As most of you are now aware, today was a very disheartening day, as Bethesda confirmed that they 'sold their soul to the devil of PC Gaming' and are packaging Steamworks for ALL copies of Skyrim, including retail.
This has caused a massive divide in the BGS forums, as hot-headed debates have cropped up about the Steam platform. And already I have seen a large number of people stating they are canceling pre-orders over this announcement, and still more who would have if it were not for brand loyalty to Bethesda Game Studios.
But why is Steam becoming the devil of PC Gaming? Why have the PC gaming audience taken such vapid offense to this announcement? Well, I recently found this post over at BGS, and was quite impressed by it, so I am reposting it here.
Unfortunately, as it has been confirmed that SteamWorks activation going to be mandatory for Skyrim DVD's, I have cancelled my pre-order. As you may guess, this was not an easy decision for me, given how much I was looking forward to Skyrim, both playing it and working on it. Maybe more than anything in the last ten years?
(If you're wondering what SteamWorks is: it's simply a physical media, ie DVD, version of Steam which installs Steam and activates the DVD through it requiring the DVD key, which then can't be reused or sold. The end result is that there is no difference whatsoever between buying the title on DVD or through Steam.)
I will eventually purchase Skyrim, probably through Steam since there's now absolutely no difference between buying it online and on DVD any more, once it goes on sale (about half-price is the buy point), or as a used DVD. Used. Yes, Valve, I'm going to buy it used. (see below,) but I am certainly not paying $150 for a collector's edition (was waiting for the announcement and was going to upgrade to the CE if there was no mandatory Steam) or even $60 for a standard edition, for something I won't really own and has restrictions all over it from a company that I consider unethical, possibly even illegal in its business practices. Obviously this refers to Valve not Bethesda!
I am sure that Quarn will still work on the USP and will have plenty of help from other modders in the interim... I'll just be late to the party. Depending on when Skyrim is half price, it may be quite late. But as I was planning on sticking around for years until it's perfected, this isn't much of a loss.
Here are the reasons I will not buy a full-priced version of this game and my grievances against Valve and Steam. Many of these you've heard before, but some I've never seen for unknown reasons:
(The obvious one): Steam tells you that you can't resell the game(s) you paid for: When you purchase either online or buy a SteamWorks-enabled DVD, it's linked to your Steam account (which you must create if you don't have one) and the Terms and Conditions indicate that you aren't to resell it. Therefore, you don't really own it (the whole concept of "software as a service" is invoked.) While this has long been an unfortunate side-effect of buying online, it has only recently started to be applied to even physical media.
Valve is deceptive: I've checked the covers for several SteamWorks-enabled titles, and none of them, including Skyrim, have either Valve's or Steam's logo(s) anywhere. It is not stated in the system requirements on the cover, on the publisher's site, or on the seller's site that SteamWorks activation will be required. The only way to find out is to read the comments of purchasers after the game's release, or to try to install it. If you preorder a physical DVD, this means that you get it on release day, before it's been publicized that activation is required, and don't find out until you unwrap it and start installing it, and by then many retailers won't return it. Thankfully Bethesda at least told us up-front about it. Many companies do not.
Comment: This is true. I have checked the boxes for both of the Steamworks games I own (Fallout New Vegas and CoD: Black Ops). Neither of them give any clear indication that Steamworks is present. This is stuff the consumer should be able to spot within five seconds, but instead it gets hidden in fine print on the back of the box.
Valve's registration practices may actually be illegal outside the U.S., perhaps even within the U.S.: A fundamental of contract law is that terms and conditions must be presented to the buyer before the transaction is concluded. Recent court decisions in the U.S. may have upheld the practice of the EULA contrary to this, but this precedent has not been established elsewhere, nor for reselling of physical media, nor for a third-party company never mentioned before the conclusion of the transaction. It's said that car analogies work well, so here's one:
Imagine you buy a GM car from Bob's Motors. All records of the transaction only mention GM and Bob's. You pay for it in full.
When your vehicle is delivered, you start it up for the first time and something from CarCo Inc. pops up on the dashboard display. You've never heard of CarCo before this. It tells you that in order to use your vehicle, you need to activate the software of its onboard computer. To do this you'll need to connect your vehicle to the internet by plugging it into a provided ethernet or RJ45 jack. Don't have a cable or internet connection? Too bad; you can't use the vehicle you paid for, even though it would never need an internet connection for anything other than this registration that is completely not required for its purpose of being a vehicle.
Furthermore, it tells you that you don't own the vehicle you bought; instead CarCo owns it, and you are licensing the vehicle from CarCo, may not resell it, may not remove this activation requirement or will face criminal charges, may not drive the vehicle to geographical regions that are not explained which have different vehicle prices, and by powering on your vehicle to find this out, it is now no longer new so you are ineligible for a refund. You have no recourse and are stuck until you register and agree to CarCo's conditions that you had no idea of before buying it!
When you finally connect your vehicle to the internet, you find you need to download a GM update half a gigabyte in size before you can finally drive it. Unfortunately, you live out in the country and have only one dial-up phone line for an internet connection. If you tell the rest of your family not to use the phone in the interim, it will still take over two days to download.
You call your dealer and pay for the vehicle to be towed into town and pay for an internet connection to download the update from. Finally, your vehicle works, so you drive it home.
