Game devs praise Steam as a 'democratic platform' that 'continues to be transformative' for PC gaming today

We couldn't hold a roundtable interview on the State of PC Gaming without asking developers about the most ubiquitous name in PC gaming: Steam. After 20 years the store is still a fixture, and despite increased competition from Epic, Ubisoft and other storefronts, it continues to thrive. The perspective of the developers we invited to talk about current trends in PC gaming—from the studios behind Warframe, Baldur's Gate 3, Slay the Spire, and EVE Online—was unanimously positive.

CCP Games VP of publishing Eyrún Jónsdóttir said that Steam remains "a crucial part of our pipeline" for EVE Online, which also has its own launcher but has enjoyed success on Steam since it went free-to-play on the store nearly a decade ago.

Michael Douse, Larian's publishing director, called Steam "a democratic platform." 

"There's like two of those, I think," he said. "Steam, and the Switch, too, is quite a democratic platform. If your game is really, really good, you have a very good chance that people on Steam will see it. You have to make an effort, it has to be good, it's not that simple, but it's so much better than, for example, having to campaign for your game with somebody else for like 12 months to get their store team to care about it." 

"As stewards of PC gaming, I mean—I know it's a money-printing machine, and a company can only be so benevolent, but it's just a great constant in our industry that is [otherwise] really in fucking panic mode. It is a bastion in that sense."

Slay the Spire co-creator Casey Yano credited Steam with making it possible for tiny indie teams like his to be able to make a living off of their games. "I made a Flash game way back when and I think I made $20," he said. "[The store] was like 'that's not enough money, we're not even gonna send you a check.' But Steam came along and it was like, whoa, maybe some people can actually make a livable wage from this. I wouldn't even have a job … I wish more people could make it in the industry, but that's a problem with our society more than Valve. Valve is giving more people chances."

When we asked if the number of games released on Steam is a concern, Douse pointed out that before the rise of Steam "you made a game for a retail chain, you didn't make it for a player." Limited shelf space was a much harsher bottleneck for developers being able to make and sell games period. "I'm not concerned about visibility in the store—I understand not everyone can have a spot and empathize when people don't, but the function of it is to give everyone a chance, at least. I think that's a beautiful thing. Everyone has a chance."

Warframe creative director Rebecca Ford credits Steam as "the thing that still allows me to have a job."

"We launched on Steam in open beta in March 2013… and it was transformative for us and continues to be," she said. Ford also credited Steam as a key piece of the PC gaming ecosystem which, in general, she argued offers players an opportunity to build friendships and relationships that just aren't possible on platforms that cost money to buy in and are wholly owned by other companies. 

"I'm a very optimistic futurist for PC as the primary platform," Ford said. "I think it's the most important for people in our age cohort, and has the greatest potential for border-crossing community building. I've connected with more people than I ever thought possible in my entire life, all because I sat in front of a PC, installed Steam, and installed Discord and played games with them. These two things together as forces are so supremely positive, even in isolation. It's a shame you can have very difficult times online, they're not sanitary by any means—but I cannot imagine a better opportunity to be a good online citizen with people connected through something like what we do.

"There's just nothing like it, and I doubt there will ever be anything like it again."

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).