Valve is one of the more unique makers of video games out there, largely because the Portal and Half-Life studio also does double duty as the keymaster for PC gaming’s premiere iTunes equivalent, Steam. The popular service is not without its competition OR its limitations, but most agree that Valve’s approach to DRM and attitude toward piracy is somewhat more evolved that most other game development houses as a result of the company’s alter-ego background as a service provider.
“In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy,” Valve co-founder and CEO Gabe Newell told The Cambridge Student in a recent interview. “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.”
He then offers an example: “If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable.
“Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customer’s use or by creating uncertainty. Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company.”
While Newell’s comments essentially amount to a Steam sales pitch, he’s not wrong. Steam copy protections are about as ironclad as you see in this industry and, much like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, users also get access to community features that they would not otherwise have as illegal downloaders. Not all games are built for online play, but having a strong community-oriented offering has become all the more important in the current gaming generation. Steam leads the way on the PC side in this regard, so it’s not hard to see where Newell is coming from. Piracy will always be an issue for individual games, but Steam as a service definitely brings more to the table as a service than piracy can offer.