There’s this weird internet thing (because the internet likes to have its weird things) that before Greenlight existed, before the indies got their grips into Steam and Valve opened the floodgates, Steam was a cornucopia of brilliant games, curated, selected to be the best of the best.
This is shit.
There are shit games on Steam. There has always been shit games on Steam.
Let’s stop for a second though because when I say there’s always been shit games on Steam, I mean, generally, there’s always been games on there that I don’t like. There’s been a number of games that had low production values. There’s been a number of games that were rough round the edges. There’s a number of games that were broken or no longer supported. As long as there’s been a process in place where games that weren’t just Valve’s were allowed onto Steam , there’s been titles that fell into one or more of those brackets.
What Steam used to be ridiculously good at was burying these games. The first a lot of people would hear of the games that they wouldn’t normally be interested in was when they bubbled up somewhere cheap in a Steam sale. It’s how you end up with stuff like Bad Rats as the comedy gift of choice. And then when the sale goes away, Valve continued to add games that weren’t to a lot of tastes, from casual to publisher dumps to first time indies and… well, and Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens Colonial Marines and Bioshock fucking Infinite. I don’t even know what Valve were thinking letting that last one on the service. Man alive.
Then Steam broke. As Valve moved towards a more open system (current status: still vaguely closed) the storefront stopped burying things. Or rather, the games the storefront had always had up there alongside other games became harder to ignore because suddenly instead of 5 of them and 1 release you spotted that you cared for, that 1 release was pushed off the page after a day. Steam was ill equipped to cope with the rising amount of titles it was taking on the store. And the indies got it in the neck for this, Greenlight got it in the neck for this. Despite a large (the largest) amount of the titles causing the flood being a (then) Thursday push of publisher dumped content, the indies got the blame because fuck it, it’s probably them. Have you seen some of the shit on Greenlight, it’s shit. Not like the stuff that Gearbox and Sega and *cane pulls Rob off the stage*
But the thing is, those titles weren’t necessarily shit. They just weren’t for you. And that’s OK. It’s OK for a lot of games to exist that aren’t for you. But because they obscured the title you were interested in, well, that’s discovery a bit fucked then. Valve knew this, they knew it was happening and that’s why they set to work on what became known as The Discovery Update. To, well, help with discovery. Discovery is the sign telling you where your beans are in a supermarket, it’s grouping magazines together so you know where to look for Big Mens Biceps Monthly (next to GamesTM), it’s what we term the things that help push a consumer to the thing they want in the middle of a load of things they don’t want. Because it’s generally accepted that when you walk into the supermarket, you’re interested in some specific things and not everything in the supermarket, yeah? Because for you, a lot of the things in a supermarket are probably shit. No-one wants those Jaffa Cake biscuits, right? They’re shit.
But games have got their knickers in a twist lately because for some reason, games have to be good. Games have to be for me (where me is the person saying this out loud or reading it from a card or typing it into a comments section) and fuck no. Let’s stop that right there unless you’re the kind of person who runs up to customer services to claim that they should stop selling sprouts, the bastards, don’t they know sprouts are shit?
“Rob, Rob, stop. Sprouts aren’t broken like games can be broken!”
That’s right. That’s because sprouts are a fucking vegetable not a hand crafted piece of work that in some way embodies the work, talents and moods of the creator. Sprouts don’t have to work on any one of a million zillion configurations and could break on any one of a million zillion configurations. You wouldn’t day 1 patch a sprout. You wouldn’t download a sprout, yeah? But the point is, stores aren’t just for one person or for one demographics taste. OK, OK, they can be, but that’s not what Steam endeavoured to be. Steam from the outset, as a store, was designed to host and sell as much of the catalogue of videogames as they possibly could. Like you couldn’t rent a shit film from Blockbuster or watch one on Netflix, yeah?
Where it all went a bit wrong is that it turns out you can’t have all the games whilst having a submissions and publishing pipeline ran by six people and a dog, a system designed for a time when there weren’t as many people buying, making and engaging with PC games. And so, because of that broken system, people came to the conclusion that Valve were curating on some sort of intensive quality control tip. Yet that wasn’t they case, they just had to be more selective. Yet that selectiveness still managed to include a fair proportion of casual titles most people probably didn’t even notice sneaking on. Did you notice all those match 3 games and hidden object games on the days they launched? Valve still managed to include first time games, amateur games, short games, broken games and more.
