Steam

Valve lets you stream Steam games from anywhere

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Steam, Steam Link, Steam Link Anywhere, Valve | No Comments

Valve doesn’t want to miss the cloud gaming bandwagon. As PC Gamer spotted, the company quietly released a beta version of Steam Link Anywhere. As the name suggests, it lets you turn your gaming PC into a cloud gaming server and stream games from… anywhere.

The company’s strategy is a bit puzzling here as Valve recently discontinued its hardware set-top box, the Steam Link. While Valve might be done on the hardware side, the company is still iterating on Steam Link apps.

You can now download the Steam Link app on an Android phone, an Android TV device or a Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, Valve still hasn’t found a way to release its Steam Link app on the App Store for iOS devices and the Apple TV. You can start Steam on your computer and play demanding PC games on other screens.

Steam Link works fine on a local network, especially if you use Ethernet cables between all your devices. With Steam Link Anywhere, your performance will vary depending on your home internet connection. If you don’t have a fiber connection at home, the latency might simply be too high to play any game.

Now let’s see if Valve plans to flip the switch and let you run Steam games on a server in a data center near you. That would turn Steam Link Anywhere into a Shadow competitor.

Microsoft recently showed off Forza Horizon 4 running on an Android phone thanks to Project xCloud. Google also has been teasing its Game Developers Conference to learn more about its gaming projects. It’s clear that everybody wants to turn 2019 into the year of cloud gaming.

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The legendary and indescribable Dwarf Fortress goes non-ASCII and non-free for the first time

Posted by | dwarf fortress, Gaming, indie games, itch.io, Steam | No Comments

Among the growing field of indie games, one truly stands alone: Dwarf Fortress. The unbelievably rich and complex and legendarily user-unfriendly title has been a free staple of awe and frustration for years. But the developers, in a huge shift to the status quo, have announced that the game will not only soon have a paid version on Steam — it’ll have… graphics.

It may be hard for anyone who isn’t already familiar with the game and community to understand how momentous this is. In the decade and a half this game has been in active, continuous development, perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed about the game is that it is a maze for the eyes, a mess of alphanumerics and ASCII-based art approximating barrels, dwarves, goblins, and dozens of kinds of stone.

You know in The Matrix where they show how the world is made up of a bunch of essentially text characters? It’s basically that, except way more confusing. But you get a feel for it after a few years.

So when developers Tarn and Zach Adams announced on their Patreon account that they were planning on ditching the ASCII for actual sprites in a paid premium version of the game to be made available on Steam and indie marketplace itch.io.. minds were blown. Of all the changes Dwarf Fortress has undergone, this is likely the most surprising. Here are a few screenshots compared with the old ASCII graphics:

Not that you couldn’t get graphics in other ways — gamers aren’t that masochistic. There are “tile packs” available in a variety of sizes and styles that any player can apply to the game to make it easier to follow; in fact, the creators of two popular tilesets, Meph and Mike Mayday, were tapped to help make the “official” one, which by the way looks nice. Kitfox Games (maker of the lovely Shrouded Isle) is helping out as well.

There are plenty of other little mods and improvements made by dedicated players. Many of those will likely be ported over to Steam Workshop and made a cinch to install — another bonus for paying players.

Now, I should note that I in no way find this bothersome. I support Tarn and Zach in whatever they choose to do, and at any rate the original ASCII version will always be free. But what does disturb me is the reason they are doing this. As Tarn wrote on Patreon in a rare non-game update:

We don’t talk about this much, but for many years, Zach has been on expensive medication, which has fortunately been covered by his healthcare. It’s a source of constant concern, as the plan has changed a few times and as the political environment has shifted. We have other family health risks, and as we get older, the precariousness of our situation increases; after Zach’s latest cancer scare, we determined that with my healthcare plan’s copay etc., I’d be wiped out if I had to undergo the same procedures. That said, crowdfunding is by far our main source of income and the reason we’re still here. Your support is still crucial, as the Steam release may or may not bring us the added stability we’re seeking now and it’s some months away.

It’s sad as hell to hear that a pair of developers whose game is as well-loved as this, and who are making a modest sum via Patreon can still be frightened of sudden bankruptcy on account of a chronic medical condition.

This isn’t the place for a political debate, but one would hope that the creators of what amounts to a successful small business like this would not have to worry about such things in the richest country in the world.

