Valve’s excessively lax policies have forced their digital distribution platform into quite a bit of hot water in recent years. Most users still remember the absolute cavalcade of crap pouring from Steam’s now-defunct Greenlight service, and, in many ways, the storefront still has a long way to go in terms of quality control. However, they’ve recently cracked down on the abuse of Steam’s flexible release date requirements, which, at the very least, seems to be a step in the right direction.
For those previously unaware of the issue, Valve allowed developers planning to market games on their service to essentially alter the scheduled release date at any time. While this sounds like a positive thing given how often smaller developers are forced to postpone their games, less-scrupulous devs would game the system by routinely pushing back their release dates, thus eternally ensuring that their content appears on the platform’s “upcoming titles” section without ever actually having to release anything. Essentially a petty ploy for free marketing, it was yet another headache for honest developers trying to get noticed amid a sea of competitors.
Instituted on the fifth of August, this comes as another small improvement in Steam’s battle against the ever-controversial Epic Games Store. Up until now, Valve seems to have been content to quietly sit and let their competitors soak up all of the attention while offering few rebuttals in what’s become a very consumer-unfriendly platform war.
This may, in part, have been done to prevent developers who have already announced to be releasing on Steam from jumping ship over to Epic. This has been the case for many high-profile titles over the past six months, and it’s particularly heinous when a dev accepts pre-orders on the platform before pulling the plug and leaving fans confused and more than a little miffed.
The most famous release to go this route was 4A Games and Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus back in February of this year. It’s a trend which drew the ire of just about every YouTube video essayist and industry talking head. The PC community, of course, isn’t used to the sort of exclusivity wars which have been standard in the console realm for decades. While the policy change likely won’t make a huge impact, it’ll at least ensure that developers are held to some sort of definite commitment.
It should be noted that release dates on Steam aren’t totally finite; all a developer would need to do to have a previously-scheduled release date changed is contact Valve. However, considering how utterly distant they’ve been up until now, that may be easier said than done.
It’s also worth considering how this may impact the aforementioned smaller developers who may not be able to commit to a definite release date. While set-in-stone-launch times are slowly becoming a relic of the past as early access soft-launches are increasingly normalized, a skittish dev could still be dissuaded from a platform which more-or-less requires an exact due date.
That said, this should still be viewed as a positive thing for Steam. It’ll cut down on some of the abusive tactics certain devs have been using to earn free publicity, and it’ll make the “upcoming titles” tab much more friendly for those earnestly trying to be seen. These small quality of life improvements also help to improve public perception of a platform which is competing against a storefront which is still missing a shopping cart.