First off, I have to disappoint you all by reporting that I encountered no hacking, meanness, insults, or mayhem while in Steam, despite dire warnings from the blogosphere about what those Steamers are like. But my calendar tells me there are still a couple weeks before the September 5 Second Life/Steam nuptials. That’s when the real mayhem is expected to break out in our tidy little Second Life gated community, when 40 million gamers try to crash in all at once. I have a different take on this, siding with the comment on a blog I can’t remember (sorry!) who said something like: “I imagine the Steamers will take one look at Second Life, say LOL, and move on.” But still, I’ve got my Steamroller ready to roll to the scene of any mayhem that should arise. I promise prompt uploads to Youtube.
I’ve got my Steamroller ready
[Credits: Steamroller by Kimiko Dover; castle fortress by Serina Juran in Easthaven sim]
I begin my travels in the World of Steam
I began my travels in the World of Steam by logging into the Steam account I opened a month ago. Surprisingly, a popup appeared saying I hadn’t been around in awhile, so would I mind clicking the link in an e-mail they sent, just to make sure I was really me. This both annoyed and impressed me. Apparently, Steam manages to keep pretty close tabs on its 40 million gamers.
Get ready to be staggered
You can track Steam user stats yourself – in real time, no less – on the Steam site. Get ready to be staggered. You aren’t in Kansas anymore. These numbers aren’t the usual thousands we see in Second Life – these are millions. Millions. These kinds of numbers continue across the board in Steam. At the moment I logged in, there were 4,049,222 gamers online. I joined a group, which had 17,315 members, with 6,467 of them online at the time. I went to the Forums, where 386,567 were involved. I went to the Steam Workshop, which had 7,396 uploads of videos made with Source Filmmaker, a program that came out of beta a month ago. I popped over to Youtube to watch a user video posted from the Workshop a month ago, and it had just passed the 1-million-view mark, with 17,787 Likes.
I then grabbed the Steam program, which you can download for free on the Steam site. Download and install took a couple minutes. So far so good.
IMPORTANT NOTE: YOU must have the Steam program installed to join groups, participate in the Forums, or download any of the Steam videos. I’m not sure why. Apparently Steam likes to keep track of you and the other 4,049,222 users currently online.
Don’t worry, the Steam program is free. It’s also available on the Mac, for the past 2 years. And come September, on Linux too, according to an August 18 interview with Steam’s Gabe Newell onGameTrailersTV. In September, Steam plans to release the beta for its TV big screen interface, according to that same interview (at 17.47, if you’re interested; it’s a long interview). Steam certainly does have its distribution bases covered.
I join my first Steam group – that was easy
I then joined my first group. About 10 seconds and I was in: the newest member of the Source Filmmaker group. Then I popped over to Source Filmmaker itself, the fantastic on-the-fly movie studio Valve cooked up for users to make their own machinima using Team Fortress 2. I wrote about the great possibilities for Second Life machinima if Valve should ever make SFM compatible with SL. Check it out yourself: tutorials, wiki, show ‘n tell, and intro vid. And then check out what I think is the best Youtube channel of a Source Filmmaker user, Burningfajitas.
The real sad thing so far about SFM is it’s only available for Windows. If you’re a Mac fanatic like me, you have to run it on Windows using Bootcamp. And expect it to bring anything less than quad-core to a screeching halt.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Forums
After skipping around Steam, I had a few questions, so I registered for the Forums. A confusing point for the newbie, which took me a couple days to figure out, is that you must register separately for Steam and the Forums, and then link the two accounts (if you want). The Forums are one of the best parts of Steam – you can ask anything, and actually get answers pretty quick. So it was worth my two Support tickets to figure out the account setup. I’ll warn you: searching the forums is not for the faint of the heart, nor is making your way through the maze of threads. There’s tons here, and you could spend your life wandering around. Many do.
In the process of mucking around with the Forum, I wound up with two Steam accounts. I tried to delete one, but it turns out you can’t delete your account – only Steam can. So, I put in a third Support ticket. Haven’t heard yet. Steam is just as slow with Support as Second Life is. They’re made for each other.
You can help make a Steam game
Next, I hopped over to the Steam Workshop to take a look at the 177,286 mods that users have created for Portal 2, including this hilarious video about some skydivers losing a turret in the Arizona desert, or something. Things aren’t always clear over here at Steam. Also, did you catch the TV spot about Portal 2? Don’t miss it. It’s darling and horrible (I don’t think I’ve ever used those two words in one sentence before).
Anyway, the Steam Workshop is cool. Here you can find, rate, and download new content and modifications for your favorite Steam games. Yep. Count me in, guys. I just became the 116,683rd member of the Workshop group. And btw, if you think the Valve mentors in the Workshop are just 20-something meta-hulks, take a look at this list of articles, papers, and presentations published by Valve engineers and artists in publications and academic conferences around the world. You’ll find yourself reading about Valve’s cabal development process and the inner workings of rendering algorithms.
Being me, I asked about copyright
The stuff you build in the Workshop may actually get used in the games. As Steam explains: “Some games, like Team Fortress 2, allow you to create and submit new items (such as hats, weapons, badges, boots, and more) for consideration to be incorporated into the actual game. Other games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim allow mod authors to publish their work directly to the Workshop, and let players subscribe to mods they want to use in their game.”
