Before we start the discussion, let’s recap on some basic topics, including a quick look at Steam and Minecraft and, also, the whole issue regarding these products and Windows 8. If you are familiar with the matter discussed in the overview, please skip to the next section, as it will contain more valuable insights that haven’t really been discussed much.
Valve’s flagship product, aside from its massively hit games, is Steam. Steam is a large software distribution service, with primary focus on PC games. Games on the Steam store are curated by Valve, ensuring that Games are safe and can meet the high quality standards.
Minecraft is a game that became a massive hit in an unprecedented way. It’s an open world sandbox game, with focus on survival and building things, basic or intangibly complex, with raw material. Minecraft allows multiplayer play and variety of servers sporting different open world. Minecraft’s creator goes by the handle Notch.
Neither Valve nor Notch approve of Windows 8’s closed ecosystem. Windows 8 provides the future-ready app platform, which aims to make computing easier for people, makes PCs more secure, and breaks away form negative issues that bogged Windows in the past. However, the new platform also limits a lot of freedom users enjoyed with the platform of old, including the ability to install apps from anywhere the user pleased. Apps running on the new platform can only be installed through the Windows Store. Apps need to be approved by Microsoft before it can be put in the Store. This ensures users won’t be installing malicious apps from the Store. Microsoft also takes a 20 to 30 percent cut of revenue from any app listed as a paid app in the Store.
What Valve should do with Steam and Windows 8
I speculate, reasonably so, that Valve is unhappy with Windows 8 for two primary reasons. One is the fact that Microsoft will be taking a percentage revenue cut from paid apps in the Store. Thus, it implies that if Valve is to place paid games on the Windows Store, Microsoft, for the first time, will be taking a bite out of the revenue for a software they had no hand in developing. The second reason for Valve to be upset is that for the first time, Microsoft is introducing its Xbox gaming platform to Windows. Microsoft’s Xbox becomes a competitor to Valve’s Steam, as it is a game distribution service preinstalled in all Windows 8 PCs.
It seems as though that Microsoft is not only competing with Valve but is also trying to take a piece from Valve’s income. However, this is not nearly as bad as it sounds because Valve can not only make an app on the Windows 8 platform that distributes its games but also choose not to give Microsoft a cut of its revenues. Bear with me as I suggest how this can be easily achieved with little or no issues.
The Xbox Method
Ironically, the Xbox app for Windows 8, a direct competitor to Steam, can serve as the perfect guideline on how to make Steam work nicely on the Windows 8 platform. It is crucial that you understand that the Xbox app for Windows 8 does not have elevated privileges; that app is constrained by the same limit imposed on every Windows Store app. Therefore, there is no reason Valve cannot create a working Steam app on the Windows 8 platform. In fact, the Xbox app can serve as a guideline on how to build a Steam app. Valve can see what the Xbox app does well and falls short on and create a Steam app that blows the Xbox app away.
But how does Valve get away from paying Microsoft 20 to 30 percent? That’s easy: make all its games free to acquire from the Windows Store. I know that sounds absurd, but keep reading; it’s not as crazy as it sounds. Here’s how this can work. Users would install the free Steam app from the Windows Store. The Steam app would work like the Xbox app and offer a store section from which users could purchase games and tie it to their Steam account. Because Microsoft allows third party venders to implement their own payment system, Valve can use its payment system and it won’t have to give Microsoft a penny for the games its users purchase. Once purchased, Steam would deep link in to the game’s listing page on the Windows Store; if the Game is already installed, it would just launch it. This deep linking and launching is already done today by the Xbox Games app.
All Steam games would be free to download from the Windows Store. Upon launch, the Steam game would check to see if the Steam app is installed on Windows 8. (If it is not, it would prompt the user to install the free Steam app and have the user log in to the Steam app with their Steam account.) The Steam app can verify that the user has indeed purchased the game and the game would be playable. The game could then remain unlocked on that PC so that it could be played offline, as long as Steam remains installed.
Steam games would integrate very well with the Steam app by integrating achievements, leaderboards, and stats, much like the Xbox games on Windows 8 does with the Xbox app today. There is no reason that Valve cannot create a better experience than Xbox on Windows 8. Valve should see Xbox as a challenge to be better on Windows 8 rather than running away with fear. For the first time, Steam has competition, and competition is good for consumers.
Notch, Minecraft, and Windows 8
Notch, the creator of Minecraft, is also upset that Microsoft will be taking revenue cuts from his game if he were to put it on the Windows Store. At first, it sounds outrageous, but the reality is actually a good opportunity for Minecraft. Here’s why: if Notch ports the Windows 7 version of Minecraft to the new Windows 8 platform, and it works exactly like the way Windows 7 does plus touch support, Microsoft won’t be taking any percentage cuts from the app sales.
Today, Minecraft is free to download. However, users will need to log in to the game with their account in order to play, and these accounts need to be purchased. If the Windows 8 version of Minecraft were to work the same way, then the game would be free to download from the store and would require a log-in from a purchased account. And since Microsoft allows third party payment system, Notch could continue to use its current payment methods on the Windows 8 version of the game. That way, Notch could keep 100% of its revenue. This method will also work perfectly on Windows RT, where Minecraft doesn’t exist.
It’s a shame that Notch is not taking this good opportunity and have his game be more discoverable.
The shift to Windows 8 is not nearly as bad as these folks are making it sound in terms of being able to compete with Xbox and the closed environment. Of course, people will continue to debate the ethicalness of the closed platform that Windows 8 is. But with that aside, with a bit of creative thinking, Steam and Minecraft can thrive on Windows 8.