It’s not about Steam vs. Impulse vs. anything

By on March 11, 2009 9:50:42 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums


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Edge-Online did a 6 page article heralding The Age of Steam which got picked up everywhere.  I responded with Why ‘The Age of Steam’ may not last.

Some in the media turned it into a Steam vs. Impulse argument. But it’s not.  It’s not even a Steam vs. Anything argument.

The issue is that at this stage in PC gaming, digital distribution is just beginning. By Valve’s own statistics, only around half a million or so users are using Steam to play a game each day – half of whom are playing Counterstrike.

In other words, no one including Steam has remotely reached critical mass.

Proclaiming Steam as the winner in digital distribution at this stage would have been like proclaiming Friendster as the winner in social networking. That would seem quaint now in the “age of Facebook”.

I’ve seen it argued that the above analogy doesn’t work because when you buy your games with Steam, it’s harder to switch because you become invested in their platform.  They say a better argument would be iTunes and its dominance.

The problem with the iTunes analogy is that iTunes wasn’t first. It wasn’t even close to being first. If we’re going to use digital music as our analogy then we should think about protected .WMA files which came out long before iTunes did. Early adopters bought their music from and other services that sold protected .WMA files.  They were similarly invested. But it didn’t matter because there weren’t enough of them to affect where the market ultimately went.

iTunes came out much later. It didn’t need anyone to convert over from BuyMusic to become dominant because it captured the millions and millions of new users who were just getting into digital music. PC game digital distribution is presently at that .WMA level where it’s just starting out.

Nobody knows what the future will bring. Who knows, maybe Blizzard will come out with an all-encompassing digital distribution service and absolutely crush everyone. Or something completely different might happen.

What I do know is that when all these digital services combined are getting less than a million people actually using them to play games per day, that we’re not even remotely close to being in an “age” of anything.

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March 11, 2009 9:57:18 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Thank you for this Mr. Wardell, I'm glad you cleared up your thoughts on it.


Hopefully this will hush all the Steam vs Impulse talk on the Demigod and Stardock forums. Not likely, but we can dream.

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March 11, 2009 10:09:40 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

If we’re going to use digital music as our analogy then we should think about protected .WMA files which came out long before iTunes did. Early adopters bought their music from and other services that sold protected .WMA files.

Wasn't RealMedia doing this before iTunes as well?  They're also a much bigger name than your example, which only helps your argument.

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March 11, 2009 10:55:44 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Gee, i typed ASCII rows of chatter on BBS'es - doesn't that make me an extinct diplodocus of Twitter's best?

Green on black, btw. I'm still blinking from it.

Online distribution is an egg in a much more bigger basket that won't be carried up (by someone, anyone or everyone, btw) until a specifically aimed at market opens up wider than the usual 'pack-a-snack-TV-dinner' trends escape the collective conscience, connected or otherwise.

Pioneers were always walking alone on their paths to discovery. This is no different.

I'm even willing to mention Napster, should i?

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March 12, 2009 7:59:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think it may be too late for that.  The DD wars on general gaming sites are rapidly turning into the PC version of the console wars.

The big difference is you can have both without plopping down $300 more then you would normally, as both programs are free.

One concern of mine: I really think we're going to see some cutthroat price competition.  For long-term profitability you may have to eat some profits to fight Steam's sales.





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March 12, 2009 8:44:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree that digital download is just starting and nobody as won anything far from it.


When you need to run a program like steam to be able to play it,s far from pleasing everybody.


This makes me think of Everquest 1 when it came ouot it was THE THING! nobody had ever seen something this grand. Now you have many of them even some free ones and I still think this is just the begining.

Before anybody says they have won they better be able to sweap any and all competition away. Which in my opinion STEAM as not done. Neither as Impulse for that matter. Moreover I hope it will never be a battle, I prefer good competetion which gives us the users advantages.

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March 12, 2009 9:04:45 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Zyxpsilon, you should mention Napster.  You can't have a conversation about on-demand enertainment without paying attention to digital theft.

I think Napster did more for iTunes then anything else.  Napster showed the industry that we wanted music on demand.  Yes we were stealing music, but it wasn't the desire for free music that really drove Napster, it was the platform.  Its ease of use, the ability to grab that one song you wanted, the opportunity to discover new music, etc.  There was a large, established potential customer base and Apple took notice.  By offering a cheap, legal music alternative for their soon to be dominating iPod at the same time that Napster was crumbling they were in a win-win situation.  They gave the music loving public what they wanted.

Steam, Impulse, etc. are moving into new territory with a paradigm shift for gamers.  They aren't offering something that everyone is already comfortable with as they were with Napster.  Pirating games right now requires an understanding of torrents and ISOs and keygens oh my!  Your average customer doesn't have or doesn't want that knowledge or isn't willing to compromise their values.

