Steam has gone through some rough couple of days this past week. The now, infamous, crapware developer Digital Homicide recently sued about 100 Steam users for a massive $18 million for bringing the studio a bad name in public.
Not only that but the trashware developer studio also tried to force Valve to release their (the involved Steam user’s) information through a subpoena.
Valve kicked the developer studio out and shut down all their games from the Steam service.
So what’s wrong with the whole situation?
Nothing, except for the fact that the whole fiasco could have been avoided easily rather.
What happened with Digital Homicide situation isn’t something that came out of the blue.The mess is actually a conclusion to the series of bad decisions made on part of Valve, where the organization did not pay attention to crucial issues on Steam.
Not a lot. Just the unending flood of worthless or faulty games through Steam features such as Greenlight and Early Access.
Maybe Steam still has not realised that it needs to bring in some sort of protection tools which stop developers and users abusing the Steam platform.
Needless to say, problems like these make it harder for users and developers to communicate on a daily basis.
All that needs to be done is for Valve to put a little time, and money along with manpower, into moderating and organizing and problems like these would go away in a jiffy.
But what do we get instead? Valve doing nothing unless the situation gets out of hand and some developer or user sues someone for something.
The one thing we can all agree on is the fact that Steam, now, has a ridiculously large number of great games. Not only that but most of the things on Steam are pretty functional and well stocked.
The main problems are the systemic ones.
Steam is a system that is built on different parts working together. But right now, those parts are all over the place. Some sub-systems are built to be automated while others are to be handled by humans.
With Steam, both type of systems have been making trouble for users and developers for years. Steam is, for the most part (since some people have experienced problems getting games on steam) an open platform for developers.
It is an irregular and inconsistent, albeit humongous, library of games. But even with that rich history, the order of the day is that new games kick off old games pretty fast on a daily basis. Some reports have even indicated that the algorithm on the site that makes new games discoverable is also flawed in the sense that the algorithm is supported by a user-driven accountability system which includes reviews and game tags.
Many developers are of the opinion that it is impossible to succeed on steam if they don’t game the system.
Steam also chips in with its own part in making sure that the system doesn’t work as it is supposed to by making unannounced changes,sometimes big ones, to site policy. That obviously, annoys some users and developers.
With that said, the whole problem boils down to two things and two things only. One is Valve’s lack of care in trying to organize content on Steam in a manner that is consistent and purposeful. Right now, Valve only decides to take action when the situation gets truly unruly, almost at the point of being uncontrollable.
Secondly, Valve or rather Valve’s system on Steam not only allows but also encourages Steam users to act in manners that are considered to be abusive, virulent and harmful when dealing with developers and even other Steam users.
Now, the problems described above are more related to each other than some of us might think them to be.
Worse, Steam’s system actually, advertently or inadvertently, supports Steam users and developers going against each other when presumably both want the same thing. That thing is commerce.
Users want to buy good games while developers want to sell them. The problems that Steam has experienced till now between users and developers will ultimately hurt the company in a big way and that’s a shame since if Valve can, still, control the systemic issues that lie within the online gaming platform.
But from what we have seen from Valve and the company’s extremely hands-off approach to the troubles Steam has and is still going through, it is highly unlikely that the company will show any concern for its Steam gaming service.
So let’s start with the obvious flaw in Steam at the moment: no curation. You might not believe this but there was a time when Steam’s entire game collection was neatly curated by the staff at Valve.
But, as indicated before, that isn’t the case anymore. Now the system is basically divided between Valve directly approving some games, especially the ones from big studios and publishing houses that have had a good reputation on Steam, and Steam’s Greenlight feature.
For those who don’t know, Steam Greenlight, essentially, allows Steam users to take a vote of games that they would like to see on the Steam platform.
That doesn’t mean that Steam doesn’t have a say in the process. In fact, the final decision still remains with Steam.
Sounds great right? We have our democracy and in case that doesn’t work, the system also has an authoritarian figure to make the final call.
It turns out, the Greenlight feature is nowhere near perfect. Because Valve has automated the system to a large extent, a lot of trash projects are able to pass through the cracks.
Understandably, Steam users get frustrated when a lot of that junk stuff ends up on Steam. Lately, the percentage of absolute garbage games on Steam has shot up to unprecedented levels.
But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that the problem is progressively getting more serious by the day.
And because Steam users don’t really have a good alternative to look to and Valve doesn’t seem mildly interested in addressing these issues, some of the Steam users have taken it upon themselves to fix Steam.
You might have heard about Steam policing groups such as the Anti-Consumer Practice Report and the Framerate Police. There is also,now infamous, the Digital Homicides.
The Digital Homicides’ aim is to purify Steam’s Greenlight feature. The group has had its downs (not too sure about the ups) but the general policy remains the same: to keep a check on developers and games that they see and judge as suspicious.
