Steam Shelves in Console Stores: Is This a Good Thing?

My boss rushed out into the British Winter last night when he heard that high-street game retail stores were now stocking Steam products. It’s true, and the picture in the header is one of the photos he took. Not only are Steam products being stocked, they have their own section. As someone who has been mildly judgmental of the disappearance of PC gaming shelves from mainstream shops, you’d think I’d be pleased. Well.

Before I try to articulate my gut feelings about this, I’d like to make clear that I don’t hate Valve. I’ve given them some rough love once or twice, but I still appreciate what they do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care at all.

So. Why do I still have reservations? The main reason is because of the labeling. There are PC sections back in mainstream stores, but they are called Steam shelves. I’ve been concerned for a while that Steam was becoming synonymous with PC gaming because it’s not necessarily a great thing all around. If Steam cannibalizes the PC gaming community, it won’t mean just Uplay and Origin. It’ll also be itch.io, Game Jolt, and all of the little indies that publish on their own blogs and sites. I’m hoping that in the future, Steam won’t have turned into a totalitarian Hunger Games-esque service that does not allow games to be developed unless the devs receive a Greenlight Certificate or something along those lines. Even right now, developers feel that they must publish on Steam or their game will never see the light of day. Critics like Jim Sterling and Rami Ismail (remember the Indiepocalypse?) tend to blame young developers for flooding Steam with low-quality games, but I blame Valve for making these kids feel like they have no other option. It’s do or die out there.
So suppose that Jim Sterling’s dream of a quality filter on Greenlight gets realized, and that the trend of young developers feeling pushed to publish on Steam for survival also rises. It’s going to be a bloodbath. The indie community will be destroyed as competition creates an unviable environment and developers throw the towel. We’ll be back to the days when the only games made were the ones backed by giant mainstream publishers, because there was no other alternative.

Do I have options to suggest? No, not really. I do think it’d be great if Valve created a space for indies, semi-separate from the main storefront, but I know it’s not feasible. The merging of PC gaming with Steam is how I felt things would pan out from the start of Valve’s empire, and what makes me uncomfortable is that it’s the half-way point towards the totalitarian scenario I described earlier. I really hope Valve knows what they’re doing and do not give in to corporate greed.

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