Monday, March 1, 2010
It’s officially official: Valve will bring its Steam online distribution service and titles from its massive library of hit games to the Mac this April, the company confirmed Monday.
The successful content-delivery service will bring Valve titles like Left 4 Dead and the upcoming Portal 2, as well as games from other publishers, to Apple computers for the first time.
The move was telegraphed last week in a series of teaser posters that mashed characters from Valve games into retro Apple ads. Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games, called Apple and Steam a natural fit.
“If there’s anything like iTunes on the PC right now for games, it’s Steam,” Connors said. “So you’ve got two great leaders in digital distribution coming together.”
Steam is the pre-eminent digital distribution platform for PCs. With more than 1,000 games and 25 million user accounts, Steam is by one estimate responsible for more than 70 percent of digital game purchases. Bringing the service to Macs means wider selection, quicker updates and more episodic content for Apple’s traditionally game-deprived computers.
Valve wants to position its games not as static products but as part of an ongoing, constantly updated, ubiquitous service, company co-founder Gabe Newell told Wired.com in advance of Monday’s announcement.
“The traditional model has always been that you have these really extended development times … where you do nothing for customers for several years and then you try to drive everybody into the theaters or into the stores on a given date,” Newell said. “It makes it hard to steer your decisions based on customer feedback, and customers don’t particularly like that. They would like to have the experience of being part of an entertainment community where they’re getting something on a daily or more frequent basis.
“The Mac represents a great opportunity to deliver these things.”
Bringing Steam to Mac will give gamers several cross-platform benefits, Newell said.
* If players already own the PC versions of Valve games, they’ll get Mac versions at no extra charge through a feature called Steam Play.
* By using the Steam Cloud feature that the company introduced in 2008, players can save in-progress games online, then call up those saved games no matter which version they’re playing. If you’re playing Half-Life 2 on your home PC but then head out on the road with your MacBook, you can continue your game-in-progress.
“We looked at a variety of methods to get our games onto the Mac and in the end decided to go with native versions rather than emulation,” said John Cook, director of Steam development, in Monday’s press release.
“We are treating the Mac as a tier-1 platform so all of our future games will release simultaneously on Windows, Mac and the Xbox 360,” Cook said. “Updates for the Mac will be available simultaneously with the Windows updates. Furthermore, Mac and Windows players will be part of the same multiplayer universe, sharing servers, lobbies and so forth. We fully support a heterogeneous mix of servers and clients. The first Mac Steam client will be the new generation currently in beta testing on Windows.”
Portal 2 will be Valve’s first simultaneous release for Mac and Windows, the company said.
“Checking in code produces a PC build and Mac build at the same time, automatically, so the two platforms are perfectly in lock-step,” said Josh Weier, said Portal 2 project lead in the press release. “We’re always playing a native version on the Mac right alongside the PC. This makes it very easy for us and for anyone using Source to do game development for the Mac.”
Bringing Valve’s gaming engine Source, and the company’s Steamworks development and publishing suite, to the Mac will make it easier for developers to bring games to OS X.
“Steamworks for the Mac supports all of the Steamworks APIs,” said Jason Holtman, Valve’s director of business development, in the press release. “We expect most developers and publishers to take advantage of Steam Play.”
Steam lets the company take full advantage of the freedom that the PC and Mac platforms give it to constantly update and tweak its games. For instance, the developer has updated its 2007 game Team Fortress 2 more than 100 times, Newell said.
This wouldn’t be possible on a closed system like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, he said: “Microsoft’s QA fees … would be several hundred thousand dollars to do the updates that we did to Team Fortress 2. And that ignores the fact that the cycle on these closed platforms would have taken years to get all these updates through.”
Most recently, Valve leveraged its ability to push updates through Steam and engage its fan base by dropping hints into its 2007 cult hit Portal about the game’s upcoming sequel, letting the fans be an active part of the game’s announcement.
“We want to bring content creators and consumers closer together to minimize the latency between what somebody on the team does versus a fan’s ability to participate in that experience, not put more barriers between them,” Newell said.
Valve isn’t the only PC developer with a strong, engaged fan base looking to Mac. Telltale Games, creator of the episodic Sam and Max games, announced last month that it would be moving to Mac, even inviting fans to vote on which of its games should be ported over first.
While Telltale has not confirmed any of its games will be on the Mac version of Steam, Connors called getting his companies titles on Valve’s digital-distribution platform “a no-brainer.”
“We have games that run on the Mac and we have games that run on Steam, so our goal is to be there,” Connors said. “We think they’re going to do a great job with getting the Steam client over there and we want to continue to be a part of it.”
Asked to name other developers that we’d see on Steam, Valve’s Newell demurred. But Steam’s popularity means that as Valve goes, so go other gamemakers. Steam on Mac means many more games on Mac.
“(Mac) has all of the right pieces, and we know other developers see that as well,” Newell said.