Tag Archives: Steam Review

Opinion – Fixing Steam

That’s a big pile of shit.

Steam has a problem.  The now dominant delivery method of computer games can’t seem differentiate good games from bad.  Once the light of hope for all computer gamers, now Steam is clogged with half finished “early access”, buggy trash, and crap left over from yesteryear.  Indie developers used to rely on getting to Steam’s front page for instant wealth, but now must compete with the dreck of the community.  How does Steam deal with the flood of terrible games?

Welp, it would help to learn from the past.

This isn’t the first time the video game community has dealt with this problem.  Back in 1983, the video game market crashed after customers stopped buying games.  The consoles of the day got greedy and decided to allow large numbers of low quality games as a way to take advantage of the video game “fad”.  As a result, the developers flooded the market with low quality products and the unsavvy game market couldn’t tell which games were worth buying and which games were shit.  After buying several bad games, customers pulled out of the market resulting in the devastation of most of the North American video game community and an effective reset of the market.  This phenomenon happened again with the Wii.  Nintendo produced an ultra-popular console that brought in tons of new players.  Studios produced terrible games to take advantage of the fad resulting in the unsophisticated players buying bad games and leaving the market.  Interestingly, it was the same console maker, Nintendo, that found a solution to this problem 20 years earlier.

After the 1983 crash, the North American market lay dormant until the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  The NES boasted better graphics, a brilliant game bundled in, and the Nintendo Seal of Approval which gave Nintendo’s guarantee that the game met a minimum standard.  Nintendo knew that Atari and its compatriots lost their market due to the flood of bad games.  As a result, Nintendo both limited the number of games a developer could make and played them to ensure they weren’t terrible.  By limiting the number of games, Nintendo incentivized publishers to focus on the quality of their games (as they only got five shots a year) over dumping as many games on to the market as possible.  By playing the games, Nintendo weeded out the shovelware and ensured that customer’s knew the game would work if it had the seal.  Finally, Nintendo published the Nintendo Power magazine to review games and provide strategies to both bolster its quality assurance efforts and help players get the most from their games.  The effort worked and laid the foundations for the games industry as it stands today.

In many ways, Valve, the creator of Steam, has it easier.  The decades old game market educated many gamers on how to recognize quality products and the healthy reviewing ecology ensures that reviews are available for those who want them.  Steam doesn’t need a “Steam Power” to educate its customers.  What it does need is a Steam Seal of Approval and a limitation on the number of games a publisher can make.  Unfortunately, the Seal requires something that Valve is very bad at: people.  Valve generally strives to automate its processes which is why all of its business initiatives (reviews, curators…Steam itself) have little human intervention and the bits that require people (its god awful customer service) are weak or lacking altogether.  To implement a quality review process, Valve would need to get a handle on hiring and managing people rather than just automating everything.  Understanding that isn’t likely to happen, limiting the number of games per publisher would help.  Many bad games come through shovelware publishers and limiting said publishers to a few games a year would force them to support better games or rely solely on the meager profit of a few terrible titles.  This system would still require additional people, but would only need a savvy few over the numbers a quality control system would take.

Whatever Valve decides to do, it needs to act fast.  The digital distribution market has grown in the past few years with major titles now available on a number of sites.  Steam still commands most of the market due to sheer size, but that need not continue.  If customers find it too difficult to discover the games they want, they can move to greener pastures.  Valve has time to fix this problem, but they don’t have forever.


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Review – Xenonauts – PC – Steam Review #1

It only counts as déjà vu if it’s different.

Video game development is largely an iterative process. Developers make small tweaks to the gameplay of their genre predecessors which moves the world forward one tiny step.  Sometimes, a game comes along that takes a giant leap forward into parts unknown.  It reinvents a genre or creates a whole new one.  These games are treasured for the new experiences they provide.  Xenonauts is not one of those games.

For those who haven’t played any of the X-COM clan, the game is a tactical turn based squad game about an international agency fighting an alien invasion. The game is divided into two major segments: the aforementioned tactical fights and a base simulator.  In the fights, you control a group of green recruits as they fight through a myriad of locations to hunt down alien forces.  Actions cost action points of which each soldier has a limited supply that refills at the beginning of each turn.  Using terrain, weapon variation, explosives, and planning, the player must overcome a reasonably capable enemy.  The alien force isn’t particularly smart, but they are durable and will overcome sloppy play or bad luck.

Once the battle finishes, you control a global organization bent on defeating the invaders. You start off with one base that can research technology, manufacture equipment, manage personnel, and launch aircraft to intercept incoming alien ships. You feel a constant tension between the previously mentioned needs and so you require prioritization to ensure that you have the technology and equipment to defeat the ever escalating threat.  Defeating your foe is not just a matter of personal pride, but of funding.  Each base can only cover so much territory and the areas of the world that you miss will reduce their funding as alien attacks go unanswered.  Each aspect of the game feeds into each other creating the clever balancing act that made the original game so compelling.

Make no mistake, this is X-COM: UFO Defense. From the base building to the tactical gun play, this is an almost carbon copy of the 1994 PC classic that spawned a streamlined Firaxis remake in 2012.  The setting, gameplay, technologies, and so much more are ripped (competently) from the X-COM series.  Xenonauts does make a few welcome tweaks, but they are exceedingly minor.  You can now assign loadouts to soldiers that automatically equips them with the right gear.  Basic equipment is free and light flares are in infinite supply for nighttime missions.  Sadly, Xenonauts carries over X-COM’s frustrating percentage based firing mechanic (did two of my soldiers miss a collective 4 point blank shots before they were killed?  Why yes.  Yes they did) and the graphics are often inferior to the pixels of the original.

In many ways, Xenonauts feels like a menu upgrade rather than a new game. It’s not a bad game, but it does feel like an unnecessary one.  Most of its target audience likely already owns the original and will find this version a bit more convenient.  What is sad about Xenonauts is that it could have been more without sacrificing its focus on retaining the old school X-COM charm.  By changing the story, the tech tree, adding new fighting mechanics, or doing something different to anything major, Xenonauts could have established itself as a worthy successor to its obvious inspiration.  As it stands, I’m not sure why I’d buy this with the original in my games list.

Steam Review: I wasn’t wild about Xenonauts, but it’s definitely the kind of game I enjoy.  Furthermore, it’s competently executed and well received.  This was a good choice and a sign that Steam’s recommendations are doing their job.

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