NEWS ROUNDUP: Greenlight replaced / Carmack implicated / Windows accused

Free markets, corporate lawsuits, and ransomware!

Steam Greenlight is finally being revised

This is huge news. For years Greenlight has been the world’s easiest way to publish your indie game to millions of potential customers, and now we’re getting something new. Valve has talked about replacing Greenlight for a long time, but they aren’t taking it in the direction I was expecting. They may be going the opposite route, actually. The main problem of Greenlight from my perspective (and many like me) was that there was a lack of curation from people with good taste. When Valve introduced the “Curator” system, I thought they were acknowledging the need for curation. However, I can only conclude that the awful flood of trash that has inundated the Steam Store and turned it into a mockery was secretly all part of an experiment to find out how ordinary people (not loudly opinionated hardcore gamers) would change their buying habits in the face of this deluge. It seems they were pleased with the results!

Contrary to popular belief, people bought more, played more, and felt happier with their purchases since the Greenlight project began lowering the bar. Cheap games, poor quality control, and an eyesore when you visit the storefront are all another way of saying “more choice” and “free market” from an economic perspective. Now with the upcoming addition of Steam Direct, there won’t be any curation method at all. If you’re a laissez faire capitalist who believes the market should correct itself and it should be the citizen-customer’s obligation to sort out good from bad, then this is great news. It’s also why Valve introduced so many new tools for curating your own personal storefront.

To solve these problems a lot of work was done behind the scenes, where we overhauled the developer publishing tools in Steamworks to help developers get closer to their customers. Other work has been much more visible, such as the Discovery Updates and the introduction of features like user reviews, discovery queues, user tags, streamlined refunds, and Steam Curators.

Much like the success story of Amazon, Valve has prospered by becoming being data-driven, non-judgmental service obsessed with catering to the widest possible market as opposed to a perception-driven company worried about its brand power. It knows it will always have the support of big publishers and content creators. That’s not enough. They want to vacuum up every last scrap of market-share they can find. The data supports this approach…

One of the clearest metrics is that the average time customers spend playing games on Steam has steadily increased since the first Discovery Update. Over the same time period, the average number of titles purchased on Steam by individual customers has doubled. Both of these data points suggest that we’re achieving our goal of helping users find more games that they enjoy playing.

You can’t argue with those statistics. However, the new method won’t be free from hurdles. Prospective developers will have to verify who they are, then pay an upfront application fee before they can submit their game. This fee will go directly into Valve’s pocket, meaning they can make a fortune off of pitiful meme games that don’t even sell a single copy, theoretically. As you can see, they may charge up to $5,000 per application in order to deter too much sewage from clogging up the system:

Oh, and apparently the new client interface has been leaked. It looks like it will emphasize manual sorting and filtering methods even more. This will be an important change if Steam Direct leads to the explosion of game releases we might be expecting this Spring.


John Carmack may work for scum, but is he a thief?

If you still remember John Carmack as the father of the original Doom and the Allfather of game tech optimization, you’re an old fogey. He’s been in the Virtual Reality business for a few years now, and is totally invested in making it work. He worked for ZeniMax (parent company of Bethesda) as a contractor for a while, and the story is that he stole data on his way out the door. That code allegedly ended up in the hands of Level 9000 Troll and infamous Trump-supporter Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift company, which was purchased for a whopping $2 billion by Mark “People Who Trust Me Are Dumb F*cks” Zuckerberg.

It’s a pretty awesome story. Young billionaire scammers hire an old genius engineer to steal secret technology from a major corporation and then rush it to market for the ultimate next-level scam. What’s not to love? According to the allegations, Carmack even Googled how to format hard drives when he was trying to erase evidence — after finding out about the lawsuit. Exposed as a tech-illiterate fraud and caught destroying evidence? When $4 billion is on the line and your reputation is at stake, anything is possible. The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax against Oculus Rift has been going on for a while, but the latest news is that the jury awarded ZeniMax a measly $500 million for the infringement of copyrights, proving that there was wrongdoing — right? However, the nature of the case makes a decision difficult. How can the average jury of Luddites understand all the jibberish involved with patented source code? The ruling spurred Carmack to defend himself (on Facebook, of course) insisting that the scientific and technical details were all mystified and spun around by the expert involved in the case. He makes a very persuasive argument, but ultimately we can’t trust what he says without comparing both sets of secret code for ourselves and being experts enough to make a judgment. That’s why I found the rebuttal by ZeniMax to be so enjoyable:

“In addition to expert testimony finding both literal and non-literal copying, Oculus programmers themselves admitted using Zenimax’s copyrighted code (one saying he cut and pasted it into the Oculus SDK), and [Oculus VR co-founder] Brendan Iribe, in writing, requested a license for the ‘source code shared by Carmack’ they needed for the Oculus Rift. Not surprisingly, the jury found Zenimax code copyrights were infringed. The Oculus Rift was built on a foundation of Zenimax technology.”

“As for the denial of wiping, the Court’s independent expert found 92 percent of Carmack’s hard drive was wiped—all data was permanently destroyed, right after Carmack got notice of the lawsuit, and that his affidavit denying the wiping was false. Those are the hard facts.”

My personal hope is that it’s all true. But I may be biased. I wish ZeniMax was awarded all $4 billion and that Facebook somehow got shut down in the process. Then again, I’ve always thought Carmack was a cool guy… until he hooked up with the wrong crowd.


Tim Sweeney warns of Windows 10 becoming “ransomware”

Another old icon in the gaming world, Tim Sweeney, has fired shots at Windows 10 yet again. There’s not much to say here, since it’s basically an armchair Twitter reaction from somebody whose “source” is another Twitter user linking to an article that doesn’t say much about how the Operating System will function in detail, but the concept is interesting and important to keep in mind. Anybody with a lick of common sense should be distrustful of Windows 10, since it’s already been caught doing pretty much every dirty trick in the book in terms of tricking users. The fact that it was given away for free by Microsoft, who aren’t exactly known for being a charity, should raise red flags itself. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, as the saying goes.

Keep in mind that in the past, Gabe Newell and the folks at Valve rapidly pushed SteamOS (a Linux-based platform) out to users and developers as a way to openly hedge against the possibility that Microsoft would screw with the openness of the system down the road. Those may have been very real concerns, and the warning bells set off by the leaders of PC gaming may have been the only thing stopping them from following through so far. Here’s what he said about Windows 8 back when it was moving towards a closed system:

“We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy. I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”

The thriving PC gaming market (with Steam as the leader) is a fundamental appeal of Windows that most people take for granted. People like Tim Sweeney and Gabe Newell do not take it for granted, so they are very wary of any tricks Microsoft may have up their sleeve. Personally I wish that SteamOS and Linux would become the premiere systems adopted by the gaming world since it would be preferable to buying Windows theoretically, but for now we’ll just hope that Microsoft is kept in check.

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