That said, they seem comfortable with the move to real graphics and the addition of a more traditional income stream, so the community (myself included) will no doubt see the sunny side of this and continue to support the game in its new form.

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Gaming clips service Medal has bought Donate Bot for direct donations and payments

Posted by | api, bot, computing, discord, e-commerce, freeware, Gaming, M&A, operating systems, Patreon, PayPal, Shopify, social media platforms, Software, Steam, subscription services, TC, Twitter | No Comments

The Los Angeles-based video gaming clipping service Medal has made its first acquisition as it rolls out new features to its user base.

The company has acquired the Discord -based donations and payments service Donate Bot to enable direct payments and other types of transactions directly on its site.

Now, the company is rolling out a service to any Medal user with more than 100 followers, allowing them to accept donations, subscriptions and payments directly from their clips on mobile, web, desktop and through embedded clips, according to a blog post from company founder Pim De Witte.

For now, and for at least the next year, the service will be free to Medal users — meaning the company won’t take a dime of any users’ revenue made through payments on the platform.

For users who already have a storefront up with Patreon, Shopify, Paypal.me, Streamlabs or ko-fi, Medal won’t wreck the channel — integrating with those and other payment processing systems.

Through the Donate Bot service any user with a discord server can generate a donation link, which can be customized to become more of a customer acquisition funnel for teams or gamers that sell their own merchandise.

Webhooks API gives users a way to add donors to various list or subscription services or stream overlays, and the Donate Bot is directly linked with Discord Bot List and Discord Server List as well, so you can accept donations without having to set up a website.

In addition, the company updated its social features, so clips made on Medal can ultimately be shared on social media platforms like Twitter and Discord — and the company is also integrated with Discord, Twitter and Steam in a way to encourage easier signups.

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Steam fights for future of game stores and streaming

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, TC, Virtual reality | No Comments

For more than 15 years, Steam has been the dominant digital distribution platform for PC video games. While its success has spawned several competitors, including some online stores from game publishers, none have made a significant dent in its vice-like grip on the market.

Cracks, though, are seemingly starting to appear in Steam’s armor, and at least one notable challenger has stepped up, with potentially bigger ones on the horizon. They threaten to make Steam the digital equivalent of GameStop — a once unassailable retail giant whose future became questionable when it didn’t successfully change with the times.

The epic launch of an Epic Store

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Ubisoft

Epic Games has, in a remarkably short period of time, positioned itself as the successor to Steam. In December, the creator of the billion-dollar Fortnite franchise announced it was getting into the game retail business with the Epic Games store. Less than two months later, it had landed limited exclusivity deals with two publishers that chose to bypass Steam as they launch upcoming titles.

First up was Ubisoft, which announced the PC version of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, a highly anticipated action game, would be semi-exclusive to the Epic Games store (it will also be available on Ubisoft’s digital storefront). Ubisoft also said that “additional select titles” would be coming to Epic’s store in later months.

“We’re giving game developers and publishers the store business model that we’ve always wanted as developers ourselves,” said Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games. “Ubisoft supports our model and trusts us to deliver a smooth journey for players, from pre-purchase to the game’s release.”

Three weeks later, publisher Deep Silver abruptly discontinued pre-sales of its survival shooter Metro Exodus on Steam and announced the game would be available moving forward solely through the Epic Games store (previous Steam orders will be honored).

Steam’s past success is hitting new blocks

To be clear, Steam is hardly struggling. Last October at Melbourne Games Week, Steam announced it had 90 million monthly active users, compared to 67 million in 2017. Daily active users, it said, had grown from 33 million to 47 million.

Much of that growth came from China, where players are looking to circumvent the government’s crackdown on games. Domestic numbers, though, have been trending down, according to SteamSpy, a third-party tracking service.

Valve Software, which owns Steam, did not reply to requests for comment on this story. It did, however, post a statement on the Metro Exodus Steam page soon after Deep Silver announced its partnership with Epic, saying, “We think the decision to remove the game is unfair to Steam customers, especially after a long pre-sale period. We apologize to Steam customers that were expecting it to be available for sale through the February 15th release date, but we were only recently informed of the decision and given limited time to let everyone know.”

So what’s the draw for game makers to sell via the Epic Games store? It is, of course, a combination of factors, but chief among those is financial. To convince publishers and developers to utilize their system, Epic only takes a 12 percent cut of game-sale revenues. That’s significantly lower than the 30 percent taken by Valve on Steam (or the amounts taken by Apple or Google in their app stores).

