Valve’s War on “Fake Games”

Nathan Grayson:

Valve is about to overhaul Steam in order to ensure that good games are visible and lazily developed games created for the purpose of making a quick buck—which Valve apparently calls “fake games”—sink beneath a sea of algorithms.

I’m not sure how this works, Valve have gone from saying that they want to take a more hands-off approach (back in 2014) to this new war on “fake games.”

The problem with this system, of course, is that it risks burying a handful of good games, as well. To combat this issue, Valve is going to introduce a program called Steam Explorers. Explorers will play through queues of games that haven’t been selling super well. If they dig a game, they can flag it. The more games get flagged, the more the algorithmic gods will smile upon them.

Anybody will be able to be an Explorer, much like Steam Curators. They’ll also get their own forum, so they can do things like arrange multiplayer matches in games that nobody else is playing.

The solution to all problems is unpaid labor from their community while they’re raking in profits. If this were EA with Origin, or Ubisoft’s uPlay, or basically anyone besides Valve, there would be a lot more people upset about not being paid to work. Or you would hope that people would be upset about their passion for games being exploited when Valve could just hire people to help curate the service.

Andy Kelly’s Steam Link Review

PC Gamer’s Andy Kelly also posted his review of the Steam Link. In addition to having some success with playing over wi-fi, he’s also got a different perspective on what kind of game play it’s suitable for:

I’ve also noticed the Link having a positive impact on my terrible attention span. When I’m playing at my desk I’m forever alt-tabbing to check Twitter or any number of stupid distractions. And I’ll usually last an hour in a game before quitting and doing something else. But camped out on the sofa, my attention doesn’t wander as much. I pay more attention to what I’m playing, and play it for longer, which is a discipline I thought I’d lost. 

Steam Link Review

The Steam Link is Valve’s tiny computer that links any HDMI display to your gaming computer, running Steam, over a local network connection. I’ve had it for a few months and have been enjoying it despite a few obstacles, some of which Valve can’t work around.

The Link doesn’t take up a lot of space but it manages to fit several ports:

  • 3 USB 2.0
  • 1 Ethernet
  • 1 HDMI

As well as Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 AC wifi.

You can connect wired Xbox One and 360 controllers as well as wireless 360 controllers with the Windows adapter. Valve also has their wireless Steam Controller, which is a middle ground for games that don’t support the Microsoft gamepads. If you need a mouse and keyboard they can be used as well.

Once everything is hooked up and the Link is connected over a wired Ethernet network to your gaming computer, you get a one-time code that allows the Link to verify your access to the remote gaming computer.

The computer’s display will be mirrored to the TV over the local network almost as if it were directly connected. Steam’s big picture mode boots up and it reformats their regular desktop interface for a more console style appearance and input from devices attached to the Link is sent back to the host machine over the network.

From big picture mode you can launch any games that Steam supports, though if you’re not using a Steam controller or mouse and keyboard, and the game doesn’t advertise controller support to Steam, you’ll have to pass a warning checkpoint to continue playing the game.

Although there is also an option to minimize big picture and use the desktop directly, I haven’t had much success navigating the desktop with a gamepad.

Performance on the Link is impressive. I had previously tried Steam’s built-in streaming to a micro computer hooked up to my TV and it never worked well. There were bursts of latency and a “slow network” error message would appear in a tiny font in the lower left corner of the screen. I don’t have a lot of time to diagnose networking issues and was surprised that it wasn’t up to snuff. My networking equipment isn’t that old, and while streaming will be difficult for a wireless network it should have been OK on the wired network.

The diagnostic steps I tried, reducing the number of pieces of networking equipment between the desktop gaming computer and the TV, swapping out network switches, none of them worked and I had given up on streaming. I figured the challenge wasn’t the streaming so much as keeping it to a low latency that Steam would need for a game to be playable. That’s why it is less likely to work over a wireless connection where interference and distance could prevent a solid connection.

When the Steam Link was discounted to $35 (down from $50) I purchased it and kept the receipt thinking that it might perform better than the pre-release developer-focused Steam Machine had, and was surprised to find that the Steam Link performed perfectly on my network. It streamed 1080p, 60 FPS video fluidly.

So if the Steam Link performed well, what are those obstacles? There are a few.

When a game doesn’t work right for whatever reason, maybe it locks up when launched, maybe it crashed while you were playing, when this happens the Link can get stuck in limbo and you’ll be forced to walk away to the desktop computer and force the game to quit.

Technical issues with games aren’t something Valve can prevent. Quality control is up to the developer and publisher. When this happens and it feels like something specific to games running on computers that they’re just going to crash in ways that aren’t recoverable from a controller because computer operating systems aren’t built with gamepads in mind.

These problems happen most often for me with non-Steam games. While some work fine if they’re added to Steam in desktop mode first, like Overwatch, others just won’t work well. That makes me want to try Nvidia’s competing Shield TV console that also includes game streaming. It has the benefit of not being affiliated with any particular digital download system, so it might be better at handling games from Origin, for example. The downside to their Shield console is that it is $200 new when the Steam Link is priced at $50 (without a controller) and I’ve seen it on sale as low as $20 during holiday sales.

