Why Portal’s Publishers Don’t Fear Piracy, Competition

Why Portal’s Publishers Don’t Fear Piracy, Competition

Computer games have long lived online, but nowadays video game consoles are joining them, becoming a form of entertainment that can be not just enjoyed online, but increasingly, purchased online.

While computer publisher Valve is mostly about computer gaming, their Steam service has started to make in roads to console gaming as well. A bulk of what they currently do is provide an online service and store for computer gaming, but Gabe Newell, the head of the company knows that’s changing.

He’s also keeping a close eye on how other publishers are starting to create their own, competitive services. I sat down with Newell in Germany earlier this month to chat with him about the problems online gaming faces, including the fight to stop piracy, challenges to Steam and the future of gaming.

The first thing I wanted to know, though, was what he thought of publishers who require a gamer to remain online at all times to play their games. Or the slew of publishers who are starting to require people who buy their games used to purchase a second code to unlock the game’s online elements.

“We’re a broken record on this,” Newell told me. “This belief that you increase your monetisation by making your game worth less through aggressive digital rights management is totally backwards. It’s a service issue, not a technology issue. Piracy is just not an issue for us.”

And it’s not because Steam avoids regions of the world known for their software piracy, they actually embrace them.

“When we entered Russia everyone said, ‘You can’t make money in there. Everyone pirates,'” Newell said.

But when Valve looked into what was going on there they saw that the pirates were doing a better job of localising games then the publishers were.

“When people decide where to buy their games they look and they say, ‘Jesus, the pirates provide a better service for us,'” he said.

So Valve invested in getting the games they sold their localised in Russian. Now Russia is their largest European market outside of the UK and Germany.

“They best way to fight piracy is to create a service that people need,” he said. “I think (publishers with strict DRM) will sell less of their products and create more problems.

“Customers want to know everything is going to be there for them no matter what: Their saved games and configurations will be there. They don’t want any uncertainty.”

And it’s uncertainty among gamers that some of this more egregious digital rights management is creating.

Newell says he’s not really bothered by the idea of other publishers, even mammoth ones like Electronic Arts, starting to compete with them head-on by creating their own store.

“They look at Steam as it is today and say, ‘Aha, we can do something like that too.’,” he said. “What they are missing is that this is just the beginning. The rate at which stuff is changing is dramatic. Things we’ve done in Steam are going to seem very primitive simply a few years down the road.”

Steam, he said, can’t stand still for even half a year and in a way, that terrified Newell.

“We’re terrified by the future,” he said. “You need to be looking at what’s happening with Apple, Google Android and thinking that could impact the living room in a big way. You need to be looking at Onlive and how it is integrated with the television.

“Where we are today is trivial to where we will be down the line. We need to be focusing on where we are headed.”

Newell says he is excited not just for Valve and Steam but for game makers and game players.

“All of this is going to be awesome for game developers,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome for gamers. If it’s Steam that pulls this all together, great, if we don’t we’ll be the answer to a trivia question.”

Well Played is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.


  • Fuck onLive, call me old fashioned but I want to keep what I pay for, yanks can keep it. Another point, pirates are still providing a better service, people still have no idea what will happen to their game libraries should something ever happen to steamand this is where pirates are *still* providing a better service. I will buy all my console games and pay for my pc ones but for futureproofing I always snatch a release from the sceneres as well.

    • I figure the chances of Steam completely shitting itself, and I lose everything in my library forever are about the same/less chance of my house burning down, and I lose all my physical PS3 games. So not really fussed about having hard or soft copies.

      • yea!

        its like the chances of Sony being hacked and millions of credit card info stolen is about as likely as….oh wait

        • Considering I didn’t lose any games, or any money from the Sony hack, I think your comment’s a bit out of context.

      • I prefer it myself. Saves me having a butt load of game boxes, and I can delete steam games off my computer knowing it’s a relatively simple (if somewhat long! =P) process to reinstall them, rather than having to dig around for the box in an unholy pile of other games.

    • You are aware you can make backups of your games through Steam itself, so even if the store closes down and becomes offline only, you’ve still got all your games saved.

  • Awesome point – I wish that other developers looked more into this.

    100% of the time, If a game requires me to have a CD in the drive, I will download a crack. I really hate CD swapping on a PC, it seems pointless and backward. I’m glad pirates are able to step up to where publishers won’t.

    Also, I pirate copies of all the DS and Wii games I have bought for the same reason. I have the hard drive mod on my Wii, and of course, the R4 on my DS can store my entire library. It’s a better service and is more convenient.

    I would never dream of pirating a valve game, just because I have never had to!

  • DRM.

    It only hurts legitimate customers. I don’t approve of piracy, but I imagine it is a better service because users don’t have to deal with drm issues or pay double price (or worse).

    What I’m most curious about though, is what he means by where Steam will be going in the near future. What new services they’re adding to create additional value for Steam.

  • I will admit I pirated PORTAL. I was so blown away I didn’t just buy PORTAL, but the WHOLE ORANGE BOX.
    (Did I mention I view piracy as “trying before buying” anyway?)

  • Newell didn’t say anything people hadn’t already said before i.e. combatting piracy is about providing a service as easy to use, as intuitive and as nonintrusive as pirating but with the price point (this way the only people who’d still pirate are people who were never potential customers to begin with)…it’s just a shame that this point still needs to be said, what with the myriad of games still using always on DRM bs.

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