Steam, GOG and the Apocalypse

KITATUS in Kitatus
Jul 15, 2016 · 6 min read

I touched on this topic lightly on a previous Kitatus Talks, but I feel it’s time to dive down the rabbit hole. As you all know, Steam is currently the leader, the monopoly, if you will, in regards to PC gaming today. Many people purchase their games via Steam and use Steam to talk to friends, trade cards and to create rip-off CS:GO skin gambling sites.

For whatever purpose people use Steam for, it’s safe to assume that people have a number of games in their Steam library. Some people have a couple, and some people have hundreds. Needless to say, people have invested a lot of money into growing their Steam libraries. But was, is this a disaster waiting to happen? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today — Steam, GOG and the Apocalypse.

A lot of people are confused on what they purchase when they purchase a game on Steam. In order to “purchase a game” on Steam, you must first accept the Steam Subscriber Agreement. Many people don’t take the time to read through these terms of service, which is not a problem, terms and conditions are usually written with as much legal lingo as possible to confuse people to demotivate them into reading them.

This is why sites like Terms of Service; Didn’t Read exist. They break down the terms of service you’re agreeing into easy to digest chunks so you can get the general gist of what you’re agreeing to. The reason I’m calling attention to this is that I wanted to bring notice to a few rules people agree to that need to be made apparent for this argument.

One of the points in the Subscriber Agreement that sticks out first is “Valve can cancel your account at any time” — This is exactly what is sounds like. Valve have actually invoked this clause in a few cases, so it is not an invalid point to raise. In Section 10:C of the Subscriber Agreement, Valve reserve the right to cancel your account and/or subscriptions tied to your Steam account at anytime for any reason. When they do this, they state that you will not receive any refunds for anything you’ve purchased on Steam, and you will not be able to access your purchases. This includes games purchased at Retail or off Steam and activated via the Steam client.

So losing possibly thousands of owned games at the touch of a button whenever Valve feels like. Not a great start is it?

Moving on another eye-opening part of the Steam Subscriber agreement is the “Defend and Indemnify Valve” clause of the agreement. This is a term you most likely agreed to that survives even if Steam were to shut up shop or if you were to manually close your account. This basically means that if you agreed to defend, compensate and hold Valve harmless from being sued or for any mistakes they make.

This technically reads that if someone sues Valve, you agreed to pay their attorney fees for them. Great going, you must be a very charitable person. And no, the wording of this clause doesn’t clearly state that this is a case of “If you sue, you pay”. It is worded in such a way that if ANYONE sues Valve, you must pay Valve’s fees, and you must defend them. Starting to feel silly to skim over the Subscriber Agreement, yet?

Now I have to admit the points I’ve raised are cherry-picked from the Subscriber Agreement. Taken at face value, the argument I’m presented can appear as fear mongering — which isn’t the intended case. I am just trying to shine a light on something a lot of people skim over.

The most important part of Steam that a whole number of people miss is the fact that you do not purchase games on Steam. You do not physically own these games; they are not yours. Instead, what you purchase is a license that entitles you to play the game.

Yes, you have legal access to the game, but you do not own the game itself. What if Steam goes down? Boom, you’re screwed. Before you, rage “That isn’t fair!”, you agreed to it in the Subscriber Agreement.

But is it possible for Steam to end? Of course, it is. With the rise of other digital storefronts and key resellers coupled with the Steam hate wagon gaining momentum, it is entirely possible that Steam won’t be around forever. When that day eventually comes, if it does, that does technically mean you paid all those thousands of insert currency here for a limited-time experience. Something a lot of people don’t realise when they “purchase games” on Steam.

So what can be done about it? Well, let’s look at GOG. As you could tell from the title of this Kitatus Talks, we were going to talk about it eventually. Before I do, however, I think it’s important to note that I’m not saying GOG is better than Steam — They are both digital storefronts and you can use either, I won’t judge.

What I will give GOG props for out of the gate is that they offer the “Too long, didn’t read” version of their User Agreement right there alongside the legal version. Which is a nice, transparent way of saying “Here is the service, this is what you’re agreeing to”.

Their terms of service is the casual affair, you have to be over 18 to use the site, user generated content is owned by you so don’t breach copyright and trademark laws, all the usual legal defences. Yet they have one little piece hidden there, a paragraph that trumps Steam on all fronts.

“In the very unlikely situation that we have to stop running, we’ll do our best to give you advance notice, so that you can download and safely store all your DRM­-free content.”

So unlike Steam, if GOG is going to close down, they will warn you and give you time to download the games. As they are DRM free, they will still work after GOG is long gone.

Now, this shouldn’t be confused. You are still only purchasing licenses for these games, heck when you buy a game on disc, you’re still only purchasing a license, but this method allows you to keep playing your purchased titles, even when GOG is down.

After this, the User Agreement continues as per normal; there are some funny things in there, such as if an Act of God, Godzilla or an Alien attack were to happen, then your nor GOG would be liable to each other for any obligations. This means that if Godzilla strikes and you can’t fulfill a pre-order you made, GOG won’t hunt you down with lawyers and vice-versa.

Some of you might be asking “So why doesn’t Steam do this?” — Sadly, Steam wouldn’t be able to do this even if they wanted to and if they could, it would be in an extremely limited capacity. By design, Steam is a DRM, a way to ensure a player is legitimately playing a legitimate version of a game. Even though Steam and GOG share their similarities, GOG is not a DRM; it is simply a digital storefront to purchase games, which then you can download from their servers.

Steam is used by large companies due to the fact that it was designed to ensure players are genuinely purchasing the titles they play and will constantly check that they are the legitimate owner of the license through the use of the Steam API. Turning this feature off would be a breach of the multitude of contracts they share with every developer and publisher on the Steam platform and many developers and/or publishers would probably not like this change.

As GOG went in head first with their “This isn’t a DRM platform, it’s simply a place where games can be purchased and downloaded from our servers” — Developers and publishers know exactly what they’ve agreed to and the possible risks, so they don’t have to get flustered at GOG for majorly changing their contracts so late into the platform’s lifecycle.

In the future, I’d love to talk about the effect GOG has had on the games industry but for now — What do you think? Who has the better policy? Steam or GOG? Which one did you trust with your money and which one will trust with your money moving on into the future?


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A collection of game development related write-ups, break downs and a whole truckload of games industry analysis. There’s even tutorials and guides to help take your project to the next level!