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I guess I’ll weigh in.
Ah, Steam. There are things to both like and hate about it. What makes me like it is that it gives a small publisher like Valve the ability to go right over the head of the nefarious Vivendi and bring their games straight to the end user. No box, no media, no middleman, no problem. I have a strong feeling that this is the future of how not just games, but all media, will be distributed. Using delivery methods like this makes it possible to break the monotonous grip that EA, Vivendi, the RIAA, and the MPAA has on their respective industries.
There are a couple of caveats, however. Let’s talk about Steam, first. Steam activation works by registering an account and then inputting the serial numbers of products you have purchased. The two options for purchasing Half Life 2 was either getting it directly through Steam, or buying the CDs retail and installing them. Both items need the serials put into Steam to unlock them. If you bought through Steam, the software would be downloaded to your hard disk. But what got me is that even though I bought the CDs, not only did the game require me to have CD1 in my drive AND Steam in order to play, but after the initial installation it also spent about 30 mins downloaded 250MB of god-knows-what from Steam even though I had done a full install off of the discs!
Needless to say I found this quite annoying, and it leads into the first caveat. Steam basically wrests control that historically belonged to the end user and gives it to the publisher. Shortly after Half-Life 2 was released, many people bought it for the $50 or so they were asking. There was a group of Steam users, numbering about 20,000 IIRC, who purchased HL2 legitimately but attempted to input serial keys they found on the Internet to gain access to products that didn’t belong to them. Valve went through their system and deleted all of their accounts one day. You know what Valve told them? “Guess what, guys, you have to buy the game again”. I’m sure even those with legitimate appeals were lost in the noise from that action. All of this got me thinking about a hypothetical scenario: Let’s say you buy $150 worth of software from Valve, and your little brother puts in a stolen key and the result is that your account gets nuked. What happens is ALL OF YOUR PURCHASES ARE INVALIDATED. And then Valve tell you to buy the game again, even though they have your money from your previous purchases? Now, I hate having to lug around my original discs with me, so I will install a nocd crack on the game so my system doesn’t bother me asking for for the disc. Needless to say, I did not dare try to put a nocd crack on HL2 for fear that the same thing would happen to me, and that’s total BS.
And what about 10 years from now when I want to give Half Life 2 another spin? Hey I still play KQ1 through now and again and that game is more than 20 years old. Somehow I doubt it will be very easy to get HL2 working again after the same amount of time has passed.
There is of course the argument that the software companies are forced into this position because of widespread piracy. Maybe so, but I heard that Half-Life 2 made it into piracy circles within 2 weeks. So, DRM fails again, and the users are treated like criminals while the pirates play without restriction.
Now for the second caveat, and that’s the price point. What sucked is that I paid less for my copy of HL2 ($42 on price match from Best Buy) than anyone who bought the game through Steam. Now come on, you get no media, Valve doesn’t have to pay a distributor their cut, and they’re still charging full pop? For online distribution to be successful, content creators have to be more fair with pricing. Fair pricing is what will limit piracy, NOT DRM. I wish everyone would get that through their heads.
One last point, which relates to some of the contents of the posts in this thread. Half Life 2 is not a Sierra release. Valve is the game creator. Sierra (which is owned by Vivendi and has since been disolved) is merely the label HL2 was distributed under.