To woo developers who use its Unreal graphics engine, Epic also waives all royalty fees for sales generated through the store. (Developers who use Unreal in their games typically pay a 5 percent royalty on all sales.)

The reason for those notably lower commissions, perhaps not surprisingly, ties back to Fortnite.

“While running Fortnite we learned a lot about the cost of running a digital store on PC,” says Sweeney. “The math is simple: we pay around 2.5 percent for payment processing for major payment methods, less than 1.5 percent for CDN [content delivery network] costs (assuming all games are updated as often as Fortnite), and between 1 percent and 2 percent for variable operating and customer support costs. Because we operate Fortnite on the Epic Games launcher on such a large scale, it has enabled us to build the store, run it at a low cost and pass those savings onto developers.”

Owning the game customer

Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Higher commissions are just one of the issues developers and publishers have with Steam. While none were willing to go on the record, for fear of retribution from Valve or because they were not authorized to officially speak on their company’s behalf, the complaints generally echoed each other.

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Fortnite-maker aims for Steam’s head with Epic Games Store

Posted by | epic games, fortnite, Gaming, Steam, Valve | No Comments

Fortnite-maker Epic Games is capping off their insanely successful 2018 with an even more ambitious product launch: a desktop games store built to take on Valve’s Steam Store.

The store, which is “launching soon” on PC and Mac, is going to be an attractive proposition to game developers with a revenue split that leaves them taking 88 percent of revenues on the store.

“As a developer ourselves, we have always wanted a platform with great economics that connects us directly with our players,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said in an emailed statement. “Thanks to the success of Fortnite, we now have this and are ready to share it with other developers.”

Valve’s Steam Store is by far the most dominant presence in online PC game sales; they’ve enjoyed years of prosperity with rather light rivalry from competing stores that haven’t been able to match the scale of Steam. Valve, in a very conveniently timed announcement yesterday, announced that it was rehashing its revenue split with developers in a bid that they hope will keep higher-earning developers on the platform. While Valve will continue to take an App Store-like 30 percent from sales of game makers with less than 10 million in revenue, that figure drops to 25 percent until they hit 50 million revenue, from which point the slice drops to 20 percent.

It’s a more complicated revenue split that obviously benefits successful game makers more so than indies. For Valve, holding onto big-game publishers is mission critical. Epic Games already has the benefit of a close working relationship with many major PC game developers that are using the company’s Unreal Engine to build their titles.

Epic Games earns money with their Unreal Engine by taking a slice of revenues from game makers. Generally that share is 5 percent after the title is released, though Epic also does deals with developers for higher upfront costs with a lower royalty rate. Publishers like EA, Sony Interactive, Microsoft Studios, Activision and Nintendo have titles out that are built on the Unreal Engine.

A big sell for developers using Epic’s game engine is that the company says it will forego that Unreal revenue cut for any sales of the titles in the Epic Games Store. Depending on the early success of the game store, this could be a big threat to other game engines like Unity.

A 12 percent overall revenue slice for Epic Games is incredibly competitive and could have left a lot of big developers grumbling about the 30 percent cut they were missing out on because of Steam’s take.

Epic Games has notably eschewed storefront revenue splits on Fortnite wherever they can. The app isn’t on Steam for starters, but even on Android, users are forced to download it directly from the Epic Games site as well. This kind of highlights the sway that big studios hold in the market. This year that studio happens to be Epic Games, but in the future that will be some other studio and Valve likely doesn’t want the next blockbuster side-stepping their storefront.

Valve still has a lot going for them. Their store is a massive presence, and die-hard users already have a library of titles built up with little incentive to switch unless their favorite game makers are the ones to decide to shift their allegiances.

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Valve changes revenue-sharing tiers on Steam

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, Valve | No Comments

Valve announced new Steam rules over the weekend. It might sound like a small change, but it’s the first time the company is changing revenue-sharing tiers.

Before the change, Valve would keep 30 percent of all revenue on Steam, including full games, DLCs, etc. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo also take similar cuts on their own consoles.

But the PC is a different market. You can install any app you want and you’re not limited to Steam for your digital games. While Steam is still the dominant platform, there are now many alternatives, such as GOG, Discord’s store and more. Game publishers also have their own stores, such as EA’s Origin, Activision Blizzard’s Battle.net and Ubisoft’s Uplay.

