Thursday, September 18, 2008

Google to buy Valve?

The internet was abuzz yesterday with a rumoured takeover of PC gaming institution Valve by Google. It makes sense. Nobody believes Google wants to get into PC gaming but Valve's Steam content distribution system is probably the best (from a customer perspective) system out there.

It's funny when Steam first came as an unwanted accroutement to Half Life 2 I and many of my fellow gamers hated it. Yet through Valve's careful stewardship the platform grew into something that I (and many of my fellow gamers) now love.

I think there is a very simple reason for this. Valve appear to have had a very clear philosophy in developing Steam that puts their customers needs and desires first and puts attempts to squeeze as much money as possible from those customers last. Paradoxically this approach has earned them a whole bunch of money from a lot of happy customers.

Well, its no paradox really. It's just common business sense that if you treat your customers well they will treat you well. That's a lesson you will learn from any business school. Sadly it's a lesson that many companies ignore. I hang my head in despair when I see the damage done to a genuinely innovative game like Spore by the shoddy implementation of customer restricting digital rights management. I despair even further when I read about Activisions plans to "monetise online gameplay" (translation: squeeze as much money as possible out of their customers for stuff they used to get for free).

Any way, rant aside, the fact remains that Valve's Steam system allows customers to play their games where they want, when they want, on-line or off-line on any computer they want. They offer value added services like messaging and an on-line gamer profile. You can avail of these sevices for free without even buying a game from Valve as they allow you to install games you bought elsewhere through Steam. They do all this while still providing a secure stable platform that seems to do a very good job of dissuading piracy.

I can understand why Google would like to acquire a successful content delivery system. I can also understand why Valve could be such a good fit for Google. Google has a history of delivering innovative products that do what their customers want at a very good price (usually free). I have never knowingly paid Google a cent yet I have no doubt that Google have made money out of my use of their services. If Google do buy Valve it is believeable that they won't spoil the ethos of Steam in a bid to squeeze every last drop of revenue out of it. You could imagine that the ingenuity and financial clout of Google could allow Steam to develop in an entirely customer friendly way.

So am I happy? Well....not entirely. Google already owns far too much of my online existence. Even accepting that the company for the most part still adheres to its philosophy of "Do no Evil" I still feel uncomfortable at the thought of how much power they actually wield through their control of perhaps the worlds primary information resource. I am not sure I want this company to get even bigger and more powerful. Then again, if Valve genuinely is looking for a buyer would I prefer Electronic Arts to Google? Tough one.

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