One week later, your vehicle stops working again. Another CarCo update has appeared saying that it hasn't authenticated you in a sufficient amount of time, and you need to connect to the internet again in order to be able to use it. As this is only an authentication, you figure you can do it over dial-up without needing to pay for another tow into town. So you reconnect and authenticate again...
...Only to find out there's yet another, mandatory, update. Small blessing: this one's only 200MB. It will only take an entire day to download. And of course you can't use your vehicle again in this time as once the CarCo application finds that there are any updates available, they must be installed before it will allow you to use your vehicle, as it wouldn't want you to drive a vehicle that didn't have the latest and greatest software, would it? (What it doesn't tell you is that the only thing that the update "fixes" is that utilities to get rid of this ridiculously unnecessary authentication and forced patching, developed by angry customers like you, won't work anymore.)
So you grit your teeth and tell your family to stay off the phone for an entire day.
Finally, the update downloads and installs. Unfortunately, it has a bug in it. Your vehicle's computer now crashes on startup, and so your vehicle can't be used. GM blames CarCo, CarCo blames GM, and you do a lot more bicycling after this. You can't return your vehicle to the dealership or sell it used, so you've effectively paid for nothing.
(If you think this last part is ridiculous, read the post at the beginning of this thread where this really happened to a long-standing forum member and modder with the Fallout 3: New Vegas mandatory patch.)
So, how long do you think it would it be before CarCo was sued into the ground?
Why is software magically exempt from the laws and business practices that govern everything else?
Please keep in mind that a common misconception is that you can stay in Offline mode with Steam forever, and that patches aren't mandatory. These are both wrong. You can go offline, but there is a timeout, and eventually you're going to have to connect to play "your" game. Also when you first install a Steam game, you must install whatever updates are available. Also I have heard from several people that even if you tell Steam to ignore updates, occasionally it will decide to install one anyways. Once it finds there is a required update, you must install it. So the analogies above hold.
Valve's business practices are anti-competitive, and this may also be illegal - When a retailer sells a SteamWorks-activated DVD title, which they may not even know has this requirement, it then installs the full Steam client which displays ads to purchase future titles through Steam rather than the retailer... Valve is cutting the throats of their own retailers. The Steam client also, as noted, attempts to prevent reselling, which may again hurt the retailer's business as many sell both used and new products (Amazon, EB and GameSpot are three examples.) This may qualify as an illegal anti-competitive restriction of trade as the free market price of the game is being set only by Valve rather than through reselling, and the retailer is being forced to advertise something that directly competes against and undercuts their own business in order to sell a product, without being told of this.
SteamWorks activation destroys the incentive to make a good product - Reselling is a customer's defense against shoddy product, and allows the market to set the price of the product: if the market is flooded by low-priced resells of an overpriced, poorly-made product, the manufacturer will have to reduce the price if they expect to sell any more of them to compete with the used ones. A good product that has lasting value will have correspondingly fewer resales and thus a higher price for them.
SteamWorks punishes the PC platform - Console (XBox360 or PS3) physical media editions of the same titles don't require internet activation and can be resold without any restrictions whatsoever because it is assumed that they don't have network connections. One of the excuses for the activation requirement on the PC platform is "piracy", but this exists to no less of a degree on consoles via the use of mod chips so that unauthorized copies of discs can be used. So, why don't the same games require activation on consoles too then?
Steam DRM doesn't even work: .. at least, not to prevent illegal copying. Here are the SteamWorks-enabled titles. Just for giggles, I pulled the names of the first fifteen 2011 releases and started searching. Within ten minutes, I'd found cracks, etc. for all of them except one (which I guess didn't sell well enough to warrant cracking.) The entire premise of DRM is cryptographically flawed, because the end-user is being given both the lock and the key. It's only a matter of time before it's discovered how to remove both. Fallout 3: New Vegas, for example, is a SteamWorks game, and was successfully cracked on release day.
Steam's reselling restrictions don't even work either: If the player knows of the requirement beforehand and doesn't mind not having the title with the rest of their Steam games, they can just create a new e-mail address and new Steam account for each title and sell the accounts' names and passwords along with the DVD. This is a violation of Valve's TOS of course, but if you won't tell I won't.
That's enough out of me.
Now, a bit of input from me:
1. Steam's reputation is greatly divided, some praise it for its convenience, while others loathe it for how much effort is made to force it down our throats. The community is not separated by a Grand Canyon as they are a Marinara's Trench about Steam.
2. Steam rescinds your right to resell a game you did not like. You are stuck with it. This is guaranteed to leave a sour taste in people's mouths.
3. Valve will get in serious legal trouble if this trend continues. They are this close (><) to violating U.S. Antitrust laws with monopolistic business practices right now, and I fully expect someone to jump on them the INSTANT they step out of line.
4. What will happen if Steam gets shut down? It will be the absolute death of PC gaming. As has been said, PC gaming has literally sold its soul to Valve. If we lose Steam at this point, PC Gaming dies. Full stop. We need an alternative to come along, and soon, before Valve find themselves glued to a courtroom seat (that will be the beginning of the end, once Valve is accused of Antitrust violations, they will never recover their reputation).
And personally, I'm really waiting for a potential Extra Credits episode about Steam, too. Given how divided the community is over Steam, it will make for some good analysis for them.