I distinctly remember the launch of Steam back in 2003 (more than 10 years ago, sheesh). It was heralded as the end of gaming as we know it, as it was required for users to play their brand new copies of Half Life 2. While the gaming community quickly changed their minds about the software, they were right about it changing the gaming industry forever.
Now Steam is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, markets for video game sales. It has dominated the online gaming market for years now, but the early 2010’s have shown that over companies are capable of attempting to do the same thing for their own brands.
Blizzard Entertainment has had an online presence for a long time with their Battle.net service, which allowed for online match-making, chat rooms and other services to their users. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Battle.net has been expanded into a cloud service, similar to Steam, for use with Blizzard games like World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2.
Similarly, Electronic Arts created their own cloud gaming service called Origin. The problem with Origin, however, is that, while none of Blizzard’s games were available through Steam, Origin suffered from playing second fiddle to the biggest triple-A cloud service on the market. It also doesn’t help that the Steam Sales events, which have taken on a whole new place in video gaming culture, help keep Steam on top, as thousands of players shell out hundreds of dollars on games that they’ll probably never play.
Even Trion Worlds, the developers behind Rift, Defiance and Trove, have started their own service, like Blizzard, which is devoted to not only their own brands and franchises, but also other titles, including Archage, which they are publishing, and even some indy titles, like the Banner Saga.
The question that arises from the recently added competition towards Valve’s Steam is how many cloud gaming services does the video game community need? Companies like Blizzard and Trion have found their niche, as their services give their users easier access to all of their products, but can other companies attempt to challenge Steam’s throne as the best place to find almost any game on the market for digital download? Obviously monopolies are bad for the industry in the long run, but is it wrong for Valve to have so much power over the digital distribution market, if they’re doing so much good at the same time? What can Origin do to keep themselves in the competition and force Steam to stay honest with their customers? These are all important questions that the video game community will have to answer as developers like EA, Blizzard and Trion Worlds fight to compete against the 800 lb gorilla named Steam.