Digital Distribution dominance will take time and, Frogboy, you are 100% correct that the idea that Steam has "won the war" is naive and extremely short sighted.  They war hasn't even begun.  We are at the stage of young kids playing with toy soliders.  The "war" is still a ways off.

I think Xbox360, PS3 and Wii are doing wonders at getting people comfortable with DD.  While PC gamers may represent a different customer base there is a ton of overlap.

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March 12, 2009 9:24:51 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Hmmm, I agree with all this, but aren't you preaching to the choir by putting it here?  This should go back onto edge online, or at least somewhere where more than just stardock fans/users will see it.

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March 12, 2009 2:57:59 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

I think Napster did more for iTunes then anything else.

Expand this reasoning to the whole principles of an upcoming solid, reliable, manageable, profitable, digital distribution system (eventually) and even then... everybody will need to cope with theft/piracy or Napster like alternatives (as in a Pioneering solution to a common "problem").

They broke down a barrier that none since tried to put to their *modern business'ing*advantages, right?

Well, wrong - gamers got Steam.

Cinema freaks, now have BlueRays. And heck, they won't jump on the wwwagon either; Hollywood has monopoly. They got the cash, they got the industrial infra-structure, they even protect their products to the point where the usual chronologically planned 'rent the DVD' loophole makes them think twice before re-distributing '2001- A space... Part I' on bandwidths. Gee, that's not profitable (now - don't worry i'm just being sarcastic a little).. somebody is gonna steal it - from who should i ask. Go right ahead Movies & Cable feeds and sink deeper in a past for being stubborn and snubborn. Piracy and theft can't scratch the surface since, believe it or not, you're so far locked in a vault filled with bazillions that nobody can convince you that BO tickets are still spent by people and given to you all as profits that wouldn't you know - stack up.


But, yet again, the international LAWS helping biggest corporate conglomerates switched on their brainy hopes for, you guessed it, even more profits. The opportunity is there. Criminality aside, whomever went there first (by luck or otherwise) certainly has a head-start which is worth a few extra bucks in the long term **UNLESS** competition slugs a new ball outa the park.

Then, we'll possibly know if the online war is over - but, i doubt it ever will as historical social trends can prove it.

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March 12, 2009 7:15:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I am sooooo glad that there are multiple formats for the digital downloading of ANYTHING!  Competition drives prices down, creates better services, which are in turn adopted by the industry as a whole, and provides variety and choices--all of which are a boon to consumers.  One nice example: Amazon albums being DRM-free and oftentimes cheaper than iTunes albums!  Bring it on, I say.

Impulse vs. Steam rocks!    

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March 12, 2009 7:56:18 PM from (Stardock Games) (Stardock Games)

My thoughts:

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March 12, 2009 9:23:54 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Too many remarks are made based on existing knowledge and experience, that together with personal preferrences is a heady and often misguided mix.  Basing judgements on existing performance and currently visible features when a new Genre breaks into the market place is very often Fools Gold, as the abilities and facilities of yet to be visible facilities are what eventually rule the roost.

Judgements need (at this stage) to be based in philosophical terms - ie who has the better Strategy in terms of serving the needs of the Games Industry as a whole?  The latter very often - nearly always - is not what we actually see in the early days, its more a Call on who understands the Actual overall needs of the complete end to end picture, and the motivations for coming to those deductions.

In large scale Netwoeks for example, their requirements are wholely different than home users. In the latter case dont be surprised that Firefox deals better - in the short term - than IE for the homeuser/small network user, IE has to be all things to all people, Firefox has the luxury of targeting a sub set (the home user/small user) it blows up on large scale networks.

Its the same for the new Digital Distribution Platforms, there is much more to them than is seen on the surface, much more that is driven by commercial imperitives. When the latter is viewed as the driver - which it is - my money is on Stardock as their philosophy is to build for the needs of the Users (Commercial & Gamers), not the needs of short term revenue. Its a long term Punt, however if Stardock stick to their current guiding philosophy of Delivering Value, not grubbing for short term gain, there will be no contest, as the others will drown in a mad flurry of short term "dash-for-cash" philosophy.  Distributors and developers - in the long term - dont play the "Dash-for-Cash" Game, they know it leads to long term nightmares driven by Shareholder needs, not User neads.

There are a few years to go before the so called "winner" pulls ahead, I reckon about 2-3 years to go, and my money is on Stardock.  I hope once its played out, Stardock are not the only Player in the Game, even Stardock could be tempted by the unattractive side of a Monopoly Situation.


