Valve has announced Steamcloud. That's the headline that should be at the top, I suppose. That will be the headline on all the gaming sites that respond to today's news. A new system for storing player data, from save games to keyboard configurations, on Steam is a brilliant idea. Your games are now available on any PC, and you can play exactly where you left off, without having to invert the mouse and disassemble your friend's lunatic configuration.
But what I think what's most exciting about this afternoon's mini-conference (about seven journalists are here) is the motivation for its existence. PC gaming is strong, and getting stronger, and Valve wanted to say so.
This is Gabe Newell and Valve directly responding to the series of negative articles appearing in the last couple of months about the supposed demise of the PC games market. Nonsense, they state. But they believe it's about being aware of the movement of the market. And of course the announcement of Steam Cloud.
Retail is not doomed, and as was explained, free weekends on Steam result in greater sales at retail than those bought over Steam. Just think about that. People played a game for free ON STEAM, and then went to the shops to buy it. If anything, retail must be magic considering that.
Valve firmly believe that game development needs to take place in direct communication with gamers. It's through the data Steam makes available, and that which is on offer to other developers through Steamworks, that Valve are able to steer development.
Steam is also still evolving. Key new developments, alongside Steam Cloud, are some incredible useful sounding ideas. First is driver auto-updating. Just imagine. The second is Steam being able to check your system to work out whether you're going to be able to play a particular game. It is noted how similar this is to the Games For Windows idea, but of course the huge difference is that this is a direct relationship between your PC and the game you're about to buy, not reduced to an ambiguous number. And there's the communities. The idea is to let non-Valve developers use Steam as a means to creating their online space for customers to communicate with each other.
Finally, I asked Gabe about his stated plans to have every game ever on Steam. And why some publishers are choosing not to release outside of the North American market. Gabe explains that they are pursuing publishers and developers, and encouraging them to make their back catalogues available. Valve believe that this will happen, and that as Steam becomes more familiar, and as people get used to what Gabe calls "this new world", they will begin to trust it more.
Jason Holtman added that many are nervous. They don't know why publisher choose not to release games internationally, but believe it might be due to being unsure of the New World. But he says that as some come in and discover that the world didn't end when they put their catalogue up, others will follow, and other territories will follow.
Does this mean people won't offer their games for free many years after release, if they can sell them via Valve's system? Not at all, says Gabe. What better way to release games for free than on Steam?