Despite what EA would like you to think with regards to their Origin digital distribution system it isn’t, nor will be, a grand competitor to Steam. Steam has a virtual monopoly on PC games sales, and monopolies are things we are taught to fear, however that is only the case when the system in control is or becomes corrupt, and over exerts it’s reach on what is available and how much it will cost. Valve has never shown even a hint of this, despite having had no real competition in the past few years. We trust them because they trust us, we’ve bought into the idea of what Steam represents, and we as a community of gamers are resistant to having the PC gaming world fragmented to the point where you need to install an application for every publisher you wish to buy games from.
This is why Origin has met with responses from ‘Meh’ to boycotting. It’s trying to give us what Steam already does, but for such a subset of games that it fails to even come close. Sure EA has the might to just push on with it, and having their games removed from Steam sets up Origin as the only place to get most EA titles, and certainly the upcoming Old Republic MMO, not that I really have much interest in that anyway.
Other providers have found niches to extract value from. Good Old Games, specialising in many abandoned titles have found a way to make money whilst offering games DRM free by keeping the price to the customer low enough for people to not worry about paying compared to copying the games. $5 or even $10 for a game and an assortment of collectibles like wallpapers and sound clips is a good bargain in most peoples books.
But as for taking on Steam, there is unlikely to be a system that could directly.
And that’s where Onlive comes in. Essentially it’s providing the same product. Games, from various publishers, to end users. But the system is so different to what Steam is offering that it will find itself a place. It can offer the same, brand new, cutting edge games but sell them to people who don’t want to, or can’t afford to keep up with even the slowed PC tech arms race of recent years. Grab yourself a £200 laptop and away you go, you can even hook it up to a TV screen with a £3 cable and be playing the latest PC games on your 50” screen for next to nothing. This represents the true threat to Valves dominance, by not taking Steam on directly and offering a totally different approach, but with the same end result. Both services are just as volatile, should either go out of business you will lose all those games irrespective of whether they had been downloaded or just streamed.
So what could Valve do about this situation? Other that just shelling out for OnLive? Well how about they introduce their own streaming service, not to replace the downloads but to run along side them in a shared ecosystem? Imagine that for a moment.
You’re at home, you have Space Marine installed from Steam on you high powered home gaming nirvana. Glorious actual 1080P gameplay streaming into your eyeballs via your carefully selected gaming rig. But then sometimes you are not at home, no access to that £500+ gaming beast. But you do have your laptop with you, or even a tablet device. Fire up the Steam app on either and you can be playing the same Space Marine experiance, continuing from where you saved via Cloud Saves, the game not hobbled by your mobile device, but steaming OnLive style giving far better quality of visuals than would otherwise be possible. You haven’t bought the game twice, just purchased the licence to play that game either via download or streamed content. Surely such an idea has already occurred to Valve, a way to remain up to date and relevant, providing the same great service as ever, yet enabling a much wider audience to join in the regular wallet emptying that so many of us already partake in in Valves favour.