Various gaming news sites are all aflutter at Valve‘s announcement that it is looking to expand its Steam platform to include non-game applications. This move would place them as direct competitors to the Mac App Store (as well as the forthcoming Microsoft App Store), but with the advantage of being cross-platform.
Details are somewhat sketchy (for instance, we’ve asked Valve for clarification that this will be coming to Mac versions of Steam as well, but are still waiting to hear back), but we can speculate that it will have a similar model to the existing version of Steam, in that you buy the software once and you can use it on any hardware or operating system you like, as long as you are logged into Steam.
There are some potential problems if they leverage the model as-is though, that would undoubtedly make it inferior to the Mac App Store. First of all, although Steam automatically updates its software, it has to be running in order for this to happen. Compare this to the latest Mac hardware, which will automatically update whilst in sleep mode.
There’s no system in place for users to rate or review individual applications (other than going to the relevant Steam forum). Likewise, we’d also want to easily see what’s new in a given application update, information that is provided in Steam’s current interface, but is easily lost amongst the various other news feeds.
Perhaps most important is the need to have Steam running in order to use any installed software. Many Mac users will see this as an unnecessary restriction, and in truth is really only necessary in order to provide a DRM layer for applications. There have also been numerous complaints made that the system doesn’t work very well in offline mode. Finally, you can only have one copy of Steam running at a time, so if you’re like me and run applications on a Mac Pro and a Macbook at the same time, you’re going to run into trouble.
That said, it will be interesting to see what Steam’s social features could bring to applications. Seeing which friends are “in-application” could prove to be a springboard for a new way to interact with computers. There’s also the added bonus of having a store that is trusted and yet free of Apple’s somewhat arbitrary restrictions.
Update: Valve posted an official announcement about the changes, which will happen on September 5th:
The Software titles coming to Steam range from creativity to productivity. Many of the launch titles will take advantage of popular Steamworks features, such as easy installation, automatic updating, and the ability to save your work to your personal Steam Cloud space so your files may travel with you.
More Software titles will be added in an ongoing fashion following the September 5th launch, and developers will be welcome to submit Software titles via Steam Greenlight.
“The 40 million gamers frequenting Steam are interested in more than playing games,” said Mark Richardson at Valve. “They have told us they would like to have more of their software on Steam, so this expansion is in response to those customer requests.”