Getting a “mod” used by Valve in a game is considered a great honor to Steamers. But being me, I asked about copyright. “Ummm, who owns the rights to these ‘mods’ once they’re uploaded to the Workshop?” I wanted to know. I was referred to the Legal Agreement that Steamers agree to when they submit an item to the Workshop. This is a very long document with lots of fine print.
The bottom line is that Valve owns the license to what you create: “You grant to Valve a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, assignable right and license to (a) use, copy, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, modify, and create derivative works from Your Contribution in any media …” You, however, retain the right “to use Your original work in the Contributions as You wish, even in the context of another game.”
And, ummm, what if I want to maybe distribute my next-big-thing to a third party? Nope, no dice. “You may not make any use of the Contribution that is inconsistent with the rights You have granted to Valve herein. For example, You may not license the Contribution to a third party on an exclusive basis.”
Hmmm. I’m not liking this very much. I can use what I make in a game, but not distribute it, whereas Steam can do put it in a game and distribute it to the world “perpetually and irrevocably” – two words I’m never fond of seeing in any legal agreements I sign. Valve’s got some good lawyers, that’s for sure.
You can make money in the Steam Workshop
But you can make money in the Steam Workshop. Once you submit your item, Steam makes the decision whether to use it, and if so whether to issue it for free or as a paid item. If it’s a paid item, you get 25 percent of what Steam recoups from it. OK, considering we’re talking about millions of users, that could add up. I asked a passing Steamer in one of the forums if you could actually make a living with this stuff, and he was kind enough to point me to this reply by NUTC24CK32.
After uploading your content you should then wait for players to vote for your content or items to be included in the game. Of course you can promote your items in any way that you like so that you can gather the right amount of attention.
To be able to get the right amount of attention of the Steam community, your work of art should gather a certain amount of votes from the players and fans of a particular game. If your entry acquired the enough votes and the community craves for it, the development team will then release your uploaded content as official parts of the game itself.
This is really cool because you can now consider yourself as part of the game development team. Aside from the popularity that you can get, you could also earn some money by getting a portion of the total sales made by your game items from the in-game store. Did you know that over 3.5 million dollars was already paid out to Team Fortress 2 contributors?
$3.5 million??? I don’t know how those bucks average out per contributor, but that number got my attention.
Greenlight Means Go
Steam is in the process of initiating the Greenlight program whereby developers can promote their own games on Steam, enlist community support, and some will get picked for distribution. The details of this are a bit murky, especially how money will change hands: “Pricing is very title specific, and we’ve got a lot of data and experience to help you decide on what the best price is for your title. We’ll work with you to figure out pricing.” Hmmm. And then this, in answer to a question about revenue split: “We don’t discuss our revenue split publicly. Once your game goes through Steam Greenlight, we’ll get to those details.” Valve sure does have some good lawyers. Oh, I already said that, didn’t I?
But still, the chance for indie game developers to get on a platform like Steam is awesome. Ditto for indie machinima producers.
Steam is a mixed kettle of fish
Overall, Steam is a mixed kettle of fish for me. I like the creative possibilities, the technology, and especially the user base numbers. But what Steam actually is remains a mystery in my mind. And that troubles me. It’s a very big something, and it has some of the best technology, products, and lawyers around. I guess it’s sort of how I feel about Google, or Facebook, or Apple. They make genius stuff, but I don’t trust ’em.
Steam explains itself on the site, but doesn’t give a lot away. I still have questions – like what exactly the Steam program does on your computer, how and what user activity is tracked on Steam, what exactly is the makeup of a Steam account, and … drum roll here … how will Second Life figure into the mix.
I don’t understand why you have to download the Steam program to use the forums, workshop, chats, and just about everything on Steam. But you do. And Steam is a big complicated program. I’m not sure just what it does on my computer and how much it talks to the Steam site. One thing I know it does is slow my computer way down whenever I run it. I’m not the only one to complain about this. The forums are full of discussions about it.
Steam seems to know quite a lot about me already – when I last logged in, what groups I belong to, what games I’ve downloaded, what forums I’ve visited. I don’t begrudge them this; I just wonder how they’re doing it. I like you, Steam; I’m just not sure I want it to be a constant “perpetual and irrevocable” thing between us.
Which brings me to another queasy point: you can’t delete your Steam account. At least not easily. You have to ask Steam to delete it for you, or let it remain inactive for a year and Steam will “prune” your account. Apparently, Steam will not delete an account if you have downloaded any games from Steam. I say apparently because deleting accounts is a very murky area in the forums. I have yet to get a straight answer about the subject. Suffice it to say, it ain’t easy. So don’t do anything in Steam you don’t want to last forever, including signing up for a Steam account.
How will Second Life fit in?
My big concern about Steam right now is: what exactly will the arrangement be for Second Life there? Will it be sold on Steam? If so, what incentive will be given for Steamers to pay for a program they can download for free on the SL site? Or (gulp) … are the days of a free Second Life possibly numbered?
Another concern: will we all suddenly have to download Steam to run Second Life? I surely hope not. And I can’t imagine why we would. But every other game on the Steam site requires a download of the Steam program – for reasons I don’t quite understand.
When Linden Lab announced last week that Second Life would soon be available on Steam, it also reassured us: “You’ll still be able to access Second Life just as you can today; there won’t be any change to that.”
We’re gonna hold you to it, Rodvik.