The recent battle between EA and Valve over the sale of DLC on Steam, is the pretext behind this post. As more companies look to digital distribution and begin to compete with each other, there is a chance that things will get ugly for gamers.
One of the bigger news pieces recently, is the removal of some EA games from Steam. One part supposedly over DLC, the other most likely has to do with the recent launch of EA's distribution platform: Origin. This entry is not about that argument, but something that I feared would happen a long time ago around the time Impulse was launched. That the use of distribution platforms is getting a little out of hand and that games are affected.
Right now I have accounts to the following distribution platforms: PSN, XBLA, WiiWare, Steam, GFWL, GamersGate, Origin, Impulse, UPlay and Good Old Games. Each one has my personal information and a library of games attached to it. Developers and publishers look for the best deal to get their game out there. What happens is that when the publisher wants a better deal, or doesn't support the game fully on specific platforms, gamers are affected.
People right now are talking about Dragon Age 2 being taken off of Steam, but this is not the first time that a game was removed from Steam. One of Ubisoft's titles: Dawn of Discovery was taken off of Steam's store. The story from what I've heard is that Ubisoft is refusing to release patches for the Steam versions of this game, while releasing it on other platforms and countries. In response to Ubisoft not updating their game, Valve removed Dawn of Discovery and the expansion from the store.
There is no such thing as a perfect, bug free PC game. You know it, I know it and of course publishers and developers know it. When a publisher withholds patches that fix technical issues, not even new content, from distributors that pisses me off. Recently, I re-bought Dawn of Discovery when it was on sale on Impulse, as that appears to be the only online US version that got all the patches.
As more platforms are being released, with many of them trying to take the crown away from Steam, I can't help but feel that this situation is going to become uglier. One of the fears that you hear from detractors of digital distribution, is that you don't own the copy of the game in the same way as a hard copy, and that you can lose access to the game at any time. With the recent removal of games from Steam, some of those fears have been realized.
Looking at the Origin terms of service, one point that stuck out that has been mentioned by people, is that if you don't use the service at least once within a 24 month period, they will cancel your account and any games you had are gone. While that is a very long period of time, even the mention of having a point where they can remove someone's account like that raises a red flag. I know with GFWL, I rarely use it and the same goes for Impulse. The only service that I use on a daily basis is Steam, as that is where the majority of my games are and the software that my friends use.
Being forced to use a service for no other reason than to keep my account active doesn't sit right with me and my inner cynic says that there's always the chance for them to update the TOS and chance that time limit and make it sooner. This brings up a very interesting situation; both EA and UBI Soft are the first major publishers to adopt distribution platforms. Technically at this point, we can say that Valve is a publisher thanks to Steam, but Valve doesn't have multiple studios under their belt like EA or UBI Soft.
Publishers are not only trying to beat Valve at their own game, but also want a full share of the profits. It's only a matter of time before more publishers go this route. With each publisher dictating their own prices for their games, sales won't be as plentiful, as they won't need to compete with anyone as you have no choice but to use their service. Jokingly, I started thinking about the future in the game Syndicate, where the world is being controlled by powerful corporations.
Digital distribution is here to stay and everyone knows it, especially publishers. When I first started thinking about using digital platforms, I saw it as a way of keeping a digital library of my games for storage. Now, as more software is released, my game library is splintered across all the digital platforms. As more companies look to developing their own software, gamers will once again be the ones affected. Having to use multiple distribution software to run one game is arbitrary and does more for annoying the fans then helping them.
I can’t shake this feeling that even as more publishers try to jump onto the digital distribution bandwagon, it won't make life easier for gamers. I just know that someone is going to release a game that requires Steam,another software and still has some other form of DRM included just for kicks.