Pitchford on Valve/Steam Combo: Conflict of Interest

Maximum PC has an interview up today with Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, in which he discusses Borderlands (natch), DRM, digital delivery and Valve’s Steam platform.

While noting that he personally trusts Valve, Pitchford stated, “As a guy in this industry though, I don’t trust Valve.” What does he think of Valve’s dual role as a game developer and proprietor of Steam? “There’s so much conflict of interest there that it’s horrid.”

When asked if Valve should spin off Steam into a separate entity, Pitchford replied:

It would be much better if Steam was its own business. I love Valve games, and I do business with the company. But, I’m just saying, Steam isn’t the answer. Steam helps us as customers, but it’s also a money grab, and Valve is exploiting a lot of people in a way that’s not totally fair. Valve is taking a larger share than it should for the service its providing.

Pitchford on DRM:

…False negatives are a disaster for everyone. I’d much rather have a false positive, and allow thieves to play, than prevent a paying customer from playing my game. The industry has destroyed a lot of good will with DRM problems.

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  1. Pinworm says:

    This is about as ridiculous as saying Microsoft making the 360 is a conflict of interest since they make Halo games.

    uhhh.. what? 

  2. ZAR says:

    Let’s see how all those people who now defend Steam (and their likes) so heartily will complain in 5-10 years when all the money they spent on this service is gone and the games you bought some 20 years ago can still be played (be it emulated or not) while all the expensive content from today is worth zip, since there is no (legal) way to make it run without all the (then) bygone servers and license/protection stuff.

    And I doubt that those companies will release a no CD-patch in time when they go down the drain – or give a damn if they have a change of “attitude” (e.g. new management or proprietor) towards their old content and its updates and just pull it.


  3. Gaming Observer says:

    Most of these comments are pretty retarded.  When you’ve been in the game biz for almost 20 years, and have worked directly with Valve, than you can argue with the man.  Until then…

  4. MrKlorox says:

    Holy misconceptions, Batman! It will absolutely become a conflict of interest if Steam continues to be the definitive digital games delivery platform by eventually knocking out the competition.

  5. Vake Xeacons says:

    Not to mention so many Steam games are now on 360 (either store or XBL) and PS3. Thats other systems; dont get me started on every DLC service on PC. Valve only has a monopoly when they are the ONLY download service available. Many developers are skipping the publisher completely and releasing their games directly from their website (Telltale, anyone?).

  6. Vake Xeacons says:

    Valve can pick and choice which games to sell and what not? Just like MS with XBL and Nintendo with Wiiware? What a scandal!

    1rst party vs. 3rd party. Thats business, not a conflict of interest or a monopoly.

  7. Monte says:

    But steam doesn’t have a monopoly; there are other avenues for digital distribution such as gametap… if valve starts picking and choosing when it comes to steam or start being dicks, publishers can start giving Gametap all of their business…

    Furtharmore, there really isn’t anything stopping anyone from developing their own Digital distribution service…

  8. Unruly says:

    Actually, you’re thinking of Call of Duty 2, not Call of Duty 1, which came out in 2003 and was the game that I mentioned. Call of Duty 2 was going to be the modern warfare one, which Activision shot down, but by that point in time they had been shot down by EA in the past with CoD1 and were signed to Activision. Coincidentally, that same story proves another point I made in my earlier post – that all publishers can make you add/do stuff that you don’t want to.

  9. KayleL says:

    Actually about the EA comment. Call of Duty was originally meant to be a modern shooter, but Activision said no, too similar to other games they had. So they placed Call fo Duty in WWII.

    About Steam. I also love the system. It’s allowing more indie games on the PC. There are too many great games on PSN and XBLA that PC users don’t get, but that line is now blurring.

  10. Sporge says:

    Ohhh right like pretty much every game system.  Besides at least steam doesn’t eliminate other games on PC, and allows you to add nonsteam games to run through it (though not store it).  Of course they get to choose what games they sell in their store, like any store can, I sure don’t see other games for sell in the EA store other than EA games, but Steam is just a program to offer community, like xbox live, or PSN, that is alll it is.

  11. Unruly says:

    Honestly, his complaints can be said about any publisher in the video game world these days. Pretty much every publisher out there has their own major dev studio too. EA, Activision, Take Two, Stardock – they all develop their own games that they then publish themselves, while also publishinggames from other studios. Sure, Direct2Drive doesn’t develop their own games, but at the same time, their service is just a legitimate version of what crackers and warez sites have been doing for years – stripping the files off a cd, packing them in a self-extracting zip, and including a keygen/no-cd file.

