It looks like Valve just fired a shot in war to become the dominant support for online PC gaming. They are now giving away Steamworks, a suite of publishing and development tools that include copy protection, social networking services and server browsing, to developers and publisher worldwide.
Steamworks is the online back-end used in both Half-Life 2 and The Orange Box.
"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."
Now that most gamers are used to single services for online gaming in consoles, I suspect that's where we will be heading for PC gaming too. Currently there are almost a half-dozen or so back-ends including Live for Windows, Steam, GameSpy and others. Personally, I don't like GameSpy because it feels to intrusive to me, but I may be in the minority. If I had to pick a service today I'd go with Steam, but I probably don't play enough online PC games to really speak to the long-term support of the different services.
Here's what Steamworks will be giving away.
• 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.
Feel free to chime in on which service you think works the best.