Ever since 2006, when our games became first available on the Steam platform, there have always been critical discussions about Steam in our community. After our move to make Steam a mandatory requirement for activation and updates of X3: Albion Prelude at the end of 2011, these discussions heated up and some of our fans turned away from our games in protest at this step.
Since I take these concerns seriously, I would like to respond to the main criticisms from my perspective as a game developer, and make an important announcement at the same time.
Here is a link to our FAQ to help those of you who want to know what Steam really is and what it does and does not do:
The most common misconception is that people believe they have to be online to play our games. This is not true. You can play games without being online through the so called "offline mode", but yes you do need to install the Steam client and have to be online when you install the game on a new machine. Another important fact: you can install our games on multiple machines, but you can not play on multiple machines at the same time (just like with a DVD). Every time you want to switch from one machine to another, you have to be online for a moment before you can switch that machine back into "offline" mode. But now lets get to the main reason for this mail:
Long term support and new updates:
Ever since the first X game, we have released free updates for our games. Among other things, these updates also allowed our games to continue to run on new versions of the operating system or on more modern hardware (this patch, for example, was needed to make XBTF run on fast machines) ( XBTF patch for Win64). Developing updates for a game long after its original release, however, does cost money. This service is only affordable for a developer who is still making money from old games.
Every developer who did not sell all rights to a publisher, but is in the fortunate position to sell directly on Steam has a huge incentive to continue to support their game in this manner. We have seen that even such an old title as X: Beyond the Frontier (1999) still finds new fans on Steam, and we have been able to develop the updates to make a game from 1999 run on Windows 7 64bit and Windows 8. Without Steam we would not have been able to provide this service; an advantage not only for us but for all our customers.
Steam Play (Linux and Mac):
Today when we talk of "PC Games", we no longer ONLY mean Windows. For some time already, both Mac OS and Linux have become valid alternatives. External partners ported our games over to MAC and Linux and sold them as a new product, sometimes for a different price. Unfortunately these externally developed ports had a number of problems for us as a developer as well as for our customers:
For the customer: Should you ever switch to a different operating system and want to continue playing our games, you had to buy the game again.
For the developer: Since the porting is not based on a single set of source code, it gets increasingly expensive to develop updates for all platforms.
Steam's solution to this problem is quite radical and customer-friendly. Steam encourages all developers to turn their titles into so-called "Steamplay" games, where versions for all operating systems are part of just one product. You buy it once and you can play it on all operating systems that the developer supports. This even works if you bought a game for windows in the past and the developer adds support for another operating system later.
Trusting Valve / Steam:
I can not overstate how the above two points as reasons to consider giving Steam and the company that operates, Valve, a leap of faith. One argument commonly heard against Steam on our forums is that people are worried that they are dependent on Steam's existence in the long term. What if Steam goes out of business in the distant future? Maybe I will not be able to play my games then. (sidenote: We do provide a "no-steam.exe" for our games for exactly this extremely unlikely case.
It is much more likely, in fact, that a game you own on DVD will not work anymore at some point in the future because:
- a) The last available version of the game does not run on whatever the latest hardware or Windows version is.
b) You may have switched to a different operating system or even a new type of hardware for your living room PC (read about BIG PICTURE below).
c) Or maybe the DVD is no longer readable.
Also, do not forget that Valve, the company that operates Steam, has a direct financial incentive to maintain the platform in the future and keep it as attractive as possible. If our fans are happy and continue to use their service, they can make money selling games.
Announcement 1: Steam play: X3 games on Linux and Mac
EGOSOFT is currently working on porting all X3 games (X3: Reunion, X3: Terran Conflict and X3: Albion Prelude) natively to both Linux and Mac OS. There will be a transition period in which we phase out the older ports by 3rd parties, but our goal is to make all three versions available under "Steamplay" for all customers. This means that everybody who owns a Windows license on Steam will automatically own all three versions!
Announcement 2: X3: Albion Prelude update for "Big Picture" gamepad mode:
EGOSOFT is currently working on an update to X3: Albion Predulde which will add a completely redesigned gamepad (controller) mode to the game. This new mode will work in such a way that all important functions of the game are available using a standard (e.g XBox 360 like) gamepad. If you choose to play X3: Albion Prelude in your living room on a big screen, this mode is for you. Together with the new Steam Big Picture mode , this will make sure that you will never have to get up from your couch ever again OK maybe there are some biological limitations to this statement)
The long term strategy:
We do not rule out the possibility of our games also being released on other download delivery platforms, but not in the near future.
Steamplay, Big Picture, automatic updates and long term development of updates. All of these things combined should show that what we are collaborating on here is to build a platform for games in the future; a platform that can stand the competition of console games and exist next to it for the longer term. And I am pretty sure that there are more cool things to come in the not so distant future
February 2013, Bernd Lehahn, Managing Director, EGOSOFT GmbH