Valve Release Steamworks

By John Walker on January 29th, 2008 at 6:07 pm.

[Update: The press release offered lots of confusion - the story's been updated now for clarity]

Sparse.

Valve are rocking the boat in a really big way, especially for PC gaming piracy. They have just announced the release of a complete collection of publisher power, called Steamworks, available to developers and publishers completely free. Valve describe it as,

“A complete suite of publishing and development tools – ranging from copy protection to social networking services to server browsing – now available free of charge to developers and publishers worldwide.”

What does this actually mean? Well, its extensive. The complete press-release is beneath the cut, as well as our explanation of what it means. And what it means could be huge.

What does it mean? It gives publishers and developers the ability to control their games in a brand new way, with Steam itself dropping in the final executable to get the game working, which could have a hefty impact on how we buy our games. And most importantly, no one’s paying Valve a penny, neither the publisher, nor the player.

The suite will allow developers to perform many of the tricks that have distinguished Valve, such as monitoring sales stats, hefty anti-piracy measures, automatic updating, voice chat, multiplayer matchmaking, social networking and even the ability to run beta testing. The possibilities this opens up for independent developers, and smaller publishing companies, could be enormous.

It’s a bit confusing what this will actually means, so here’s what we understand: A publisher can sell their game in the shops or distribute it digitally via their own system, customers install it, and then have Steam drop in the executable. It kills off day-one piracy in a single shot. Bam. Then updates will be delivered automatically for the game via Steam, and all the post-release stats and tools will be available, with Valve charging no one any money for this at all.

Does this give Valve more power? It certainly means more people will be installing Steam on their systems, and that isn’t going to hurt them. But since they won’t be responsible for distribution, nor handling money for these companies, the control seems to be firmly in the hands of each game’s publisher.

Complete Suite of Publishing Tools Available Free of Charge

January 29, 2008 – Valve, creators of best-selling game franchises (such as Half-Life and Counter-Strike) and leading technologies (such as Steam and Source), today announce Steamworks, a complete suite of publishing and development tools – ranging from copy protection to social networking services to server browsing – is now available free of charge to developers and publishers worldwide.

Steamworks, the same suite of tools used in best-selling PC titles Half-Life 2 and The Orange Box, is available for all PC games distributed via retail and leading online platforms such as Steam. The services included in Steamworks may be used a la carte or in any combination.

Specifically, Steamworks offers:

· Real-time stats on sales, gameplay, and product activation: Know exactly how well your title is selling before the charts are released. Find out how much of your game is being played. Login into your Steamworks account pages and view up to the hour information regarding worldwide product activations and player data.

· State of the art encryption system: Stop paying to have your game pirated before it’s released. Steamworks takes anti-piracy to a new level with strong encryption that keeps your game locked until the moment it is released.

· Territory/version control: The key-based authentication provided in Steamworks also provides territory/version controls to help curb gray market importing and deliver territory-specific content to any given country or region.

· Auto updating: Insures all customers are playing the latest and greatest version of your games.

· Voice chat: Available for use both in and out of game.

· Multiplayer matchmaking: Steamworks offers you all the multiplayer backend and matchmaking services that have been created to support Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, the most played action games in the world.

· Social networking services: With support for achievements, leaderboards, and avatars, Steamworks allows you to give your gamers as many rewards as you would like, plus support for tracking the world’s best professional and amateur players of your game.

· Development tools: Steamworks allows you to administer private betas which can be updated multiple times each day. Also includes data collection tools for QA, play testing, and usability studies.

“Developers and publishers are spending more and more time and money cobbling together all the tools and backend systems needed to build and launch a successful title in today’s market,” said Gabe Newell, president of Valve. “Steamworks puts all those tools and systems together in one free package, liberating publishers and developers to concentrate on the game instead of the plumbing.”

“As more developers and publishers have embraced Steam as a leading digital distribution channel, we’ve heard a growing number of inquiries regarding the availability of the platform’s services and tools,” said Jason Holtman, director business development at Valve. “Offering Steamworks is part of our ongoing efforts to support the needs of game developers and our publishing partners.”

Steam is a leading platform for the delivery and management of PC games and digital content. With over 13 million active accounts and more than 250 games, plus hundreds of movie files and game demos available, Steam has become a frequent destination for millions of gamers around the world.

For more information regarding Steamworks, please visit www.steamgames.com/steamworks. To find out about more about Steamworks contact jasonh@valvesoftware.com

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104 Comments »

  1. Freelancepolice says:

    Good news imo, will be interesting to see how devs use this. Will we see people like introversion hop on or is it mainly for smaller indie devs

  2. Stick says:

    Wow… that’s a can of worms if I ever saw one. Sandworms.

