OPINION: Steam battle heats up

MCV’s 2010 expos on the frustrations retailers had with Valve’s Steam service was one of our most talked about stories last year.

And it turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg.It’s no surprise to hear EA wants its own stake in downloads.Using a tentpole release for the landgrab makes sense. By pushing the basic Battlefield 3 to all and sundry (except Valve), EA creates a ripple effect that widens its reach and strengthens its core.EA can be belligerent and forceful, but it’s not stupid.

Growing the New World of digital games was always going to hinge on exclusive content. Just ask Valve. Its PC games can only be found on Steam.

So don’t count Valve out. Some have had frustrations with how it curates Steam, but it is popular with the majority of publishers and developers. Few can say that. It won Publishing Hero at Wednesday’s Develop Awards, with a video acceptance from Gabe Newell himself, the firm’s elusive boss. It has a captive audience of over 30m users. And remember: this isn’t just the company that runs Steam. It’s the company that makes Half-Life, Portal, Counter-Strike and others. It recently added free-to-play, and has pioneered the episodic model.

I’d like to see how anyone, even a giant like EA, stands up to that.


In ALL this digital-political manoeuvring, let’s not forget the big story: Amazon will launch its UK games download service in October.

Through every phase of the world’s transition to online, Amazon’s been a trailblazer, from how it handles search and customer communication through to its drive for value and, yes, pressure on margins.Publishers speak warmly of this otherwise secretive lot. They like the way it handles things as mundane as email marketing through to how it can target individual shoppers based on previous purchases.Amazon has reshaped physical distribution.So just imagine what it will add to digital distribution for games.


Some scoffedat last week’s MCV report on the market’s lowest ever High Street sales. But it gets worse – just 10.7m worth of boxed games were sold in the week ending Saturday, July 16th.

It’s nonsense to say digital sales are picking up the slack right now. Retail games are still important. But there aren’t any around at the moment.So pressure mounts and mounts on making the triple-A blockbusters ahead in 2011 count for something. Is it a make or break Q4?More on that next week.

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