much at all in reality).

My issues stem from how it never bloody works for me, and when it does, it's sluggish and annoying. Every time I log in, Steam decides to go and check for updates (despite trying to set it to not do that), which causes things to freeze for a bit. If I wish to use it, half of the time I need to sign back into it, upon which is says I need to use a confirmation code sent to my email.

Heck my original Steam account was completely deleted, no idea why nor how. I didn't have much on it (Portal and a few other titles), but it was still annoying finding that out.

Combine those little issues with the awful customer service and I'm not a particularly happy camper. I'd be happy to jump ship if a viable alternative came about.
GeorgeStorm 9th May 2014, 10:57 Quote
I use Steam all of the time, to talk to most of my friends, as well as play games, I'm now at the stage where if a game is on Steam I see it as an advantage as it keeps things together.

However it's far from perfect, as others have said its customer service is just dreadful, and not being able to return games without kicking up a real fuss is also pretty rubbish.
blacko 9th May 2014, 11:07 Quote
OMG they've pulled 3 games....its a sign HL3 is on the way.
rollo 9th May 2014, 11:19 Quote
Never had major issues if people want to buy early access that's the chance they take. Look at all the cash people have paid for star citizen it's not even playable yet. Among other things on kickstarter in truth.

What I don't want to see is a apple style store where they and only they say what goes on it.

Steam is better than the alternative ( there is none) EA store works fine for EA games but nothing else and it's not what I'd call cheap even in the sales.

Brought a lot of stuff from steam in sales the amount of brand new titles I've brought must be below 10.

The ability to sell games is not really relevant, as till they allow the usage of the serial most of the games are worthless. EU law is so iffy on the facts from the way it reads you can sell your game but nothing tied to the game. ( so no online access no extras Ect)

There's places where you can pick up a 3 month old thief for 7 euro. The only things I'd sell are games I did not like but I paid small cash for.

Max Payne 3 for example but I only paid £2.50 for it. That's less than a pint.
loftie 9th May 2014, 11:23 Quote
I'm going to defend Towns here a bit. To me Towns feels like a completed game. I feel like more to do in it than A Game of Dwarves, and I've found it enjoyable. Could the devs have added more? More than likely. The last time I played, which was a while back, there wasn't anything to do with fishing in it, something everyone wanted and the devs said they were going to add it. Whether they actually added it or not I don't know, but did they really need to add it? Not really. There were ways of getting food and making items without it. It wasn't a case of there's an item in the game that we can't get because fishing hasn't been implemented. I believe you could actually buy fish but I'm not 100% on that.

I feel the problem is that people expect the game to be done to their standard, and since the game is still in development, they expect it even more. It seems to me that a lot of people expect the game to be developed forever (ala Minecraft) which isn't entirely realistic and even with MC they'll eventually stop adding stuff. I do think however, that these games are too expensive. I got Towns on sale, and while I think £10 is a bit of a stretch in terms of worth, it is worth £5. Especially considering it's 'wasn't finished'.

Any, that's my opinion. I doubt it's relevant to the other games mentioned, and I haven't played any of them.
Corky42 9th May 2014, 12:52 Quote
Originally Posted by snootyjim
However, that doesn't completely excuse the buyer. If you're buying games without reading reviews and looking at the community responses, then you've got to accept that you're taking a gamble. With early access games, for instance, I think you've got to accept everything that improves as a bonus.

I agree, but what should be done when the developer changes what is posted in the community discussions, or uses pseudonyms to post glowing reviews. Maybe Valve needs to setup the equivalent of the trading standards and fine developers for misleading advertising and the like.
Jim 9th May 2014, 13:15 Quote
Originally Posted by Corky42
I agree, but what should be done when the developer changes what is posted in the community discussions, or uses pseudonyms to post glowing reviews. Maybe Valve needs to setup the equivalent of the trading standards and fine developers for misleading advertising and the like.

I don't know about misleading advertising, because it's very hard to say what is and isn't misleading, but certainly editing people's posts in the community discussions is unacceptable.

To be honest, I would be surprised if there isn't already a Steam policy about that - I can't believe that they would give developers the ability to moderate comments without stating what that ability should be used for.
Dave Lister 9th May 2014, 13:29 Quote
Just logged into steam and Earth Year 2066 is sitting in the recently updated section. I thought steam had pulled it and refunded everyone.
Apoptosis 9th May 2014, 14:06 Quote
I've not been able to buy one single game off of Steam due to technical errors. The games also cost more than physical copies do ordered over the internet (not taking into account sales). For these two reasons I wouldn't care if Steam went under.
Donteatmypanda 9th May 2014, 14:24 Quote
Certainly don't agree with steam publishing unplayable crap on their website but its 2014 and I refuse to buy before I research now - I was too close to buying aliens colonial marines on release day then after a 1 minute check found a review! And wow what a saving that turned out to be. It fascinates me that this can happen do they not even test a title before publishing it?
Cthippo 9th May 2014, 14:33 Quote
The problem here seems less to be steam publishing crap than allowing publishers to modify comments. One man's trash remains another's treasure, but people need to be able to write and read honest reviews. Sure, some people will abuse the ability to write reviews, but letting the game's creator be the editor strikes me as the real problem here.