  3. Surprise says:

    amazing, simply amazing

  4. Kast says:

    Oh hell yes, that’s exciting news. :D

    But does this mean that developers will be using their own distribution platforms, or does it mean that they will be more easily integrated into Steam? I don’t want half a dozen different Steam-a-likes on my computer.

  5. Pete says:

    Wow. Fantastic. Let’s hope EA grab this for starters given that every version of their digital distribution system has been shite. Incredibly cool of Valve, you’d think they’d worry about it eroding income from Steam and splintering the market.

  6. John Walker says:

    To clarify, they’re not offering digital distribution. Merely the tools Steam offers for their games post-sale.

    Apologies if the story muddled this at first. Should be clarified now.

    Also, you’ll need just the one, Steam, installed.

  7. cliffski says:

    it is exciting, I’d love to sell my stuff through steam, but not sure how that ties in as the URL in the press release is dead :D

  8. John Walker says:

    Man, the damage control this press release is going to require! cliffski – you’ll have to sell the game yourself, but you’ll be able to have it activated via Steam, and then do all the post-release Steamy stuff.

  9. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Ah, that clarifies it a bit more, cheers John. My initial thought was that Valve were basically handing away the keys to Steam, which I thought sounded a trifle odd.

  10. Falcon says:

    I’m pretty sure this will be designed around steam, I can’t see them handing over the tools for everyone else to develop their own ‘steam-a-like’ system. Plus some of those features (encryption) they wouldn’t want to hand out willy-nilly so some enterprising pirate can reverse engineer it. I just hope they let mod developers in on some of this, I would love for my mods to atuo-update and have leaderboards, achivements etc. Achivements for insurgency would give me my elitist barstardism back!

  11. terry says:

    If it leads to more Introversions, then it can’t be a bad thing.

  12. Alexander says:

    Gosh, this is stupendously good news; this is having a publisher, a rating system, a payment system. Incredible. How many indie developers may possibly profit from this is crazy.. [edit] I also misinterpreted the post, they are not really opening their store as well. However, having the necessary steam distribution, still means it is far easier for indie developers to get a foot between the door, having already implemented the technical side.[/edit]

  13. Kast says:

    Right, so it’s a post-sale management and monitoring package. Still very interesting.

  14. Dingobloo says:

    Wow, that was unexpected, good on them. I think seeing the UT3 and Crysis sales numbers really made them aware of how much other developers need steam-powered copy-protection.

  15. Cueball says:

    A shame about the customers in countries that don’t have easy access to broadband for Steam validations and downloads. Since these are also the places where the majority of games sold for cash are pirated anyway, wouldn’t having a better distribution strategy than simply locking out 90% of legitimate customers be a more sensible way of growing revenue for publishers?

    And, just nitpicking, Steampowered insures you against customers playing outdated versions of your games by ‘ensuring’ all customers are playing the latest and greatest version of your games, surely?

  16. Seniath says:

    One thing’s for sure, Theory is going to love this.

  17. Jonathan says:

    You say valve won’t make any money but the chances are they will also sell the games through steam. Also larger developers may pay for adverts, such as Valve’s pick of the week.

    I’m not complaining, I’ve never had problems with Steam and automatic updates are always a good thing. My only complaint is that as a student I don’t always have internet access so I had to wait months to activate Bioshock for example.

  18. cjt says:

    Ugh, all the clunkiness of Steam’s net activation and forced patching without the benefit of Steam-the-online-store. Not to mention those bloody modder-unfriendly .gcf files.

    Once you take out the online shopping aspect, Steam is pretty much just a big pile of poorly written software and customer inconvenience. I’d hate to see this used on retail titles.

  19. Chris says:

    Yeah yeah yeah yeah just make with some new TF2 maps already.

  20. Andrew says:

    Hmm, it still gives Valve a lot more power like Gamespy has/had, over the uptime of game server lists and user control – making it mandatory to sign up a service they otherwise wouldn’t use, adding another level of privacy concerns (3rd parties and suchlike having the right or tools to lock you out of your own game brought from the 2nd party publisher, nevermind the pure privacy concerns of “stat tracking”, and presumably other data stuff you’re not really aware of).

    This won’t be a terribly good thing if the service quality is poor either – and since it is listed as free, I presume there will be no support contract to get any issues fixed?

    I don’t like the idea of being bounded between two companies blaming each other for downtime and neither doing anything to fix it – especially for older games, where support “runs out” and it’s abandoned (sometimes intentionally, like EA does).

