Thoughts about Steam’s announced plans for 2019.
Steam: Steamworks Development: 14 January 2019: “2018 Year in Review” announced some expected changes in 2019, including:
- Steam Library Update—A refresh of the Steam client akin to the refresh of the Steam Chat that occurred in 2018.
- New Events System—A way for games (and groups?) to announce non-release events to their followers.
- Steam Chat for Mobile—Apparently a separate app that includes the upgrades to Steam Chat on the client.
- Steam Trust—A provider-side reputation system that helps games moderate their players better.
Valve-time being a thing, we’ll see if these rollout this year (there were others, but these were the ones that interested me).
The Library refresh has been pending for several years and is long-expected and desired (though undoubtedly subject to backlash by a vocal minority). Games have changed a lot over the years, but the Steam Library view has stayed the same, so it will be interesting to see what this ends up looking like. It will also be interesting to see if there’s any visual-crossover between the refresh of the Library and Big Picture Mode.
At least some of the facilities mentioned in my recent post about instrumenting games for streaming could be useful for a future version of the Steam Library. For example, logging capabilities in games could easily populate the game-view in the library with details from your last game session.
Events system update
The events system is primarily an opportunity to let developers remind players about their game over time, in ways they largely already do on Twitter, but where many players may not see them. It’s not clear if the event system will apply to groups as well. Groups have been able to announce events for awhile, but if they’re granted the same abilities under the new system, it could be a shot in the arm for social-on-Steam, particularly when many gamers are far more reliant on Discord.
A full-featured event system could even let non-group events happen in the vein of “bowling night” among friends. If a group of friends likes to play together at a set time every week, Steam could enable that without them needing to create a full-on group. If game makers wanted to encourage that among players, they could also be empowered to do so.
Steam chat for mobile
The advent of a separate app for chat seems unwise (the language in the announcement is: “We’re going to ship a new Steam Chat mobile app…”). Hopefully they mean that they’ll ship a new version of the Steam app that includes chat upgrades. If not, oy. There’s a new contender to replace the old law that all applications expand to encompass e-mail: all providers expand to release a mobile chat application.
Steam Trust as a service
And Steam Trust will be welcome to the extent it helps reduce griefing and cheating in multiplayer games.
The Steam Client Beta for Linux added a force-Proton option on 17 January 2019, which is great news and shows that Valve is hitting the ground running this year. The option allows Linux gamers to choose to run the Windows version even when a Linux version exists, which may help in some circumstances:
- Bad ports—Not all Linux ports of games are up to snuff.
- Upstream bugs—Whether in the game’s engine or a video driver, sometimes bugs in other places break the native version, but not the Proton version.
- Missing features—Some ports are great, but for whatever reason miss a feature or two. Being able to use the native version for just those cases is a great option to have.
There are arguments about whether Proton diminishes the desire of developers to write Linux-native games or to invest in ports to Linux, but Valve’s strategy is two-fold:
- Get people playing on Linux, especially those who already love Linux but feel bound to Windows for a few games.
- Invest in Vulkan and other technologies that lower the cost of writing cross-platform games.
The latter is especially important, as games that aren’t written for Windows-specific APIs are much easier to port to Linux. It’s a longer-term strategy, but it should pay off both in better game performance generally and in portability.