So after my Diablo III blog was posted, that one with me complaining for several paragraphs about DRM, that little annoying voice in my head decided to butt in. He said “Hey dumbass, don’t you have a Steam account with thirty-three games on it, only twelve that you actually bought with the rest being free or gifted from friends you cheap bastard?” I then punched my inner voice in the head and then he reminded me that Steam is a form of DRM since many of the games in my collection can’t be played without an internet connection. I know this because I somehow experience internet style lag when playing Super Meat Boy and my neighbors know this because I scream foul curses whenever this happens. Not every game I have on Steam has this restriction, but a good chunk does.
So why do I use Steam and don’t seem to mind Valve’s form of DRM when I’m willing to rip into every other form of it and call out companies for the shit they pull? Well, I thought on it and realized something those other companies have yet to understand. Unlike them, Valve knows that they aren’t above the customer.
See, other companies use DRM to protect their investment because piracy is their current boogeyman to blame for low sales instead of maybe the customer not liking their product or the costs being so high that near impossible sales have to be met in order to make a small profit. I’m not saying major gaming companies are idiots, oh no. I’m saying the executives of those companies are idiots. Valve does try to protect their product and others from piracy as well, but instead of raising a middle finger and punching you in the chest, they instead give you a puppy and Gaben makes rain turn into wine.
Valve figured out the formula very early on and really nailed it. The first brilliant thing Valve did was creating a sense of community. Steam is more than a simple game download service; you have the ability to add people to your friends list. This actually has a lot of uses, the main ones being easily finding friends in online games or simple easy text chat, but there’s also the addition of the ability to buy games for each other via gifting. This is a brilliant idea that ends up getting them sales and promoting further sales by people wanting to gift back. Certainly worked on me, I went on a gifting spree after Christmas last year. You can even trade items from games or in your inventory, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The other thing that makes Steam such a great service is making things affordable. The amount of insane sales on the site is mind-blowing, like giving away games from free from time to time to the giant sales during Summer and Winter where almost every single thing is on massive discount and massive bundles at huge steals. The even cooler part is that Valve figured out how to involve the community aspect by allowing users to vote on what gets a further discount, such as in the last Summer sale for daily deals. Even if you’re a poor bastard like me, you can find a lot to enjoy, especially since the service is a breeding ground for indie games that usually come rather cheap.
It gets better. Valve actually found a clever way to work in achievements into their sales plan. During certain events, you can get special items by completing certain requirements. This happened last Winter where you could collect coal to have a higher chance of winning in a raffle or find coupons that gave discounts on various games in the store. You could even trade these items with other people, possibly getting games or other discount coupons. The system set up encourages people to converse with one another and get benefits for it, promoting brand loyalty and in turn keeping profits solid.
Valve understands the golden rule that modern business in general forgot. The customer is always right and they speak with their dollar. You offer a service to the customer, so make it easy and ultimately rewarding to use. People will come with good word of mouth and you’ll make a strong, long-term service that brings in the money from people who are ultimately satisfied with what they get. Man, Gaben is some sort of hyper genius.
Oh, and hats. That’s the cornerstone of it all.