Stardock's Wardell: 'Age of Steam' May Not Last

By Nick Breckon, Mar 10, 2009 7:00pm PDT Stardock CEO Brad Wardell recently took exception to a recent Edge editorial proclaiming the "Age of Steam," writing a stiff defense of competition in the digital distribution market.

Wardell's company maintains Impulse, a service similar to Valve's Steam that launched in 2008. And while Steam has taken a lead in the digital PC gaming marketplace, Wardell argues that it's still too early to name a clear winner.

"I must confess that I am surprised to see Edge, or anyone else for that matter, imply that Steam's early lead in digital distribution translates to permanent dominance," said Wardell, who quickly made the case that Valve's 20 million accounts and half-million daily visitors can partly be attributed to "shrewd business practices," such as acquiring Counter-Strike and its user base.

"As new titles come out bundled with Steamworks, which requires a user to become a Steam user in order to play the game (something I would normally think that the press would raise alarm about if this were being done by say EA or Microsoft or even Google), the Steam user base has continued to increase," he added.

Wardell concluded by pointing out Steam's lack of true competition, and predicted that its market share would drop in the coming years.

"Steam does a lot of things right," said Wardell. "But there's certainly room for improvement which viable competition encourages. After all, MySpace once looked unbeatable in the social networking world but such premature assumptions look quaint in 'the age of Facebook'."

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50 Threads | 298 Comments

  • It isn't journalism when the competitor says that the competition will crumble.
    It is an editorial advertisement like that stuff Mark Rein puts in every issue of game developer.
    Even though they point it out, and of course it isn't hidden or anything, the whole point of this is to bring Impulse into the discussion where it wasn't previously. Like his list of competitors to Steam, the first item, of course, is Impulse.
    There isn't anything wrong with Stardock doing this, if I were running a competitor to Steam I would do the same, it is just kind of silly to make the front page of any site.

    I guess this is the new kind of passive-aggressive mudslinging respectable companies do these days.
    I'm not sure which is more preferable, I kind of enjoyed it when they would just be like "this thing is a piece of crap" in their .plan files. Now it is just straw-man arguments on the topic at hand which include your product as a matter of course.

    (Disclaimer: I enjoy Sins of a Solar Empire and other Stardock products, have you tried fences? it is nifty)

  • Not having read the EDGE article until after Wardell's blog, I was surprised to find that the EDGE article points out all of Wardell's criticisms. I think its a pretty fair and balanced view of the space. For me, Wardell comes across as simply wanting to be included in the digital distribution conversation more than necessarily contributing anything new to the "debate" (and to be fair he may have succeeded as I now am somewhat more aware of Stardock's efforts). Still Valve has succeeded where others have failed, in some cases spectacularly so (i.e. Microsoft). Time will tell, but anything that "replaces" Steam will have to be more than just a distribution system.

  • LOL hahahahahahaa LOL Excellent self-promotion Brad. Thanks for the huge chortle. The only reason I know Impulse exists is that at one point (iirc) they were selling ArmA via digi-DL before ArmA became available on Steam. Had I not already purchased a boxed version of ArmA I would have waited for it to come to Steam because I had heard nothing but problems for Impulse users regarding patches. Not to say Steam is perfect, far from it, how many years did it take Steam to make a friends list work? Valve has earned its dominance by offering a clearly superior service. Good luck Brad. I still don't know why I should even look for your site next time I want a game. In fact, I do not think I have ever heard a single person on the shack endorse your service. Way to go man! You just wasted your 15 minutes of fame bashing Valve. Maybe you could have enlightened me to some feature of Impulse that improves on my ability to join my friends playing a wide variety of games, effortlessly.

  • Here is Wardell's problem:

    Developers and Publishers WANT DRM.

    Thing is, Valve is doing what developers/publishers want them to do. And because they are doing it well without it becoming a massive burden on the end user, they are successful. Heck, they are even getting companies who were exclusively using SecuROM to DROP IT AND USE STEAM DRM. That is a HUGE plus in my book.

    So, would you rather buy a game from Impulse that wasn't locked to your Impulse account but had our friend SecuROM with limited installs/activations along for the ride? Or Steam where you can install the games willy nilly as long as you have an account, a computer, and an internet connection?

    Seems like a no-brainer to me :)

  • Look, I like Steam because it has weekly sales on stuff I actually want to buy. The Christmas sale? Instant fan. Since a lot of my friends like to play games available on Steam, once they have it installed it is easier to keep tabs on what they are playing.

    That said, I also have Impulse installed - you need it to get Galactic Civilizations 2 playing, or at least I wasn't able to figure out how not to do it. I like Stardock a lot, but the reason Steam is succesful right now is they have the games people want to play, and sales on things people missed from a few years ago but still might be interestesd. The only thing they're selling on Impulse I want is GalCiv - a proprietary game.

    I love the argument against DRM, and I can see how it could be a problem for people one Steam, but I don't care, because I know Steam is going to have a sale eventually and reduce the price to where I'm willing the buy the game. I always feel like these people complaining about DRM are doing so because they're going to steal the game - not because they are going to sell it. There are no other entertainment purchases people make where they factor in resale of the thing in its original price. In a house, or a boat, sure - but a movie? Why are games different like that? Still, I think these Steam sales prove that games are generally overpriced, so that is fun.

    And I hope you like text.