In other words, Valve is now facing competition from other companies and game publishers themselves. Some big titles aren’t available on Steam (Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends…) and game publishers increasingly feel like they don’t get much out of Steam.

That’s why Steam now takes a 30 percent cut on sales under $10 million, then a 25 percent cut on sales between $10 million and $50 million, then a 20 percent cut on sales above $50 million. Valve wants to show big-game publishers that it is willing to give them a bigger cut if they list their popular games on Steam.

Of course, independent developers will think that the rich are getting richer with this move. And they’re right that it won’t change anything for small games. This is a message for big video game companies.

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Discord is launching a game store

Posted by | discord, Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Just a few weeks back, Valve moved into Discord’s turf a bit with a dramatic overhaul of Steam’s chat system.

Today, Discord is returning the favor by playing with the idea of selling games through its namesake chat platform.

The company says it’ll launch a beta of the game store later today, though it’ll initially be limited to a small slice of its user base (which now sits at 150 million users). More specifically, the beta will roll out to just 50,000 users from Canada at first.

It’ll be dabbling in game sales on two fronts: they’ll directly sell some games, while other games will be added perks for its Discord Nitro subscription service.

Whereas Valve has massively increased the number of games on Steam over the last few years by opening up to third parties through things like Steam Greenlight or (more recently) Steam Direct, Discord is pitching this as a more “curated” offering with a slimmer number of options. At least at first, they say they’re aiming for something that feels more like “one of those cozy neighborhood book shops” — which, on day one of the beta, translates to 11 games.

The games it’ll sell first:

  • Dead Cells
  • Frostpunk
  • Omensight
  • Into the Breach
  • SpellForce 3
  • The Banner Saga 3
  • Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
  • Hollow Knight
  • Moonlighter
  • This is the Police 2
  • Starbound

While 11 games may not seem like much, you can bet they’ll offer more than that in time. See that screenshot up top? You don’t dedicate an entire tab in some of your app’s most prime screen real estate unless you’re hoping to make it a key part of your business.

Taking things one more step forward, Discord is also getting into (temporary) exclusives — or, as it calls them, “First on Discord” games. While it doesn’t mention names and none will roll out with today’s beta, Discord says it’ll soon highlight select indie games that’ll be available only on Discord for the first 90 days-or-so after their respective launches.

Meanwhile, the company is also testing the idea of building up its premium subscription add-on, Discord Nitro, into a game subscription service. Whereas the $5-per-month service previously primarily got you a few mostly aesthetic perks like animated avatars, a special profile badge and bigger upload limits, the same 50,000 players mentioned above (or, at least, those on Windows) will get access to a rotating set of games.

The first games hitting the subscription beta:

  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Metro: Last Light Redux
  • Darksiders: Warmastered Edition
  • De Blob
  • Tormentor X Punisher
  • Dandara
  • Kathy Rain
  • GoNNER
  • Kingdom: New Lands
  • System Shock Enhanced Edition
  • Super Meat Boy

While many of those games aren’t exactly new (some of them are 5+ years old), a lot of them are really great games (I’ve lost days to Super Meat Boy) that not everyone has gotten around to playing. It’s a solid way to pique people’s interest in giving Discord a bit of money each month if the GIFs and badges weren’t quite enough.

Oh, and for good measure, Discord is making itself a launcher — that is, you’ll be able to sort and launch most of the games on your computer right from Discord, including games purchased elsewhere and even those, notes the company, that require another launcher to run. If that’s not a shot across the bow in Steam’s direction, I’m not sure what is.

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Valve’s answer to Discord is now live for everyone

Posted by | chat, discord, Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Just a month ago, Valve announced Steam Chat — an overhaul to its aging chat system, and the company’s answer to rapidly growing competition from apps like Discord. At the time, it was a beta limited only to those who were granted access.

Today it’s opening up to all.

As Devin put it when the beta features rolled out, the previous chat system “may as well be ICQ.” It was useful for a quick chats, but it felt much too limited for anything beyond that.

The new Steam Chat, meanwhile, takes a huge step toward being a modern chat offering. It groups contacts by the game they’re playing, shows whether or not they’re currently in-game or in a match, offers easy access to your “favorite” contacts and allows for big group chats and persistent channels. It supports inline media (GIFs! SoundCloud! YouTube!), encrypted voice chat and has both a browser-based client and a client built into Steam.