Overall I am very satisfied with playing Steam games over the Steam Link. It’s a terrific experience to sit down on the couch, turn on a gamepad and have the Link remotely turn on my desktop computer and start playing Fallout 4 without hauling your computer around or using an extremely long HDMI cable. I just wish the Link had better support for games from third party services, or that third parties would stop exclusively releasing their games through other desktop download stores. There’s an opportunity for a third party to develop software that encapsulates gog, Origin, itch, Blizzard, and Uplay games into Steam for more streamlined streaming and game library management.

The Scarlet VAC Ban

How does Valve handle cheating?

When Valve’s anti-cheat system, VAC, detects a user has cheated in a multiplayer game they’re marked for seven years on their Steam profile page and blocked from VAC protected servers.

Patrick Klepek interviewed cheaters who were branded:

“When you have big red letters on your profile announcing everyone you have a ban, the experience is never going to be good,” said Oliveira. “If you don’t suck at a game, they will right away point a finger at you and accuse you of cheating. You get told so many times that ‘Once a cheater, always a cheater.’ I knew I did it, I knew I would never do it again, and I wanted to prove that that was not me. But how do you do that? How will they believe you? Yeah, no. It’s the biggest badge of shame a person can have in an online world.”

Oliveira found himself taunted when playing games, years after his initial offense. He couldn’t shake the stink, and Valve offered no recourse. He was, for at least seven years, a cheater.

Bizarre to me is that everyone interviewed agreed the policy was generally acceptable.

This program lacks nuance. Policies against cheating are good, but without more granularity in enforcement it’s kind of ridiculous. Someone who cheats at Counter-Strike for ten minutes shouldn’t necessarily be punished the same as another person who cheats for a month.

A few years ago I asked at a Valve GDC booth for job-seekers if they ever had room for online community managers. It’s not surprising the Valve employee thought the idea of them hiring an online community manager was ridiculous after reading this article from Patrick. The one-size-fits-all kind of anti-cheat enforcement has the stink of developers making community decisions all over it.

Steam Has Over 3000 Linux Games

Liam Dawe:

Steam has hit another milestone for Linux games. We now have over 3,000 Linux games to fill our time with. The exact count for me right now is 3,008!

An impressive number of games with Linux support. I wonder how many are native ports versus Windows pretendulation.

My search comes up with 3164 for Linux and 13433 total games on Steam.

Goodbye Greenlight, Hello Direct

Valve is replacing Steam Greenlight. Alden Kroll:

The next step in these improvements is to establish a new direct sign-up system for developers to put their games on Steam. This new path, which we’re calling “Steam Direct,” is targeted for Spring 2017 and will replace Steam Greenlight. We will ask new developers to complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account. Once set up, developers will pay a recoupable application fee for each new title they wish to distribute, which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline.

While we have invested heavily in our content pipeline and personalized store, we’re still debating the publishing fee for Steam Direct. We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.

Steam Direct sounds like Valve is moving a little bit closer to the free-for-all of itch, which is good but $5000 is a bit much. They should have had the dollar amount straight before going live with this.

Valve are also still making money off of software that encourages rape. That shit needs to go.

How will this work for free games? They wouldn’t recoup a fee unless it can be done after a certain number of downloads.

Where Should Valve Draw the Line on Hosting and Selling Software?

In the past Valve has had a policy of not allowing software onto Steam for violating some unwritten policy about nudity. The only examples I know of are for games containing drawn nudity. Developers who want to work around this policy offer a different version of the game on Steam and a patch on the side to re-enable the content. It’s a bad solution because it means that Steam users could be missing out on the full experience. One recently released game seems to have changed this policy for Valve, or at least they didn’t apply it to that game.

Two days ago another product was released on Steam, for VR headsets, called Dating Lessons.

Let’s break down the description from the developer:

!Dating Lessons developed by Cerevrum Inc. is the very first VR course on dating which will give a man the skillset to build a dating life he wishes for.

Not sure why they put that exclamation mark in there. Everyone could use some help feeling confident and understanding relationships. That isn’t terrible.

Men are expected to be always strong, confident and charming. But it is not easy at all!

Ok, they have defined a huge problem with being a man in our culture and finding confidence in oneself. Maybe this software could help people better themselves. Let’s keep reading!

How to approach a woman? What to say to be interesting and charming? With the help of Magic Leone, a professional coach with 10+ years of experience teaching dating skills, every man will overcome his low-esteem and shyness.

11 lectures and 7 practical interactive sessions will give men tools to enhance their power of attraction and develop behavior patterns to handle stress and excessive worrying.

Don’t miss a chance to have an unforgettable VR experience. Following these simple hacks and cheat codes can change your dating life forever.your dating life forever.

Uh. What?
Magic Leone?

Hacks and cheat codes?

The typo at the end of repeating themselves I can forgive, but relationships aren’t a game and there aren’t “hacks” and “cheat codes” for life.

Maybe English isn’t the first language of the developer, let’s look at the screenshots.

