There was once a golden age of PC gaming where you could open up Steam (or even just launch an executable yourself!), boot up a game and the next thing you would see would be the game itself. For many big (and small) releases those days are now long gone, replaced by an era of launchers that are, at best, a nuisance. Now, they’re even infecting indie projects like Kerbal Space Program.
If you want to play a Rockstar game on PC you need to install the company’s own launcher, which boots before you play the game you clicked to play, then makes you click another play button so you can finally play it. And that’s how it works when it’s working; when it’s not you simply can’t play any Rockstar games that you own, sorry!
Want to play a Total War game? You get a launcher. Paradox game? A launcher. Blizzard game? Battle.net. Fortnite? Epic Games Store. An EA game? Origin. Ubisoft? Hey, guess what, you gotta launch Ubisoft Connect, a launcher. Even Kalypso has a launcher.
Note that there are some bright spots here; Bethesda killed its own launcher off earlier this year and just let Steam handle everything, and some launchers have practical benefits like letting you manage your mods (Paradox) or jump straight into a save game (Creative Assembly).
While publishers have clear reasons to dump these things on us (from DRM to $$$), these launchers are wildly unpopular among players, in part because of the connectivity hassles (see Rockstar’s example above), but mostly because they’re just a pain in the ass, a speed bump on your way to the place you actually want to go.
Things have hit a new level of absurdity this week, though, with news that Kerbal Space Program—yes, the one with the little aliens building rockets—now has its own launcher for the Steam version of the game, announced as “a resource for news and updates about KSP & KSP 2 Early Access.”
Given the profile of the game, the fact it’s already launching through Steam and its reputation as a weird little indie sandbox, fan reaction has been understandably negative. Folks are venting on Steam, while on the game’s Reddit workarounds have already been found to disable the launcher entirely.
Publishers, please, we’re begging you. This sucks. As the best comment in that Steam discussion says, “GAMES ON STEAM DO NOT NEED A LAUNCHER. STEAM IS THE LAUNCHER.”