    (I’d say the same things about Gamespy and MSN Gaming Zone, before anyone says I am biased against Valve)

    On the upside, Steam is usable now, unlike a few years ago, and is much more then Gamespy offered. I’m being cynical – I just don’t know if it is a true golden halo – the service isn’t quite there yet. The fact offline support is non existent (not even in a “phone up them” way) support is nearly non existent, and you can get banned “accidentally” from the service (there are false positives in any system like it) which removes all your games is something you’ve got to be at least aware of.

  21. Hypocee says:

    Territory control! Finally, we can have really effective territorial content and release restriction! It’s so great on consoles, I’ve been waiting and waiting for the PC platform to be carved up into staggered release territories. Thanks Valve!

  22. Nick says:

    The key difference I see is that Gamespy is godawful and has been for a long time.

    The Zone was quite fun though and wasn’t required for any MP games I had, but was compatible with them.

    (edit)

    Don’t they already stagger release dates on retail PC games anyway? Pretty sure they do.

  23. Okami says:

    Has Bioshock taught us nothing?

    “Altruism is the seed of all evil!”

  24. Elyscape says:

    Is it just me or does the Steamworks link yield a friendly 404?

  25. Andrew says:

    Region control was mainly used to stop people importing a Ukraine version (I think) of The Organge Box into any other country, since it sold it for around half price or less.

    And I’d not doubt it could be used to make sure us UK people pay an exorbitant amount more then anywhere else. Euro people too. We already pay around twice as much as Americans, sigh.

    Global capitalism at work…yeah, fun stuff. Region control in any form sucks.

  26. Lou says:

    Impressive. Always been a defender of Steam and like the general idea (no discs and installing games on several PCs is great), but I began hating it when Valve started self-censoring their games for people with a German IP (and no, it wouldn’t have been necessary, legally, in any case). That’s what worries me about the control.

  27. Andrew says:

    They really do that? That’s going a bit far even by German censor standards.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    The steamworks URL seems to be down at the mo.

    KG

  29. Lou says:

    They really do that? That’s going a bit far even by German censor standards.

    German standards aren’t half as bad as mostly uninformed foreign gaming news sites would make you think – it’s perfectly legal to play anything bar outright forbidden games (a very rare case) if you’re over 18 – which is somehting many publishers don’t get, or can’t be bothered to take into consideration. If Valve implemented an age verification system (like every online store here in Germany has), everything would be ok.

  30. malkav11 says:

    Considering that there were pirate versions of every major Steam-linked Source engine single-player release within a short time, I’m not convinced that this is actually a significant blow against piracy. (Multiplayer games like TF2 have been a different story, but strictly multiplayer games are already fairly pirate-resistant.)

  31. torncanvas says:

    I don’t know, I mean just look at what comes after “Steamworks offers:”

    That’s basically Steam right there, minus the “retail space” of a built-in browser, shopping cart, and a list of games. Replace that with a download from your own website, and that’s Steam, right? I mean what about this – other than the “retail” part of Steam – isn’t Steam? So yeah, my conclusion is that Valve just released the set of features that set them apart from any other web portal out there. And good for them. They just proved how important that piece of technology is. :)

  32. roBurky says:

    So this will be:
    Publisher sell their game in a shop, but not through Steam. Person buys game, installs it (with Steam), and it functions as if it was a Steam game, except updates and multiplayer game browsing etc come from the publisher’s servers rather than from Valve’s.

    Is that right? Or will people be making their own Steam-likes?

  33. TeamDairy says:

    The SteamWorks site is now up. It’s vague but it’s got me looking.

  34. Cargo Cult says:

    Considering that there were pirate versions of every major Steam-linked Source engine single-player release within a short time

    Pirate versions which just didn’t work properly, especially with mods – you try dealing with people having mod installation problems where there’s obviously something terribly peculiar about their game installation (you extracted all files from GCFs why, exactly?) and they’re rather coyly not admitting to pirating the original game…

    In a MINERVAy Googletrip around the interweb, I actually found a bunch of pirates trying to get MINERVA to work in a more open manner. Suddenly all the bizarre support requests I’d read previously made perfect sense!

    So, erm… Steam’s stuff definitely doesn’t completely prevent piracy, but it’ll stop the game being torrented long before it even reaches the shelves, and the myriad mandatory updates and patches afterwards will almost certainly leave the pirates with the bug-strewn wrecks that your fine developers originally shipped.

