I have come to save PC gaming
Sorry for the sensationalist post title it should read "I have come to save the PC gaming experience" instead. The truth is I don't have the resources for such a thing. But I do have an idea that I believe will be a solution.
PC Gaming is in need of saving?
Yes & no. For a brief period of time, PC gaming was facing extinction caused mainly by the lack of reliable distribution of games thus leading to less games being published. When Steam finally managed to take root and become the defacto PC game seller the situation was remedied.
The new generation of consoles released being x86 in nature will probably boost PC gaming higher then ever before. We're already seeing exclusives launch for Console X and PC. I'm guessing exclusive will mean "exclusive for CONSOLE" from now on and will have a PC release no matter what. This might take some time but it is the direction the gaming scene is going in my opinion.
"So... It's in pretty good shape?"
When you look at it from the amount of titles being released, yes - you could say that. BUT (and this is a pretty big but in my opinion) the same can't be said for our experience.
Sure the games are getting better and more fun to play but what about the huge libraries we are building? Today I read that EA (a company loathed by many including me) said "we realize ORIGIN is looked upon as another thing to install". While ORIGIN (EA actually) dug up the hole they are in and STEAM pretty much deserves the spot it's in right now, I still feel that we, the customers and gamers, are suffering from this.
How does this effect me, I'm still not sure?
It is only a matter of time before STEAM gets more and more competition. A true contender is surely on the horizon?
What I'm getting at is that we are in for a rollercoaster ride with exclusive titles being released left and right for STEAM and it's future contenders. This will leave us with no choice other then installing a bunch of game libraries.
Well I think we can remedy this with a simple idea (but maybe a tough one to implement).
Behold; I give you the LIC file
Well some form of this is already out there but what I'm talking about is different and simple ;
- An open format, compatible with all current and future game libraries
- An exportable and importable somehow encrypted file
- Stands for one game title each
- Can be copied freely, this won't matter
- Will delete the game it stands for from your library you export it from
- Will add the game it stands for to the library it is imported to
This (presumably) little file will enable you to switch game providers and move all your belongings with you if you wish to. Before I explain more details on how this could work and how it could be prevented from exploiting games - I'm going to tell you why it is needed and what the incentive for the publishers would be.
Yea, I don't need this
No, you do. Maybe today ORIGIN and STEAM aren't a hassle to maintain but you are forgetting that even as we speak the Windows and OSX app stores are already contenders. They will only get stronger in time. As more games are published and as more people start to buy them digitally a lot more stores will open.
What will you do then? Install 30 store programs that all launch on startup and start updating themselves. Leave them be and eat resources while you game?
Or manage them individually exiting one and switching to the other?
No, you will all want all the games to be available on all the platforms. Well that isn't going to happen with the current model. Every store will manage to sign exclusives this way and that. You will undoubtedly want to play that one game on Store RED, too bad you need to install it as it is exclusive there.
Even if it does happen and STEAM and EA manage to drive out every single contender - and somehow the OSX and Windows app stores remain barren for AAA game titles - you are still getting the pointy end of the stick.
- You actually want as many stores as possible for competition to get better prices. Also better "store" features.
- You also want the minimum amount of exclusives possible.
- Lastly, you want to be able to run fine with one library and switch to the other in a moments notice.
These three points can be had with the simple LIC file I've described. With a system like this, you and me, as the gamer and customer, will have control of the experience - we won't be the ones begging and hoping on the good will of the companies - we will be the ones demanding or leaving. This is important for us.
So, that's good and all, but why on earth would Steam do this?
Digital Distributors need this, the Incentive;
They won't - STEAM that is - they will absolutely not do this. Given that they are the most consumer friendly company I have ever come across and that they geniunly are siding with gamers when they can - this is a place they will probably draw the line.
But with the right people backing it up I don't think Steam will have much choice. Right now STEAM is uncontested for the most part with smaller players trying to hang on for dear life.
Most other digital distributors even provide STEAM keys so you will buy the game from them, don't you think they would jump at the opportunity to have a fighting chance against STEAM?
I'm pretty sure that If this can be implemented with even the smallest digital distributors, it will grow. The only way and time Steam will join in is when this is the default and they are very pressured and losing out by not joining in.
Now, let's get to the technical stuff,
How this is going to work
The actual technical specs of the LIC file escape me. I can only hope that there is some way do digitally sign files that will enable them to be detected as "modified". Assuming this is somewhat possible, here is how I see this working out;
- One central server that logs deactivation / reactivation of games on every participating vendor
This is important. The unique LIC file can be copied (I don't think there is any way this can be stopped). So to make sure it can only be used once the vendor checks an authentic server to see if that file has been activated anywhere else.
This server will be run by the joint efforts of all the vendors, or at least some sort of consortium. There might be a better alternative, but I didn't think of this much. I'm sure this is the least of the worries that might get this going.
- LIC file exported to YOU (this is very important), ready to be imported to your digital vendor of choice
You might be wondering why we would need this much hassle anyway? Why can't the damn vendors import my library over the net and not bother me?
Well the reason is control. This might work for a day or two, but someone somewhere is going to start dragging his/her feet (presumably someone that is the market leader). To save face, they might even eventually say "hey we invented a super effective protocol, too bad no one else uses it. Oh well, seems we can't move your library anywhere else - btw that game on your wishlist...".
This is a very real case scenario and will undermine any efforts of licence control we can hope to have. Having a file that is in YOUR control is important.
- As long as the vendor has the rights to sell the game it will be added to your library
Now, the main problem might be that Steam having 200k games, while Delightful Digital Vendor boasting a mere 500. In this case you won't be able to move your game - simple as that.
This issue will be solved by itself. Publishers wont be releasing exclusives this easy anymore. Especially when they realize that not one gamer will have all of the 20 something digital vendors installed on their computing device.
Yes, exclusives will still happen - but the fact that a gamer might want to move - or not want to move to the store they are about to sign with - especially with all the stores available - it will be very expensive for the store to do and will probably be timed.
Timed exclusives will be popular for stores in my opinion, to try and get the gamer and his library hooked up in it's store.
Now I do realize that I've been talking about how this will happen and how that will fit in as if this is something that is announced and going on.
Nothing of the sort is happening (at least to my knowledge). But there is a chance for this to happen and it is likely in my opinion.
Two is company
All that is needed for this to become our reality in the next decade or so is just two digital distributors to start it. If this is EA and Amazon (for example) it will be a reality much much sooner.
If not, and it is only two startups that are getting on their feet - even that will get the ball rolling - but it will take much longer and probably be modified so that the store holders have much more control.
Either way, this is my idea on how we can be saved from being locked in to stores, and I do believe that everyone (the customer, the publisher and store owner - par Steam) has the incentive to see this through.
P.S. No hard feelings Valve, i believe in you - but I also want to play BF4 and the whole Monkey Island Franchise too. Also, monopolies, whoever might be in control, isn't the solution in my opinion.