Despite practically being PC gaming, Steam is by no means perfect—as we've discussed on numerous occasions. But is the whole enterprise busted, not so much a sinking ship as it is a ship that's sinking a lot of great games? Popular YouTuber NerdCubed thinks so, and that's why he's abandoning Steam altogether.
Daniel "NerdCubed" Hardcastle has critiqued Steam in the past, but now he's finally reached his breaking point. Despite being one of the biggest Steam curators—people who maintain lists of recommended games on Steam to help others sort through the madness—he decided to delete his Steam curation page and take his game highlighting services elsewhere. Why? A lot of reasons.
"It was entirely my choice to delete it after much discussion," he said in the above video. "I've been quite critical of Steam lately, and it felt weird that on one hand I was criticizing Steam and on the other hand I had this list of games on Steam. As such, my logo and videos were being plastered all over Steam. So on one hand I'm being critical, and on the other I'm getting a little bit of ad revenue just from Steam... It felt wrong to me."
He went on to say that he believes Steam isn't what it used to be. Back in the day, it was a walled garden surrounded by a moat full of genetically enhanced killer mermaids—a storefront that only featured (rare exceptions aside) the best of the best. Everything else was ruthlessly punched and shown the door. People knew they could go there for quality. However, with the advent of Steam Greenlight (which lets people submit games for possible sale on Steam if they get enough votes from users) and Steam Early Access, Hardcastle thinks the quality bar has gone from the ceiling to six feet under the floor.
"Having people vote [on Greenlight] means that if one semi-decent YouTuber of any kind of size goes, 'Hey look, I like this game'—even if it's a piece of shit or has a funny video with it—that thing's gonna get greenlit to the fucking moon," he opined. "It could be anything. I mean, I think with the current setup of Greenlight you're more likely to get on Steam if your game is a screaming, howling piece of donkey piss. A good-to-OK game has no chance. If a game is fantastically, endlessly brilliant or awful, it'll get on. Nothing in the middle will. That just doesn't work as a system. That's a broken system.
He had similarly harsh words for the current state of Early Access: "It's people saying, 'I'm gonna make the next Minecraft!' and then giving up after a week." And while many Early Access games do eventually reached completion, some recent high-profile slip-ups should be enough to give people pause.
Now, that's not to say Hardcastle thinks Early Access is entirely busted as a concept, but certain types of games, in his opinion, lend themselves extremely poorly to being played before they're done.
Something like Kerbal Space Program, with incremental additions to a solid core, can thrive on there, but barebones open-world games and incomplete competitive multiplayer games? "Just throw the money away," he exclaimed. "Throw the money into a pit of servers that never worked."
Using examples of infamous Steam failures like Air Control and Ride To Hell: Retribution, he further argued that it's in Steam's best interest to have as many games up for sale as possible since Valve takes a 30 percent cut of the profits. Developers used to benefit in spite of that because getting on Steam was like striking an endless vein of gold, oil, and chocolate, but now games get crowded off the front page due to sheer volume—if they even make it that far.
He also called Steam a monopoly, something that doesn't sit well with him. He said GOG's upcoming variation on Steam's theme, GOG Galaxy, can only mean good news for everyone (for the record, I'm inclined to agree). Further, he noted that Steam's lofty status as the PC game store has allowed it to languish. "You could carve the grand canyon out using only your tongue faster than you get a reply on Steam support," he said, clearly agitated.
Then he got to the heart of the matter. "Steam curators were Valve's attempt to fix this. 'If you want to clear this up, go ahead. You can do this job for us.' And well... I don't want to do your job for you!"
Hardcastle's plan now that he's left Steam? To create his own storefront by way of Humble and do his own curation there. He does not plan to take any sort of cut from it—no money whatsoever. In his eyes, that means everybody wins. Developers get more money, and he doesn't have any conflict of interest. He added: "Basically what I've done is gone, 'I'm gonna build my own Steam, with blackjack and Hooker Simulator 2015.'"
It's an interesting idea, for sure. If nothing else, it directs eyeballs away from Steam—to games that might fall outside its massive chomping bear trap—so that's good. I think Hardcastle exaggerated Steam's issues a little, both in terms of what it used to be and what it is now, but he did make some good points. Steam is, at least as a store, kind of a mess right now. Valve wants to create an open ecosystem in which game makers post whatever they want, and players/critics/whoever else curates that for friends and fans. Problem is, Steam is still in the process of transitioning from how it used to operate (walled garden) to Valve's pristine vision of a user-driven utopia.
The middle steps are always the hardest, and it seems like there's a new landmine—some new and unexpected problem or complication—every step of the way. Are we simply seeing a prolonged period of growing pains, or is Valve's idea of a fully open Steam storefront fundamentally misguided? I suppose only time will tell on that front. Even recently, Steam has given the spotlight to some incredible games and communities that might not have ever been discovered otherwise, but there's no doubting that it could be better. There's no consistency anymore. Steam isn't reliable for gamers or game-makers.
For his part, Hardcastle/NerdCubed is hoping for the best. Just, you know, from a distance.
"I just want to keep being critical of it," he said, "because maybe if we keep being critical, things will actually fucking change. Maybe."
Yesterday I attempted to reach out to Hardcastle with some follow-up questions, but he's yet to respond. If he gets in touch, I'll update this post with anything he has to add.