[Disclaimer: The Friday Night Rant is just that, a rant. It contains extemporaneous remarks which are not to be confused with this site’s journalism or editorial opinions. It is meant to be an entertaining take on the industry and may be divisive in nature.]
Alright everybody, I can already feel the hot breath from Steam fanatics so I promise I’ll try to to keep this particular rant a little more even-handed.
I would like to address the fact that gamers are getting the conversation about the future of online gaming services completely screwed up due to typical comparisons over just which one is better. I need PC gamers to give me some breathing room because consoles are my territory. Now, I think OnlySP does a damn good job of covering the PC world too so there’s no intended bias.
With that out of the way I have an observation you may or may not agree with, either way I hope you’ll follow me. The big news surrounding the gaming community now is of course the new generation of consoles, and since PC gamers will be sharing a lot of the same games with us there’s a temptation to make judgments, entrench ourselves in our favorite spot and fight it out to the figurative death.
Nowhere is this problem more pervasive of late than in the realm of the online services for respective platforms. For PC gamers I fully understand why the Steam software platform has a rabid fan base. It’s highly intuitive, very consumer friendly, and just generally more cohesive than Microsoft’s digital network Xbox Live or Sony’s Playstation Network. With the news that Playstation Network will now charge gamers a fee on the Playstation 4 to play online we can also say that Steam has the added benefit of being the only free online gaming network.
I could try to convince you why Xbox Live and PSN are still worth the cost, and many believe they are, but that would be futile because Steam is objectively just a smoother interface all around. My argument is likely too flawed from their perspective for most PC gamers to accept. Free and smoother must mean better than costly and occasionally frustrating right? Now I come to my point: it doesn’t matter. The debate over whether or not Steam is a better online platform that keeps popping into discussion threads is a complete and utter distraction that is keeping people from having a fruitful conversation about where they would like to see Xbox Live and PSN go in the next console generation. Steam is the law of the land on PC, you guys don’t really have “generations” as us console folks do. None of that matters because arguing why Steam is better doesn’t help anybody shape the coming iterations of the console networks.
The owners of Steam, Valve Corporation, have the benefit of being a private, agile company that has pretty much locked down its intended audience. Microsoft and Sony are not so lucky, they are at constant odds with one another over market share and they have to satisfy a whole lot of very persnickety other companies with their hands in the cookie jar, not to mention the shareholders. Why can’t they just do what Steam does? Chances are good that what you see when you log onto Xbox Live and PSN isn’t aimed at the hardcore gamer, it has the drawback of having to be aimed at the mainstream audience. It has the input of hundreds of people with their own ideas about what is consumer friendly. It tries to tie together utterly disparate subject matter invading the gaming space that Steam users never have to worry about. It is constantly a space being encroached upon by other service providers. Would Microsoft really be spending so much money on making Kinect’s voice automated user interface work for the average parent if there wasn’t a great deal of input from non-gamers?
The end result may be that the console networks are a hodgepodge of ideas that have both good points and terrible shortfalls, but we aren’t going to help those companies make their services more gamer friendly by descending into another console war within our industry reporting and discussion. Instead we need to organize ideas that are more workable than “make it free” and try to get them to listen to us. If us console gamers are going to have to pay for a service that increasingly caters to non-gamers then we have to be serious about giving them input that is useful instead of arguing amongst ourselves.
I am a console gamer, no matter how good Steam is it will never be of any use to me because I will never keep a gaming PC up to date. There are others like me out there and we’d rather find out what is workable within the complicated framework of a giant corporation’s online service than have to defend our choice of online gaming platform at every turn.