Gaming Retailers Boiling over Steam's Expansion

Over the last few years, Valve's Steam service has become the go-to location for digital gaming. This transition has generally been viewed positively by PC gamers—mainstream gaming retailers, while scarcely thrilled, have devoted less and less space to PC titles as time has gone on. This positive trend is being bucked in the UK, where angry retailers are calling Steam an unfair, monopolistic service.

"If we have a digital service, then I don’t want to start selling a rival in-store,” the digital boss at one of the biggest UK games retailers told "Publishers are creating a monster ­– we are telling suppliers to stop using Steam in their games." Part of this hostility is driven by simple competition; lost sales are lost sales, no matter who you lose them to. Brick and mortars with their own online presence are also afraid that gamers, who've been overly conditioned to buy products from Steam, won't even think to shop elsewhere.

It's hard to feel sorry for retailers crying now when the digital distribution business was wide open for the taking for several years. When Valve linked Half Life 2's launch to a mandatory Steam activation process, Steam's servers were absolutely unable to handle the traffic and collapsed; it took Valve weeks to resolve the situation. Imagine marrying a woman with the social grace of Lindsey Lohan, the preternaturally vapid, bovine intelligence of Paris Hilton, and the dark, intense sexuality of Helen Thomas (pictured below). What you're feeling now is roughly equivalent to what gamers thought of Steam back then.

You know what sounds good? A McDorothy burger with a large scarecrow. Oh--and a side order of little dog, too.

That's part of what makes British retailers' protesting so daft. In 2004, offered the choice of trusting Steam or eating a Manhattan sewer rat, most gamers would've chosen the rat. Steam may have had Valve's library of popular games behind it but it was never the only way to purchase such titles.

Apparently multiple British retailers intend to take a firm stance against Steam and have told publishers that if certain titles are released on Steam, they (the retailer) will refuse to stock copies. According to a source at an unnamed digital distribution company: "At the moment the big digital distributors need to stock games with Steam. But the power resides with bricks and mortar retailers, they can refuse to stock these titles. Publishers are hesitant, but retail must put pressure on them."

We suppose it's possible that in Britain, game stores devoted to PC titles have flourished while ours tanked, but it sure doesn't seem likely. Wal-Mart and Best Buy still stock PC games, but once you skip past the budget $4.99 schlock and the random games from 2006-2008 clinging feebly to shelves, what's usually left is five copies of WoW and 12 Sims-themed titles. Since we're talking about Britain, we imagine these include titles like: Pimp My Pub, The Complete Chav Collection and our personal favorite language pack—Cockney Simlish

In an age of digital distribution, we can't see how this could possibly help retailers. Even if these stores managed to collectively impact a few titles, consumers will continue to prefer one-stop shopping for game titles and publishers will want to sell their games where it makes the most sense to stock them.