Steam always strived to be the biggest marketplace for PC games. Steam, in many ways, made sure that there was still a market for PC games but that’s another, far scarier, memory we like to put in storage and forget. We forget when PC games were looking like they were doomed. Or maybe we don’t because we’re always, always looking for that next time when things are doomed be it “the indie bubble will burst and kill us all”, “Early Access will send us to the dogs”, “the arse has fallen out of Kickstarter because an analyst said that once on the internet so it must be true because an analyst is NEVER wrong” or whatever. Fill in your own blanks.
What we fail to grasp an awful lot is:
1) Your shit may not be my shit.
2) If a shit game exists, that’s OK, no-one gets killed. No-one is forcing you to buy it. We’ve gone over 30 years with I don’t know how many shit games being sold for actual real moneys and survived just fine.
3) If a broken game makes it to market we do actually have a buffer. It’s called the videogame press and not since Driv3r all those years ago have I seen them shame themselves en masse over a release. The system is pretty much working now. Whether you trust that the system is working is another thing but that’s your call. I didn’t see many 9s for Colonial Marines. Bioshock Infinite, admittedly, is a bone of contention here. Even if you discount the press, you have YouTube playthroughs, forums, reviews on Steam itself, friends, the internet, so many avenues to filter.
4) If you’re the kind of person who plays a lot of games or whose inbox is filled with games, you are not experiencing games like a normal human being does. You are not experiencing a store like a normal human being does. This is worth considering when you look at a shit game and go “this should not be!” because really, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter but you’re just tired of wading through things you don’t like or are broken and it does weigh you down and you kinda don’t notice it happening. Rather than try and solve the problem of shit games existing, go for a walk. Ration your time better. Learn to filter. It’s OK. It’ll be OK. (Trust me, I’ve waded through games to write words or to judge them for competitions myself and you need to learn to manage that downer)
They’re all things but…
5) games that you consider shit, whilst games you consider good still exist (and if you can’t find the latter, I don’t know, read a book instead maybe because I’m drowning in the fuckers) are two sides of the same coin.
The increase in diversity, viability of niche products, creation of things that could not have been made to exist at any other time requires both. It is an almost natural order of things. The increase in size of the markets (plural because let’s be clear that videogames is not one solitary market), the increase and diversity that’s come with more people making games means there are more people to be catered to and a lot of these games will cater to other people. Even the broken ones!
Yes, I am a guy who buys broken and silly games. Sometimes really broken ones because sometimes I admire the ambition even if it falls flat on its arse, sometimes I just fancy a giggle and sometimes, I want to support someone and say “ok, I’ve bought this, now go ahead and make your next game” because we’re in a funny place where the default now is “games are sold” so I accept that a lot of people just starting out are going to charge for their work because that’s a done thing rather than because they want to. This is OK, David Bowie charged money for his first album, Tori Amos charged money for hers. Simply Red charged money for all their albums (OK,OK, maybe this one is not OK). Everyone has to start somewhere.
And some of these games will be on Steam because Steam wants to be all encompassing and this is OK. It’s OK because it’s important to understand that in order to sell your PC game in 2015, with scant exception, Steam keys are the bare minimum. We’re working on alternatives, on other stores and things but still, this is a genie that’s not going back in the bottle any time soon. Wherever we end up it’s looking like Steam keys is a requirement now.
So if you see a shit game on Steam, if you see a game you don’t like, understand that at the exact same time these games are appearing, more people than EVER before are able to make fantastic games in niches and genres that were dead. And these games are able to exist because now, we have all these crazy things like Kickstarter, like Early Access, like Free2Play (or Free2Start as EA seem to want to rebrand it to try and avoid a slap on the wrists), we have games as service, we have MMOs and we have no clear way of knowing which games will end up great and which will end up a cataclysm a lot of the time because games are really fucking awkward bastards to make and they’re made by humans who are generally awkward bastards to pin down who have lives where you never know what’s going to happen next.
So if you see a shit game on Steam, don’t buy it. Just walk on by. Go and play that game you really, really want to play, tell everyone about that game that you really really want or like to play and don’t give another thought to that game you think is shit. Unless you’re a reviewer then it’s kinda your job to play bad games as well as good ones in order to save people a few quid. And if you don’t like that? Maybe you’re in the wrong job, yeah?
Because a shit game’s existence doesn’t do shit and the idea that it is somehow a problem that needs to be solved, well, that’s shit.