  35. Thomas says:

    Andrew, i totally agree that it sucks seeing a game going for half the price somewhere else, but consider the alternative, everyone would be paying the same price, and only we would have the money to pay for it.

    That really isn’t in the best interest of gamers or developers.

    malkav11 It says “Zero-Day Piracy Protection”, zero-day piracy protection is basically protecting the game atleast until the game has been released.

    “A few days after release” is actually quite a lot, many games are hacked/cracked before their release, and this technology makes piracy virtually impossible until atleast the release day.

    Even then it’ll not be out right away, you’ll still have to crack it, and you’ll have to test it and release it, that’s usually 2 days after release. Keep in mind that the majority of sales to be lost has been suggested to be on the launch day due to copies being leaked prior to the release.

  36. Lou says:

    Yes, I do think that’s a factor – not the least because piracy has a “coolness” factor for some people that’s partly based on being able to play games before they are released. Getting a cracked copy a week after people who have bought it isn’t half as attractive for some people. Whether these are the same people who’ll then buy the game is an entirely different question, however. ;)

  37. SwiftRanger says:

    Dunno, there are others means to prevent PC piracy than some ‘free’ online activation/encryption through Steam for all who wants to. Steam itself (nor Steam Community) isn’t exactly perfect either.

  38. Thomas says:

    SwiftRanger, definitely there is, but not many use it, infact the only developer i remember using it was Bioshock, but over the top DRM-control ruined it for them.

  39. The_B says:

    Well, so far my inital thoughts are that I prefer this to say, StarForce.

    I’m still slightly confuzzled as to what it actually means in practise mind.

  40. martin says:

    i really like steam, except the part about not really owning my games just licensing them. it is simple, i don’t need the dvd it autoupdates the games. but i do hate the region check. what is wrong about getting the game for cheap i.e. in the ukraine. this is my biggest fear for this new service, region codes for pc games.

    Publisher: “So you want to play a game that is not released in your territory, bad luck , can’t allow that”
    Customer: “Damn it, okay give me my money back for the import.”
    Publisher: “Our EULA does not include any refund for purchased games.”
    Customer: “But i can’t play the game, you blocked it.”
    Publisher: “We are really sorry, but i can’t be helped. But you have the option to move to the territory of your version or just buy a version that is allowed in your territory once it is released, if it ever is”.

  41. Kadayi says:

    I think it’s a cool move. If it helps developers eliminate zero day release pirating then I’m all for it. The way that guy from Infinity Ward talked about the state of play regarding the extent of gaming piracy a week or so ago, I couldn’t help but think ‘they definitely aren’t going to support the PC next time around’. If PC gaming dies a death because developers switch wholesale to Consoles then the whole mod scene dies with it…

    As regards regional releases. Sure Valve might not do it, but other developers and publishers often have different deals across the globe, so they do require that sort of stuff. The point is though, that it’s there, doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to use it.

  42. Lou says:

    “i really like steam, except the part about not really owning my games just licensing them”

    It’s actually the same if you buy a boxed copy of any game, you just own the data carrier – the software itself is always only licensed. You own just a few grams of plastic, not the content. But I do understand what you mean, just saying that legally it’s the same.

  43. Zarniwoop says:

    I guess this is all part of Valve’s masterplan to take over the world. Developers know that they can either use this free piece of software, or spend extra time (i.e. money) developing their own anti-piracy system, or suffer reduced sales figures. Really it’s only the big players who can afford to take options 2 and 3, so this means Valve’ll have (at least some level of) control over all of the hundreds of titles which get released every year by indie and small-time developers.

    On the other hand, this is probably no bad thing, at least in the short-to-mid term. Indie developers make a pittance as it is without people pirating their games.

  44. Hobbes2099 says:

    I’m going to try to sound all serious and know-it-all, but since I’ve never developed a game in my life, please read the post bearing the fact I talk about game-development and space-travel with the same first-hand experience.

    Here goes: the commercial model is pretty straight-forward: a) become the business-standard and b) make all the indie developers gravitate to the Valve network/enviornment (with all the new tools and hardware being able to run decent game-engines, we’re gonna start seeing better and sell-able games very soon);

    Also, from a dev. point of view; if you’ve already installed all the back-end server functions and the experience was painless and gratifying, you might as well sell the game through Valve’s Online Store.

