(Im posting this in the forums since I can't post it like an article in the blog section.)
I remember the old days of gaming. That long gone era called 2008. Back when games were provided with their own custom installers, and were self-contained products that installed themselves separatedly on the computer you instaleld them. I like to call this era the "Installshield Era" of gaming. Back when game media only contained asset and binaries, and a registration window, when dialog box wizards ruled the gaming land, and when there weren't any remote validation hooks attached to executables. That is why, with increasing concern, I am watching nowadays the way our most amazing form of entertainment is rearranging itself, how market forces and anti-consumer tendencies are beggining to shape the new landscape of gaming, at the expense of the average gamer.
Big game releases nowadays are abandoning these old, anticuated components such as autorun main menus, install wizards, or dedicated servers, and have moved to the all encapsulating remote delivery methods of popular DRM schemes, such as Steam. By itself, Steam is convenient, fast if you have good internet connection, and easy to deploy. Many games were released in normal "retail" form, and were offered in Steam's store shortly after. Those instances however, are nowadays mostly the case with PC only releases from eastern european studios it seems. Steam's "next step" in gaming convenience is anything but that, and could mark the beggining of a new mandatory requirement for gaming in the future. More and more games are now announcing their complete deployment based around Valve's new Steamworks framework, touted as the "least intrusive" DRM scheme, "convenient" to gaemers and publishers alike, which takes care of formerly manual tasks like patching. They claim it isn't intrusive when compared to the likes of Securom or Tages. But I would like to point out that it is more than that. It's not only indeed intrusive, it's THE most intrusive DRM scheme to come along yet. The game is not at all installed or even located completely in your computer when you realize it. At least Securom installed itself after it let the installer copy YOUR game to YOUR hard drive. Steamworks' remote always-on cloud network remotely controls one of ITS game's installation, patching, running. When you start the game, you send a signal to the autenticathion servers situatied remotely from your location, and the order is sent back before you are able to game. You are asked for an authorization each time to play the games you paid a hefty premium to be allowed some few hours of playimte. It's the arcade coin-up model. We've gone back full circle, to the arcade machins of old times. It may as well place a coin slot in your computer. It's like trying the games you paid for thru a remote terminal. A service that, much like an arcade place, can close up in after hours, or at the discretion of their owners. The access to the games you are allowed to try remotely can be switched off at any moment without any explanation from the providers, and you are effectively out. Cloud based gaming, and software as a service don't look like a good idea afterall under these terms.
"Blah blah, who cares, I don't have to deal with DVDs anymore!" Maybe this is really making mountains out of molehills. Steam does have it's merits, which mostly come from giving smaller indie developers a storefront to showcase their creations without needing a traditional expensive distribution contract. Companies like Tripwire and 2d boy have been the most vocal about their praise for steam, with Tripwire saying they wouldn't be around without Steam. This piece is not an anti-steam call to arms, it's just an informational soundbyte, just to express concern about the trend Steamworks is creating, which isn't 100% in reality as advertised in the package. A steamworks game instantly becomes a steam exclusive game. That situation could become the beggining of a monopoly. Maybe this is a good time for competitors to shine.