What the fuck? Are you supposed to be some kind of dating T-1000?

 

Now you’re in a photography studio? That is a strange place for a date.
Now we have battery Meters and Magic Leone is imploring us to do something.
Back to the Terminator vision.

Well, the screenshots didn’t help things. Let’s look at one of Magic Leone’s websites:

Well, I think we know what kind of guy Magic Leone is now. We also find out on this page that he can teach men to become a “SEX GOD.” That was his emphasis that made it uppercase. Lets check out one of his testimonial videos:

I only made it 25 seconds in, when the blurred gentlemen – most of the testimonial videos feature men who are blurred out, presumably because they refused to be depicted – told us he won’t accept “no” for an answer from women. Here’s a cheat code, that makes him a rapist and a terrible person.

Other stores, like Walmart, have a long history of only stocking their shelves with music that is edited to remove language that Walmart doesn’t like. Apple rejected The Binding of Isaac from their iOS App Store only to let it through about a year later without any alteration. There’s a whole page up on Wikipedia about other media that Apple has rejected, and in some cases later allowed through. It’s up to each business to decide what they want to sell, set their policies appropriately, and hopefully enforce those policies fairly.

I hope a wide range of software and games are available on Steam in the future from many different kinds of people and with different viewpoints. As far as I know, this software does not contain nudity, which is something I believe Valve should handle on a case-by-case basis along with explicit polices and filtering for parents and guardians.

Dating Lessons exploits a user’s lack of confidence in relationships and teaches them how to be terrible people and rapists.

This is not what Valve should host and sell, this is where Valve should draw the line.

Where’s the HTC Vive support for SteamOS?

Liam Dawe is killing it. Here’s his list of what Valve needs to get done in order to get SteamOS back on track, One thing that has been really bothering me, where’s the support for Linux/SteamOS with the HTC Vive?:

Their own VR device is not yet Linux compatible. I don’t know what the issues are and I don’t care. I think it’s utterly ridiculous that Valve made a Linux push with SteamOS and Steam Machines but their flagship VR device doesn’t even support it. I’m not a fan of VR–yet–mainly because I haven’t used a proper one before to change my mind. I would have personally purchased a Vive, but Valve and HTC seem to be reminding me again how Linux is still a low priority for them.

Having Linux/SteamOS locked out of a major new platform for playing games has already hurt us and the longer it doesn’t support us the more people will switch over to their Windows installs (or re-install Windows) because “VR is not on Linux”.

The only communication I can see from Valve on this was a one liner:
We are working on it but it’s not ready yet.

That was back in March and no official update since then.

The Vive also listed SteamOS right up until launch, then suddenly, Windows only. What happened to communication?

One VR developer I spoke with was has been wondering the same thing.

Are Steam Machines a Failure After Only 7 Months?

Valve’s first foray into home computing hardware, the Steam Machine collaborations with various computer makers, have sold fewer than 500,000 units since they were released last November. A figure estimated by Ars Technica via the number of Steam Controllers sold which includes Steam Machines as a portion of that total:

Half a million might not sound like a bad sales number for a brand new hardware platform, but it starts to look pretty tepid in the context of the wider gaming market. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sold over a million consoles in their first day on the market in 2013. After just over seven months on store shelves, Microsoft was up to about 5.5 million Xbox One sales and the PS4 had racked up 10.2 million worldwide sales. That’s what a successful gaming hardware launch looks like these days.

Valve is often guilty of starting something and then just giving up on it without iterating to find success. Their cousins at Microsoft would have had the same issue if they gave up on the original Xbox which sold only 24 million consoles over its first 7 years and was another system frequently referred to as a failure.

Sales figures of hardware over the course of a few months aren’t necessarily going to make or break a company, but I believe that Valve still needs SteamOS.

Quantum Break, the remastered Gears of War: Ultimate EditionForza Motorsport 6: Apex, the upcoming games Halo Wars 2 and ReCore are all exclusive to Windows 10’s built-in app store. SteamOS and Steam Machines continue to be a hedge against Microsoft’s built-in Windows app store restrictions that Valve will need to remain competitive in the event of even more anti-competitive changes to Windows.

Liam Dawe of Gaming on Linux is right on about the lack of advertising hurting sales of the nascent Steam Machines and SteamOS/Linux games:

We are facing real issues, like a lack of bigger platform-pushing titles and performance. Valve do need to up their own advertising a bit too, not just of Steam Machines, but of new Linux releases. They give big homepage banners to plenty of new Windows releases, but only a few SteamOS releases have been graced with such advertising. Valve haven’t even managed to get their own VR device with HTC on Linux yet, they need to up their own game.

GOG Connect

Online DRM-free retailer Gog announced Gog Connect. Gog Connect connects your Gog account to your Steam account and receive DRM-free Gog versions of some games if you already have them on Steam.

The list of supported games is short at just 23 currently, but Gog have said they will change the list up frequently by adding games and removing old ones. Unfortunately you will need to revisit the Gog Connect page when new games are added in order to receive DRM-free Gog copies.