    No matter what, publishers will always have developers by the balls. Unless the developer publishes it himself, any publisher out there can turn you away, force you to include something(their DRM scheme of choice), or try to exploit you for more money because they know they can push your sales better than you could yourself. Yet, instead of just saying that it applies to all publishers, he points out Steam alone.

    To use a similar example to yours about Half-Life and Sin – Do you think that if in 2002/3 Infinity Ward had gone to EA saying "Publish this new WWII game we’re working on called Call of Duty for us." that EA would have said yes? It would have been in direct competition with their Medal of Honor series, which was still going strong at that point and that they got to keep all the profits from, so I can almost guarantee that they would have said no. As a matter of fact, I’d bet that they did get asked to publish it and said no because when a dev studio is making an entirely new game they go fishing until they find a publisher that bites.

  12. DarkSaber says:

    Thats funny because I recall all the previews I saw (after the hype but before the reviews) concluding that it looked more like a tech demo than a Doom game.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  13. insanejedi says:

    For a person that seems like that your living in the year 2004 (hating EA and all), It seems like you had no idea of the pre-release hype of Doom 3 and Half Life 2. Along With Halo 2 (less so since it was Xbox) those three games were basically the "Oh god, who’s going to win?" all over the fourm boards. It looks really stupid now to think that Doom 3 was ever going to be as close as Half Life 2, but back then it was a pretty big deal.

  14. DarkSaber says:

    Getting money to sell your competition for them? Seems like a smart move to me.

    As for Doom 3 EVER being seen as any sort of competition to HL2, all I can say is HA.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  15. Beacon80 says:

    I don’t see why this is a problem.  It’s not like developers have to go through Steam.  Valve made a kickass system, but it’s their system.  Let’s take your example.  Why should Valve have to help sell a game that will hurt their own sales?

    Quite frankly, I think Steam is the best thing to happen since the entire DRM war began.  It’s the only solution I’ve seen that doesn’t treat me like a criminal.

  16. insanejedi says:

    That was after the fact and after Half Life it was pretty clear that Half Life was a the definitive winner. But back then Sin and Half life was like Sonic and Mario as well as Quake and Unreal. If Steam was expansive as back then, then I seriously doubt that Sin would have been on Steam. Even 2004, I think that Valve woulden’t have let Doom 3 go on Steam against Half Life 2 since they were so directly compared to each other. It’s only till after the fact of a definitive winner that putting stuff like Sin and Doom on their service isn’t seen as a threat to their own products.

  17. DarkSaber says:

    Would be this the same Sin whose latest episodic incarnation is available on Steam along with the original version?


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  18. ZippyDSMlee says:

    The market should be able to balance itself if its not on steam then it will be on D2D or stardock.

    He dose sound whiny and the reason is how many pubs have a vested intrest in thier devs more than a hand full….

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! Stop supporting big media and furthering the criminalization of consumers!! http://zippydsmlee.wordpress.com/

  19. Wormdundee says:

    This guy is pretty nonsensical. Why does he think that Valve/Steam has some moral obligation to distribute any game that anyone brings to them? They made a service that a lot of people like, but they’re not obligated to let you put your game on it, and you don’t have to pay any fees if you don’t want to (i.e. don’t put your game on Steam).

    I don’t know anyone who has a problem with Steam’s model, except for the extreme anti-DRM zealots, and it’s overall a really good system. If he doesn’t want to use Steam because of it’s fees or whatever, then use Impulse or D2D. Perhaps you could even let people download the game from your very own online site. What’s that? You don’t want to pay the massive bandwidth fees for thousands of people downloading a 10 gigabyte game? I guess that’s what the goddamn Steam fees are for aren’t they? 

  20. TheEggplant says:

    I’d almost agree with him if Valve hadn’t shown time and again that they are interested in building the Direct Download market and PC as a platform. Steamworks is free to all developers and you don’t even have to sell the game on Steam.

    I also find it odd that this is coming from someone who’s publisher is one of the worst violators of intrusive DRM on the consumer in recent history.

    ——————————————————————————————————————————— Hookers and Ice Cream aren’t free. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/5137-Stolen-Pixels-12-T

  21. Cerabret100 says:

    Oh dear god the weekend deals are the one joy i’ve recieved from finally being able to make online purchases when i first got my debit card last year.