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March 13, 2009 9:06:18 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Here's my guess as to what happens:


1) I feel like a big 2-4 will develop.  Quite simply, developers/publishers won't want to put their game on all sorts of different platforms.  It's a hassle.  Also, those sales we see now probably aren't something they want.  It's ok for Valve to do with their games since they're the developer, but 3rd-parties don't like their games selling for $5.  We're already seeing people saying they'll wait for the 75% off sale.  I believe this will lead to the following consumer market:

- Lots of first day sales for the must have games

- People then wait for 75% discounts for other stuff

Stardock's business model with the pre-order betas might help tremendously here as a business strategy.

2) I feel that if Stardock or Gamersgate gets their foot in the door fully, there will be a backlash against Steam among some consumers.  Not all but some.   This may take a short-term loss and some aggressive sales.  Steam's DRM is annoying, especially when compared to Impulse/Gamersgate DRM.

3) I think Gamersgate is the most likely to cave.  Reason: Valve and Stardock are bigger ,and Valve has its development success, and Stardock has its other business.  Both companies can absorb a short-term loss more then Paradox, who I think is much smaller.  Gamersgate would survive but would give up on being a major 3rd-party site.

4) It is possible for EA or Activision to step into the game still, Activision more likely, if they wanted to.  I don't know if they'd really want to though.

My end prediction:  in 3-5 years, we see a two horse, maybe three horse race develop, with Valve having about 70% of the market share, Impulse about 25%, and 5% on other places.  If we get a clear answer to the DRM debate in that time as well- if DRM wins, Valve will have a monopoly, if DRM loses, Impulse will either have a majority, or Valve will drop it's DRM.

We will see the PC equivalent of the console wars develop.



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March 13, 2009 9:26:08 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I've mentioned before the theory of first-mover advantage that stems from the study of economic history. The theory states that an organization that enters a previously undeveloped market, with sufficient capital, will dominate that market for a long time. It is a good theory, because it explains how one brand may become synonymous with a product (ie - "age of steam", not "age of digital goods"), as well as have the opportunity to prevent others from entering the market through undercutting prices for suppliers.

The problem with this theory, is that it has been proven wrong. While it does certainly apply to some early market entrants - take for example Ford - it absolutely does not apply to EVERY market - for example search engines driven by ad revenues. Every market is fundamentally different.

Just because one company right now has a major piece of the cake, simply does not prove that they will still have that in a couple of years.

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March 13, 2009 1:46:21 PM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

But wait, there's more to the trees (that being 3 or more, btw) than the forest!


Completely Independant distribution, while not backed up by any sort of corporately driven "development/design" agenda. Sure, that introduces the *Walmart* syndrome to the equation only difference being the store is a www platform. A meeting place for all to join IF they're willing to spare the usual up-costs for a slice of profits.

I could see that happening too, reasonably in a better managing of maintenance expenses to the infra-structure necessary sort_of_way.

Prices would level up towards an intrinsinc value, competition helping, consumers would buy the products at much lower costs since - after all - quality & availability is what makes a customer decide!

Thus, it's not about Steam vs Impulse, indeed... but if both will eventually make equally sufficient gains from making their products and trusting someone else better equipped or popular enough to spread the word around for a cut of the action.

Strictly speaking, the model works already - for MS & Apple, for Toyota & Chrysler & Porsche, for BurgerKing & MacDonald. More evident, in fact... with mp3, btw.


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March 15, 2009 4:02:18 AM from GalCiv II Forums GalCiv II Forums

Check this out;

Strangely, i figure this (and many others, btw) also represent the dawn of liberated products from their "manufacturers" if not within individually driven interests. I'm not confusing platform with catalogs, ya know that, don't you?

Furthermore, matching the needs of specific consumers to the RIGHT stuff will possibly set a trend where in the very long term, every last "games" ever created by anybody, anywhere will be listed on a summary page of monumental length & usefulness. Okay -- fairplay trust, correct pricing, coherent connectivity are also at stake.

But seriously, what do you prefer?

Maximum Quality at the lowest price, i'll bet.

In a globalization of economies (regions, countries, continentals, Unions, stackpoles of Interests, etc) sort_of_way, the internationally driven freedom and availability of goods & services might become the only feasible system.

Anyone knows a good honest coordination professional (working at it, alone - without any agenda of any sort) that speaks at least 15+ common languages fluently though?

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March 15, 2009 3:45:51 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Digital downloads are nothing new.  Speaking as another extinct dinosaur of the species BBS, where did we download the software for our systems from?  Other BBS's.  And yes, that even includes legit stuff.  Wish i still had my RA2.50 key file as I'd love to weld it to the internet. 

Has STEAM won?  No.  Nor did ZMODEM.  I don't think in this day and age one thing can actually 'win' on-line as things tend to evolve.  A company will come out with something that fixes the majorities irk with STEAM and it'll take off, only for someone else to out evolve that sucsessor (possibly even STEAM itself).



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