Will it kill Discord? Probably not.

While it might stymie the losses of the more casual players who might otherwise find their way over to Discord, it’ll be tough to sway anyone who has already come to call Discord home. Many Discord gaming groups have deep roots, with many of them having elaborate channel setups and relying on bespoke customizations like bots that help them schedule matches or raids.

If you want to check out the new chat system and already have Steam installed, just pop into Steam and tap the “Friends and Chat” button in the bottom right.

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Valve sets sights on Discord with updates to Steam Chat

Posted by | discord, e3 2018, Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Discord has risen among the ranks of gamers as the most common choice for game-related communications. And it’s easy to see why: it works well and the competition is pretty dismal. But Valve is looking to keep users in-house with an overhaul of the chat options on its game platform Steam .

It’s a welcome change, one of many that Steam’s users have surely been asking for — the platform, while convenient in many ways, is also incredibly outdated in others. The friend and communications options may as well be ICQ, and let’s not get started on the browser.

Today’s news suggests that Valve has not failed to hear gamers’ cries. The revamped chat is very Discord-like, with text and voice channels listed separately, in-game details like map and game type listed next to friends and a useful quick list for your go-to gaming partners. There’s also a robust web client.

Voice and text chat is all encrypted and passed through Steam’s servers, which prevents the NSA competition from monitoring your squad’s tactics during PUBG games and griefers from tracing your IP and ordering a hundred pizzas to your door (or worse).

It’s long past due for a platform like Steam, but more importantly it lets them keep Discord in check. The latter, after all, could conceivably grow itself a game store or promotions page in order to subsidize its free services — and that would be stepping on Valve’s turf. Unforgivable.

That said, it’s far too late for Steam to steal away Discord’s users — it’s been adopted by far too many communities and the benefits of switching aren’t really substantial. But for people who have not yet installed Discord, the presence of a robust chat and voice client within Steam is a powerful deterrent.

It’s currently in beta, but you can request access here (web) and here (Steam). No word on whether they are developing a whole system of chat icons based on those wiggly little egg-people in the top image. (Please.)

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Valve says removing controversial games from Steam is hard so it’s not going to

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Internet platforms removing objectionable content from their sites has been one of the more difficult challenges for tech companies in recent years. Valve has also determined that it’s a pretty difficult challenge in their Steam gaming store, but unlike some of the other major platforms on the web, they’ve decided they’re not going to do anything unless the content is actually illegal or, as they put it, “straight up trolling.”

The company has also asserted that “the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values…”

Here’s exactly what else Valve employee Erik Johnson said in a company blog post, which you should read in full here:

Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

This post is largely in response to the company’s actions regarding a school shooting simulator (pictured above) that caused the ire of many. Valve removed the title from the store, but said it did so because the creator was previously banned and was a “troll.”

There are certainly plenty of those in the gaming community who would hold tightly to the idea that people will buy what they want to and Valve shouldn’t decide which content makes it onto their PC. Honestly, that could be a pretty ideologically defensible position if you didn’t think about the money changing hands here. The problem is Valve takes a pretty big cut of the revenue from titles sold through the store, so when it says that it doesn’t agree with content, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t want the money it makes from it.

If Valve wants to find objectionable content and then forego their cut while keeping the games available for download that’s one thing, and they can probably stick by the words in their blog post a bit more as a result.

Finding the line in terms of what is okay and what isn’t in gaming is admittedly painfully difficult. You can kill cops and mow down pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto V, which has brought in billions of dollars in revenue single-handedly, but ultimately I think its maker, Rockstar Games, would at least say that they can stand by their game. If Valve isn’t willing to stand by the games they sell as part of their “values,” do they even have values as a company that… sells games?

YouTube is having what seems to border on an existential crisis right now as they have to decide how to monetize videos on their site that contain “objectionable content.” Valve can hide from this kind of a crisis, but they can’t avoid it. Ad-supported models tend to obscure the money exchanging hands, but when someone buys a game on Steam, money goes directly to Valve as an effect.

Valve can ultimately do what it wants here; they can decide that they want to allow ugly content on their store or not, but they can’t act like Steam is just some giant bucket inside of which games just sit. Valve is a multi-billion-dollar business that inhales revenues from every paid title it sells.

Free expression on the web is an awesome thing, even if it seems to suck sometimes, but stores should be responsible for the items they stock on their shelves.

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