  22. Sporge says:

    I agree with this, they provide their products at pretty decent prices especially if you get it on sale.  Steam is a grab at money, but then you could say every game made by the industry is a grab at money.  Steam still is a nice tool to chat with people through while in a game.

    Come to think of it is is basicallly ike xbox live, allowing a community option.

  23. Archgabe says:

    Any good company "prints its own money" in one way or another.  They just find a legal way to do it.  Digital points, fake money, stocks…

    That being said, valve has treated its costomers better than most other companies in the game biz.  Steam was one of the most brilliant ways to get games and upgrades to the public that everyone is either trying to join in or ripoff.  I think that there is no conflict here.  Valve made Steam to make it easier to sell and update THEIR games and found a market for letting other devs tag along for the ride.  It is a good business move.

    I have no problem with this.  Valve makes games and has a way to also be a distributer.  There is no conflict here and it is a system I support with my ever mighty dollar and until valve attacks gamers I will continue to support them.

  24. DarkSaber says:

    No no, I wasn’t knocking it at all, I like it too, but you can’t deny that Valve have been printing money since it launched, which was all I meant.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  25. thefremen says:

    What about the EA store? What about Impulse? D2D and GoG are the only ones I can think of who don’t have a conflict of interest like this. 

  26. Kevin says:

    I’m not seeing the conflict of interest here.  Valve is providing a service through which developers can release a product, thus Valve charges some amount for the developer to use it’s servers.  It’s in Valve’s best interest that a game released on Steam performs well, however that is also the developer’s position…

    Unfortunately, this sounds like Randy Pitchford is complaining about Steam’s fees in the same way that David Jaffe complains about used games sales.  Steam/GameStop takes more of my profits than I want them to, so they shouldn’t do that any more.

    It is in Valve’s best interest for it’s digital distribution platform to be the best platform possible because it uses said platform to sell the majority of it’s games.  As well, the sale of these games subsidizes the development of enhancements to Steam.  The fees Valve charges developers to sell games on Steam can then be funneled back into Steam to improve the platform for every company that uses it.

    A final thought: Steam is not like a GameStop, you don’t have to use it, and it’s not economically impossible to build an alternative.  On top of Steam, there is Impulse, D2D, EA Store, GFWL, Greenhouse, and more.  All of these platforms have a different company backing them, so if you don’t like the way Steam is run, you can always start your own company and build your own internationally successful platform.

  27. SbEguy says:

    Exploiting other companies for profit – Isn’t that the cornerstone of business in general? It’s not like anyone forced them to sign the contract.

    Conflict of interest – it’s their service, so why exactly shouldn’t they have the say on what games they want to offer? If you can’t put your game on steam, make your own damn download service. Besides, Valve is the #2 quality game developer, why would they care if you want to release your game at the same time with one of theirs, as theirs will crush yours in sales anyway? (#1 is Blizzard and they don’t make the same type of games nor do they make them available via steam)

  28. DarkSaber says:

    Gearbox didn’t formerly make expansions for their games before everything went to in-house development.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  29. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Steam can be better than it is and I have yet to put up with it on my computer. And valve is not much better than other devs…

    That aside any publisher that has most of its tentacles in a dev are going to be baised to that dev.

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! Stop supporting big media and furthering the criminalization of consumers!! http://zippydsmlee.wordpress.com/

  30. insanejedi says:

    Have some fracking respect for this guy, his opinions are valid and certainly more valid than yours. Steam is a conflict of interest because Valve also makes games. He’s concerned that Valve might handle the power of Steam irresponsibly and create a dangerous monopoly where consumers are locked into their purchase of that game through their own propitary software. Valve can on a whim pick and choose who goes onto Steam and who doesn’t, so if your game is in direct competition with Valve’s game (Like say this was 1998 and it was Sin vs Half Life) You think Valve is going to let you on Steam? 

  31. DarkSaber says:

    Translation: "BAAAAAAW Valve wont let us make Half-Life expansions no more!!"

    Of course Steams a freakin money-grab, it’s a money grab that EVERY software company, including this guys, is kicking themselves over for not thinking of it first. But does it hurt consumers? Does it hell.


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  32. killatia says:

    The ideal of Valve exploting lots of people with Steam seem to me more like whining since they didn’t come up with it themselves. Plus a lot of indie games found great succes on steam. like Audiosurf for example.



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