Right now, says Gabe Newell, Steam is essentially a curated store. It’s a list of games which Valve have deemed fit for sale. But it won’t always be that way. Newell wants to remove Valve - the “bottleneck” - from the process, and replace it with a network API, where “anybody should be able to publish anything”. Within that framework, he wants others to be able to set up their own curated stores using Steam as a backend.
More on what that’ll mean below.
“So we have all these hard-working people who other companies can call up and say, ‘Hey, would you put my game on Steam?’,” said Newell in an economics talk at the University of Texas last week. “We’re putting out three games a day right now. Whether we want to or not we’re becoming a bottleneck in terms of content being connected with users.”
Valve want to get “as far out of that connection with possible”. And Newell reckons that the best way to remove that bottleneck is to turn Steam into an open “publishing model” - a network API.
“Yes, you have to worry about viruses and malware and stuff like that, but essentially anybody should be able to publish anything on Steam,” he said. “Steam is just a whole bunch of servers and a whole bunch of network bandwidth, and if people are interested in consuming the stuff that you’re putting up there then a collective good is going to be there.
“Steam will stop being this calling up Jason Holtman and yelling at him until he puts your game on the Steam store, and instead just becomes a network API.”
Valve plan to adopt a model similar to that of Team Fortress 2 and its Steam Workshop. While the Steam store is currently made up of “privileged content” - a “collection of editorial perspectives on stuff” - the Workshop is entirely user-generated. The same will be true for the new Steam. Other companies will likely build stores using Steam’s backend, but it could be “anybody”. Perhaps you.
“If you have a collection of games that you own and you play, and one of your friends decides to buy a game through your trivially created store, then you should get a percentage of that revenue,” explained Newell. “Now, most people won’t have interesting collections of games, or interesting friends, I don’t know, but some people will go to a lot of effort treating the store as another kind of experience.”
Newell envisions Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee or long-defunct games writing duo Old Man Murray as the kinds of people who would do an “awesome job” of curating their own stores within Steam.
Valve plan to integrate “some market-based mechanism” for determining the price stores gets to impose, and Newell suggests that customers will upvote the best storefronts with their wallets: “Anybody who tries to charge too much for the goods coming through that store will get priced out of the market."
“Through the market mechanism, people will reward or not reward people for building entertaining stores,” he added.
Crikey. This vision of a new Steam is, says Newell, a “consequence of our perception of where the industry is going”. Do you think he’s right? Again?