Recently, PC gaming juggernaut Valve announced it would not be putting advertising on its platform, the Steam Store. It’s one small step in a long list of things that Valve has done in an attempt to be more pro-consumer, so it’s worth examining a few examples and showing why this is good for everyone.
On its surface, Valve’s decision not to put ads on Steam is an interesting move. It would be easy to get away with a few, non-intrusive advertisements. Microsoft and Sony both do just that, putting ads on their Xbox and PlayStation stores, respectively. But Valve decided not to do it. The official reason, according to Valve spokesperson Erik Johnson, is that, “we don’t see a case for that ever getting user value.”
Of course, user value is rarely the end goal of commercials and advertisements in any format, be it on television, radio or in video games. One can safely bet that Valve got some juicy offers from companies that normally have tie-ins or advertise outright in game stores, whether digital or brick and mortar. Steam currently enjoys 125 million users and is growing at a rate some might consider surprising since Valve itself has not released a game in roughly three years.
But Valve’s stake in Steam has recently come from selling games rather than making them. Valve gets approximately 30 percent of every sale, but does not have to deal with the same problems that, say, GameStop has to deal with in terms of physical copies of games. Thus, Valve makes a tidy profit on every game that is sold through Steam.
Once you see that Valve’s big moneymaker relies on users buying stuff that developers besides Valve make, it becomes a little easier to understand why Valve would flat out reject advertising on Steam. Ads clutter the screen, distract from the products that Valve is trying to sell and could even encourage someone to get up from the computer and go try some of those Doritos that they saw an ad for.
In fact, Valve has made a conscious effort to try and encourage more people to buy games that they might otherwise be on the fence about. Valve has a good return policy that allows one to return a game as long as it has not been played for more than two hours or owned for more than two weeks, although EA of all people still has the best return system in their competitor to Steam, Origin. Valve has also implemented search features that more easily allow users to find games they are looking for, be it a specific title, developer or genre.
Another factor that may have influenced Valve’s decision not to roll out advertisements on Steam is that the company is planning to launch their entry into the console market this November with the Steam Box. I wrote an entire column last semester criticizing everything from the price of the device to the pointlessness of it, but Steam has clearly invested enough to think that people will buy it. Therefore, it is important for the company to be seen as a new and different option for consumers, compared to the ad-riddled Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo.
All of these steps are a far cry from when Valve basically forced users to agree to a restrictive terms and policies several years ago, which limited user’s rights to their games, in essence arguing that Valve only loaned games to users. That’s still on the books, but Valve is very aware of their image and is very interested in keeping it pristine.
On the whole, Valve is one of those companies that has managed to become a gigantic force in the industry without becoming evil, and this latest example just further supports Valve’s claim of being the good guy. Now, can Valve just release “Half Life 3” already?
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.