Steam has become increasingly messy over time. While the argument can be made that Valve is just being lazy, it is far more likely that they are suffering from a chronic lack of courage and focus. Can Lord GabeN still salvage this one?
Steam started out as a digital distribution platform and over time feature after feature was tacked onto the service. Today it is part social network, modder platform, indie publisher, music distributor, educational aid, streaming services provider and it has its own supported hardware operating across several platforms and operating systems. Steam has become too many different things for its own good. All of these features, the way they are now, feel half-hearted, unfinished and present a picture of a service bloated and malformed with age and straining under all the plates it's trying to keep in a constant state of spin.
At the core of it all Valve and Steam by extension are primarily one thing - a business. But what kind of business? Essentially, one with a lot of power over its user base but too keenly aware of the fragility of such a relationship. Because of the delicate nature of the traffic in that two way street it now seems to be afraid of its customers. Valve is trying to maintain the finest of balance acts - trying not to strangle its rather immature user base, while said user base keeps pissing and vomiting over their benevolent overlord whilst enjoying its embrace.
We're not trying to paint Valve and Steam as some sort of caring father figure. The motivations are clear: lots of money, jobs and the stability of an entire market are at stake. The same thing goes for EA, UbiSoft, Nintendo or Activision - but Valve has a radically different idea of how to handle business matters, one that is displaying more and more cracks over time and catering to its reputation and user appetites intensifies. Valve's free-form and liberal approach to things is very close to biting them in the posterior.
A couple of years back, the company tried to monetise mods while sharing the profits with the modders themselves. Abuse skyrocketed, the community started moaning and crying in the usual way, Valve tugged tail, shut down the whole thing and mumbled "some other day" to itself with the bit of dignity it had left. Steam Greenlight was launched, buried the Steam Store with garbage, abuse skyrocketed, bitching and moaning commenced. Valve tugged tail a short while ago, said "ok, sit tight while we go and do the same thing again but in a slightly different manner" and the results will most likely be exactly the same.
Recent statements by the company show that Apple kept Valve waiting for 6 months before allowing them onto their platform - Valve patiently waited, supine before the Big A, until they were finally allowed a release on iOS devices. It's high time that the largest digital distributor of games grew a pair and flexed some muscle.
Users abusing your modding platform? Show them where you keep the ban-hammer. Greenlight getting flooded with shovelware? Pay some people to aggressively filter and curate. It's not like you don't have the money to pay someone to do it. Having trouble dealing with the other big name companies out there? Share your grief with the media, there is always someone just waiting to bash away at your competition for their business practicers - instead of waiting for half a year like an obedient puppy curled up in a corner.
Valve's major problem at this point is that they want to trust their user base, but know that they can't and are afraid of the backlash and damage to their reputation if they come on to strong, or Patrick forbid start looking like Activision or EA. They are afraid of fumbling the ball if they start playing in the big league, so they make up their own little game every once in a while just to fail at it a short while later. News-flash dear Valve employees, you are already playing in the big league and you are starting too look very incompetent while doing it. Origin and uPlay are now on your turf and they were definitely taking notes while you were bumbling around. Blizzard recently had issues with cheating and exploits in their games. Their solution - ban everyone and everything who might be under the suspicion of partaking, despite it being the least responsible of solutions - everyone was ok with it.
PC gamers are masochists. The best way to show your maturity and relevance as a company nowadays is to dish out some pain. Everyone will love you for it and the benefits far outweigh the risks. The way most of your customers see you nowadays is as a benevolent dictator anyway - you are doing fine on the benevolent part but if you were running a third world country you would have been assassinated 10 times over by now.
At this point, no amount of VR, new features or lamentive statements will turn Steam into something less-broken. If you don't clean house and grown a pair, your customers will turn to uPlay, GoG.com, Origin or the Humble Store because now - they can. The times you were alone at the top are over. Do like you do with the number that should not be mentioned. Do your thing and don't let any amount of pressure interfere with what you have planned. Show some strength, determination and authority or find yourself buried under the rubble of your success in a few years at best.