I'm all for letting people publish whatever they want (within reason), but let the marketplace honestly decide what is worth buying.
Anfield 9th May 2014, 15:00 Quote
Selling access to unfinished games is the real problem and it ain't just happening on Steam.

It's simply the next big scam after DLC.
Jim 9th May 2014, 15:32 Quote
Originally Posted by Dave Lister
Just logged into steam and Earth Year 2066 is sitting in the recently updated section. I thought steam had pulled it and refunded everyone.

AFAIK you can request a refund. I don't think everyone has been given one automatically.
Retro_Gamer 9th May 2014, 16:29 Quote
They really do need to step up to the plate and start looking at a just what is being published through their systems to customers.

GOG have a vetting process hence why you don't get any shovelware on there. Steam though is allowing anything to get through without any vetting at all. Didn't they start charging for putting up a game on Greenlight to try and stop things like Earth 2066 from happening.

I do like seeing some of the old classics on there must admit, more so if it is done by someone like Night Dive Studios as they do the relevant work to make sure their games work from start to finish on modern systems, a few of the other titles that are landing on there are getting the basics done to make it run and out the door.
Umbra 9th May 2014, 16:41 Quote
Originally Posted by rollo
Steam is better than the alternative ( there is none).

And therein lies the biggest problem, they have next to no competition and all the power over their customers and the market...Power corrupts, absolute power...blah, blah blah.
NetSphere 9th May 2014, 17:01 Quote
Well, this is the first I heard about Towns closing. I am glad I didn't impulse buy it when it was on sale. I remember looking at the forum and finding people complaining about game-breaking bugs, like stupidly setting a harvest point in the middle of some mobs and being unable to unset the point.

For me, the best indie model is probably the Don't Starve model. Reasonable basic game, then free DLC every 3(?) weeks. And an eventual pay-for-expansion. The game was complete and even when it was pre-released prior to steam, it was in near-finished beta.

Will Valve step up? They might be too busy making a shedton of money from TF2 and Dota2 cosmetics.
theshadow2001 9th May 2014, 23:07 Quote
The only things I like about steam are the sale prices and the fact my games are cloud based, so I can install them across O/S installs without issue.

Other than that its an incredibly poorly laid out, laggy mess. You want QC? Why not start at the client and work up from there.
Pete J 10th May 2014, 05:23 Quote
Personally, I love Steam as it is a nice single library for all my games. I've never really had a problem with it that I can remember.

However I'm getting a weary of all these new 'indie' and 'early release' games that are popping up all over the place. As mentioned, they get in the way of games I'd actually be interested in.
gosh 11th May 2014, 01:50 Quote
i think people just need to change their expectations that anything on steam is fine - god forbid they ask on the forums or read some reviews themselves instead of relying on a number and a few snippets. i personally distrust early access/kickstarters as you are paying to support development, not to be guaranteed a fully complete and working game that delivers all it's promises perfectly - steam checkout should put a disclaimer up to this effect as it's not their game.

i do however completely agree that the steam store and client both need a substantial overhaul - it's very hard to browse for games or categories, offline mode is a pain, we really should be able to throttle or schedule downloads/patches so games can be played online and it could be far more helpful with suggested games.
PaulJG 13th May 2014, 12:57 Quote
From what I can see of it, one of the problems steam have is 'underage developers'.. Now that's nothing personal against young programmers (I was one) - but its all to easy just to start these things up - without being legally responsible for your actions.

If you look into this case, its quite obvious that its a 15-16 year old and his mates are behind it. (Earth:Year 2066)- Bit of fun.. get to have a game on steam and be called a 'developer' - but as soon as money is passed over.. then its a different ball-game. People want what they've paid for - and these lads just dont have the experience and skills to deliver... or really care about delivering on promises. (go read the comments on the steam page)

From what I've seen of it, probably slapped together with about an hours programming with Blitz3d or some other basic engine. Air Control being another.. put together with assets from various sources (some which are copyrighted!) - and held together with off-the-counter scripts. If they want to develop - and take money of it - then the whole project should be thoroughly checkout out first, and thats a job valve should undertake! ;)
Helz 21st May 2014, 21:40 Quote
I'd much rather that Steam's policies stay as lenient as possible. I haven't bought a bad game in many years because I always dedicate about 15 minutes of research before I spend my money. A combination of Metacritic, actually reading(!) some of the reviews on Metacritic, and checking out either the Steam or publisher forum is more than enough to learn as much as I could want to know. It isn't hard to filter out the fanboy/hate/troll/liar posts if you've spent much time on gaming forums.

If Steam hires more staff to start checking their catalogue, that cost will be passed off on their customers anyway.
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