    I’m sure Valve will be cool about this and not even mention exclusivity rights, first dibs, etc;

    Couple of comments to a couple of people;

    Piracy; when BioShock came out, the industry as a whole cheered and praised how it took almost a week for the PC version to be cracked. It appears the rules of the game are simple, each day after launch makes a difference in terms of sales and the reason is this:

    While a lot of people will pay for software based on principle, and a lot of people will pirate software no matter how much money they have in their pockets, the importance of the time it takes for software to be cracked is because there is still a rather large gray area of consumers that can me tempted to pirate suchsaid software if available, or will purchase if it’s not. Suddenly a week is a lot of time if you want Adobe CS3 or just ‘need to play’ BioShock.

    Buggy Valve; I’ve been using Steam for the last 3 years and while there’s a lot to improved, and the new Community function needs a major overhaul, Steam is the closest PC gamers have to XBL. And the effects of developing and mantaining a community in tearms of online games translates directly into $ sings.

    Lastly, I think the great tool devs are gonna get from this toolset is the exposure and ability to connect with Valve’s community of players (soon to be testers).

    All in all, a brilliant move on Valve’s behalf and not a minute too soon, indie game development is really just around the corner.

  45. Thomas says:

    Hobbes2099

    The week or so max it took to crack Bioshock is nothing decent, better protections have existed.

    Any other game based on a similar protection will also take less time to crack whereas the steam protection is virtually guaranteed.

  46. Andrew says:

    I realise some of the German laws Lou, and which is why I commented it was over the top. At least if things are under the counter and restricted to a age group, the same can be done online.

    The whole “licensing software” is not always 100% correct, since many countries treat it as a product, not a licence contract. ELUA’s in non-USA countries don’t strictly apply, at least not all the inane clauses, since they clash with local laws. I somehow doubt this will improve matters – like DRM, it skirts the law on “rights” the user might have with copy protection (in the UK these rights might be limited, but there are fair use laws in the USA and many other countries, such as the right to backup).

    The region restricting is bad too – case in point: Rock Band is USA only why?!

    And the region locking of prices is arbitrary and ill defined, since it applies only to game software. I can buy books on Amazon (America store) cheaper then I can here (even with import tax, shipping, etc.) but somehow software is meant to be different? I don’t really understand this – it seems capitalism can only apply to businesses, not customers – why can’t an igneous customer get it at the cheapest place with the advent of the internet and aeroplanes?

    It’s all a bit too business-y, and not exactly a fun thing to discuss. I don’t know truly if everyone did use steam that any kind of piracy would be outlawed, or that it’d boom the market, or anything, but these measures do generally only hamper people who want to buy the product in the first place.

  47. Lou says:

    The week or so max it took to crack Bioshock is nothing decent, better protections have existed.

    It seems to have helped though, here’s a quote from Gamasutra after the first week or so:

    “While the Xbox 360 version is the more popular of the two in the U.S., BioShock on PC nevertheless manages to make a strong overall sales impression that few PC titles manage to achieve. Interestingly, though, the PC port outsells both the regular and limited Xbox 360 editions in Europe, where BioShock’s PC version emerges as the week’s biggest-selling software title on any platform.”

    Now of course we don’t know how much of that is owed to the copy protection, but it’s probably not just a coincidence that one of the very few games that wasn’t available on the net for a week after its release sold so well.

  48. UncleLou says:

    “I realise some of the German laws Lou, and which is why I commented it was over the top. At least if things are under the counter and restricted to a age group, the same can be done online.”

    Yeah, sorry, I realised too late that my most might have sounded a bit patronising, it wasn’t meant like taht and I wasn’t referring to you with the “uninformed foreign sites” bit.

    “The whole “licensing software” is not always 100% correct, since many countries treat it as a product, not a licence contract. ELUA’s in non-USA countries don’t strictly apply, at least not all the inane clauses, since they clash with local laws”

    You are of course entirely right, but then again it’s the same for games you download – the EULAs are always dubious, and if they aren’t valid for boxed copies, they aren’t for games you download, either – which was part of my badly made point, that there isn’t really a legal difference between a boxed copy and a legal download. :)

    edit: that friendly smiley looks pretty sarcastic, let’s try a sarcastic one to balance things out :p

  49. Mike says:

    Wonderful.

  50. Thomas says:

    Lou, tbh i’d say that Bioshock was just overhyped i bought it, i even bought it before release, so it’s not like i caved in and gave up.

    But i genuinely believed it to be a good game, which unfortunately didn’t happen to be true, there were also a lot of people returning their games (or atleast claiming to be) because of the over-the-top bs DRM.

    Blaming piracy on declining PC sales are just wrong, infact we don’t even know if the pc sales are declining, perhaps in the retail sales, but Steam, D2D, Gametap and what not is not included in these charts, but yet they still sell a lot.