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Steam services render piracy a ‘non-issue’ for Valve, Newell says


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.

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Adam Rosenberg
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends…
Internet, prepare to freak out: JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot and Gabe Newell’s Valve are joining forces

How about this for a high-concept pitch: JJ Abrams' Bad Robot and Gabe Newell's Valve Corporation come together to collaborate on both games and film. Outlandish, right? A few years back it would be the stuff of fanboys' dreams. Today not so much, not anymore.
It's happening. Gabe Newell said so.
"We decided that we need to do more than talk," Newell said. There are no specific details to share just yet, but the Valve boss dropped that little nugget at the tail end of his keynote chat with J.J. Abrams at the D.I.C.E. Summit.
D.I.C.E., or the Design Innovate Communicate Entertain Summit as it is properly known, began today in Las Vegas. Abrams and Newell kicked off a week that will be filled with presentations from some of the biggest names in gaming, as they take to the stage to discuss the future of the industry. The show will play host to industry giants like Warren Spector, Ouya's CEO Julie Uhrman, the President of Original Programming for SyFy Mark Stern, Sledgehammer Games co-founder Glen Schofield, Frank O'Connor and Kiki Wolfkill from 343 Industries, and many more. Check back with us throughout the week for coverage directly from the floor in Vegas.  
"There's an idea that we have for a game that we'd like to work with Valve on," Abrams said, thus sparking what is sure to be an epic amount of speculation on the Internet. 
It seems, based on their brief comments on the matter, that this partnership extends beyond a single project. Valve has made no secret of its interest in film, while Bad Robot has been loosely involved with several games, including the upcoming Namco Bandai Star Trek developed by Digital Extremes, which is being considered an official part of the rebooted Star Trek universe that Abrams helped create.  
"We're super excited about that, and we're also interested in working with you guys on movies," Newell stated in response to Abrams. "So, we're going to try to figure out if we can make a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie together. It's really time for us and for our industries to stop talking about potentials and try to really execute them."
Neither Abrams or Newell are doing interviews at the conference, but check back later for a more complete rundown of the entertaining and enlightening keynote.

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Forget Sony and Microsoft, Apple is the real competition for Steam Box according to Gabe Newell
Gabe Newell holding a faux minigun

When Valve Software finally releases its non-traditional Steam Box video game console to consumers it will necessarily have to battle for market share and public opinion with competing consoles from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. Coming in to a new, previously established market and going head to head with the companies who have ruled that segment of the industry for decades is a very bold move, but Valve Software remains unconcerned. It isn't the slate of existing consoles or gaming companies that worries Valve. Instead, the company believes its true competition will come from Cupertino, California.
"The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform," said Valve co-founder Gabe Newell during a recent speech at the University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. "I think that there's a scenario where we see sort of a dumbed down living room platform emerging - I think Apple rolls the console guys really easily. The question is can we make enough progress in the PC space to establish ourselves there, and also figure out better ways of addressing mobile before Apple takes over the living room?"
Given that statement and Apple's undeniable clout in any technologically-focused industry, shouldn't Valve be more concerned by the threat the company represents? Yes and no. While Newell sees Apple as his firm's prime opponent, he also strongly believes that the Steam Box offers a number of simple solutions for consumers who want to be able to play the highest quality games on as cheap a budget as possible. Traditional consoles can't offer this kind of flexibility as they're tied to whatever hardware they initially shipped with, but by basing the design of the Steam Box on standard, easily-customized PCs, Valve hopes to offer gamers the kind of freedom enjoyed by their PC brethren for years.
That said, Newell realizes that Valve is not the only company attempting this introduction of PC gaming tenets into the console space in the near future.
"I think a whole bunch of hardware companies are going to be releasing products in the next 12 months," Newell said. "There are going to be a huge set of products that say, 'If you want something that's incredibly cheap, at a price point well below anything that consoles will be able to reach, you're going to take advantage of the PC that's running somewhere in your house.'"
Whether you're a staunch Apple supporter, refuse to believe that consoles can exist without a "Nintendo" trademark on them, or see Steam as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the real determining factor of how successful Valve's Steam Box might be lies in its library of games. The biggest hurdle facing any new console release is an initial lack of quality software, but since the Steam Box is purpose-built to connect to and download games from Valve's ubiquitous digital distribution platform this issue is irrelevant. The tradeoff, however, will be the complete absence of exclusive titles - unless Valve decides to change its development model in order to serve the Steam Box. A new Half-Life would make an attractive lure for fans...
Will this be enough to catapult the gaming machine ahead of new consoles from Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and whoever else enters the race? That remains to be seen, but if nothing else the next era of video gaming should prove interesting.

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Half-Life meets Star Wars at DICE 2013 as Gabe Newell and J.J. Abrams open the show
half life meets star wars at dice 2013 as gabe newell and j abrams host opening keynote

Of the two major video game industry conferences held each spring, the DICE Summit often plays second fiddle to the Game Developers Conference in terms of generating excitement amongst players. Game makers get to talk shop, dissecting new development techniques and technology at both, but it’s GDC that game makers have increasingly leveraged as a venue for new game announcements in recent years. More audience eyes will linger on DICE 2013 when it starts on Feb. 6 than usual though, given that one of the most watched men in movies will deliver the opening keynote address alongside one of the most watched men in video games. Star Wars Episode VII director J.J. Abrams will open DICE 2013, alongside Valve president Gabe Newell.
“From TV to film and now award-winning mobile apps, there’s no question that J.J. has his finger on the pulse of the entertainment industry, and we’re thrilled to welcome him and our 2013 Hall of Fame inductee, Gabe Newell, to the DICE stage,” said Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences president Martin Rae, “Each year, the DICE Summit sets the tone for the year ahead in games and adding J.J. and Gabe’s shared insights is a natural fit as we see all forms of entertainment converge.”
What might be considered the usual press release boasting in Rae’s announcement holds true in the case of Newell and Abrams. Lucasfilm and Disney announced on Friday that Abrams is now an instrumental figure in the future of one of entertainment’s most valuable properties. As the director of Star Wars Episode VII, Abrams will help steer the creative direction of a cross media franchise that Disney has already invested billions into through the purchase.
Newell, meanwhile, is poised to redefine the video game hardware and distribution businesses over the coming years. Valve’s Steam is already the most widely used digital distribution games business on PCs with 54 million active user accounts, but Valve is planning to distribute its own PC hardware starting in the next eighteen months. In the same way that Abrams' work on the Star Wars franchise will have industry defining impact on entertainment content over the next decade, so too will Valve’s Steam Box.
Newell has another talk at the DICE Summit that gamers should follow as well. The designer will host “A View on Next Steps” on Feb. 7.

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