The group also has a following of sorts where they send members to doubtful Steam projects in order to report them in a positive light or, conversely, warn other Steam users away from them.
And since Valve is nowhere to be seen aside getting involved in narrative reactions to various reports, the Steam community is forced to depend on the fight between these user-made groups that want to make sure Steam is working the way they want it to work and the developers.
But lately, these policing groups have become rather detrimental to their original cause. That is not to say that all user-made groups on Steam are inherently evil. It is true that many of these groups and individual Steam users do have, at least in the beginning, sincere intentions.
In fact, recently the Digital Homicides’ top dogs even tried to control its members from stepping over the line.
But, when these same groups begin to attract thousands of members and have no tools to punish bad behavior in a consequential manner, problems begin to arise because of Steam users who just want to break the system for no real purpose other than the reason that they are just horrible human beings.
The people we’re talking about here are the ones that fill forums and comment section with offensive content and sometimes even threat other Steam users.
Simply put: some of the members of these police groups on Steam are just blockheads. But there is another breed of Steam users who just want a place where they can satisfy their self-righteousness needs.
The internet is filled with individuals who are, mostly , adamant on the fact that they are doing the right thing and that everyone else is nuts, even when their attitudes are borderline aggressive or abusive.
The problem is further compounded when the targeted developers decide to ban these individuals or groups. Fellow Steam users get the impression that the developers are somehow suppressing the voice of the people by blocking offensive groups or users while the situation is quite the opposite where developers just want to end the hostility or just can’t deal with the abuse anymore.
And sometimes, these Steam police groups don’t seem to realise that developers are just as humans as they are.
But that doesn’t matter since Steam users can easily put developers on the back foot by waging a campaign for an end to the “censorship” policy on part of the developers. As you would expect, the situation gets even more poisonous.
However, that doesn’t mean that the developers are always on the right side when it comes to banning individuals on Steam since there have been cases where developers have tried to ban heroic Steam users who managed to dig out buried skeletons from the developer closets.
Of course, that isn’t the case one hundred percent of the time.
But to be fair to the Steam Greenlight system, it is rather hard to moderate submitted games when they come from such a wide spectrum of people.
Indeed, some submitted game projects are vague (sometimes developers or people masquerading as developers just make enough effort to put different skins and names on a Unit asset pack to build an entire game) but there are many others who are just not competent enough to make good games and their submitted projects are just them trying to do their sincere best.
And let’s not forget the fact that the Steam gaming platform is for everyone and that includes kids who are having their first crack at developing games, as can be clearly seen from this project.
Obviously, the question arises that should you really sell something on Steam that isn’t quite ready to be sold? Maybe not.
But should you be entitled to hundreds of insults for that innocent, perhaps unintended, misdemeanor? Absolutely not.
The fact is that as long as there is a us versus them mindset on Steam among Steam users and developers, then there is bound to be problems.
But hang on a second here.
Is that the real problem as far as Steam is concerned?
No. Because not only does a system of Steam groups policing developers cause bitterness between the two groups but it also is a horrendously ineffective way to manage the quality of games on Steam.
The primary reason why most of the people who are involved with Steam user groups and developers, get so worked up over calling out bad apples is that the action just feels good. Somehow, it gives the impression that something is being done on Steam to ensure that users don’t get robbed or developers don’t get abused unnecessarily.
Developers who dump unfinished projects or scam projects on Steam are still able to make a lot of money through a business strategy that involves selling products such as special items, bonus packages, custom backgrounds and Steam trading cards.
Check out the video below to see how scammers (like the Digital Homicide) are able to make money on Steam using these tactics.
You might be wondering that Valve must have taken some form of action against these racketeers?
Well, you’re wondering wrong since Valve has done a total of nothing to address these issues. And to make matters worse, there is literally nothing going on at the moment that might change Valve’s position. Valve takes a cut from each transaction, regardless if it’s a crappy one, and as long as the company is making money, there is no reason to stop these illicit business practices.
If we’re talking about the developer’s side of the story then they too get mauled by Steam users who act obnoxiously.
Sometimes they get hate because of sincere mistakes or unpopular creative choices. Some Steam users view these faults or sometimes blunders as deliberate ill will.
Developers get kicked in the teeth with bad reviews on Steam and other forums. Often times these incidences of Steam user rage reach social media sites like Twitter as well.
Steam has provided developers with an assortment of tools to moderate their business on Steam but those are hardly useful when you’re up against a crowd of irate Steam users.
But in the end, it is Valve’s responsibility to clean up Steam. Since the company has claimed Steam to be an open platform for game developers, there are bound to be some dreadful projects from lousy people.
Valve can and should keep things in check by introducing strict moderation and organization measures.
Besides, if Valve isn’t going to do, no one else will either.