Fallout 76 does not release on Steam. It may not be the best game in 2018, but it is by far one of the biggest and it's not going to Valve's store. Of course, this has kicked off another wave of "Is Steam In Trouble?" Thinkpieces, such as we have not seen since EA split off to create Origin. And hey there is a big deal. Perhaps Valve should take a look at why publishers are increasingly keen to share these days.
This is not the article, however. No, I'm here to talk about the companies that pull away from Valve, Bethesda in particular. If you're going to shoot the king, you can not miss ̵
A semi-detached fenced garden
I honestly do not care which store publishers use. Well, at a certain level, I like to have my games centralized in steam. It's clean and simple and I have many years of history there. But if publishers do not want to bring their games to Steam, I can not really blame them. That the 30 percent income reduction is steep especially given how little Valve does to earn it today.
However, back in the 90's, I installed CD-ROMs. Hell, I had to keep dozens of CD-ROMs in a large stack next to the computer, switch them into the drive to play something. If I survived, I'm sure I can survive with a dozen or so to launch on my PC.
However, it is assumed that all those launches are equally functional. If you're going to play your game from Steam, you'll have better Steam-like features in your new launch – at least the basics.
And yet when I was playing Fallout 76 I traded more and more of the rough edges of Bethesda. First, it was PC beta, which many players just downloaded to find that it did not work, and prompted the client to download the entire beta again.
Then nobody could get rid of it. When the beta ended, the launcher gave no way for players who lost the interest to uninstall the beta. You had to manually delete the game files from your hard drive because the client initially stopped noticing them until the release date.
Me? I spent two fruitless hours trying to recover my old Bethesda.net account, which I used to Elder Scrolls Online at one time. Failure to find it, I tried to create a new account just to get account creation failed in the final step each time, with an error message "Something went wrong" wrong. After some troubleshooting, it appears that the username I wanted was actually taken, even though Bethesda.net told me I was ready.
There is no way to actually buy Fallout 76 in the launch, either. If you click on the big Buy Now button, you actually click on the Bethesda browser page, where you then have to login (again) and continue through the checkout. So to get the Bethesda.net launch to realize that you bought the game, you must quit and restart the program.
Phew, finally in the game. Oh, but there is no list of clients around the world. In a launch program so far hosted by two multiplayer-centric games in Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 . Friends are instead game-specific, which means you have to go to Fallout 76 press Ctrl-Tab to retrieve the corresponding menu, and then add the friend's account.
Worse: It handles these friends' "requests" in the most confusing way I found out yesterday. My colleague Adam Patrick Murray added me as a friend, I was notified he added to me, and then … nothing. I spent ages trying to find a way to confirm his request, just to realize that there was not a request at all. Instead Fallout 76 automatically goes to the friend list, and then I have to enter a similar request at my end so he will come up with me.
As I said, the list is apparently handled by game as well. Let's say that Adam and I decided to buy Doom on Bethesda.net (for some reason) and play its terrible multiplayer mode (for some reason) -I think we must add to each other as friends in Doom too. It does not look as if it's over, though I have not tested it because I do not buy Doom on Bethesda.net.
These are basic things. Managing game installations? Friend Lists? Why do I need a client, if not these features? And yet, Bethesda.net fills a number of them, destroying the platform's first impression and driving away a large number of players.
And if your experience with Fallout 76 is bad enough, you may want to repay it. Good pity, because Bethesda does not let you go. EA introduced Revenue to Origin in 2013, Valve followed in 2015, but what quickly became an industry standard has not yet been adopted by Bethesda, although Fallout 76 with its countless performance issues and general jank is
Bethesda is not the only offender.
Microsoft split from Steam and focused its efforts on the Windows 10 Store. It's a UI nightmare that hides access to your game library in a secondary menu, showing all your purchases (including DLC) in a long, impossible to navigate list. It also requires publishers to compile their games like Universal Windows Platform apps, which prevents countering tools, frame rate drivers, and any other trusted PC game traditions.
Ubisoft kind shared away from Steam and gave us Uplay, which has some decent ideas. I like to earn Uplay-specific currency for achievements, and then use it on cosmetics. It's not a very robust system, but I've got something nice Assassin's Creed shines out of it.
Again, if you own a Ubisoft game on Steam, but buying DLC for it on Uplay, DLC will not work, despite the fact that Uplay needs to start every time you run the game anyway. Also, it's nothing frustrating than logging into Steam, selecting a game, and then getting Uplay to ask you about a second username and password. It's almost worse to have Ubisoft halfway from Steam instead of taking a clean break.
And of course, EA separated itself from steam and gave us Origin. You know what? Origin is honestly not so bad these days. It can use a screensaver, and the user interface is still terrible even after the last revision. But after seven years I do not hate it. I will never buy anything where it's not exclusive to the platform, but it's one of the least offensive to the various publishing-specific stores at this time. EA also pioneeres digital refunds, remember. We owe them to it.
That said, the maturity of Origin is also its strength. EA has had a lot of time to boost Origin with added functionality, and back in 2011, the modern Bethesda.net looked more like Steam.
The other candidate for "Best Publisher-Specific Platform" is actually older than steam. Battle.net has hosted Blizzard's game for over two decades now, and it retains a rather high reputation too much of it – but who knows how long it will last, what about Activision dumping all the games out there now. Battle.net changes, and fast.
It's not that Steam is perfect. Absolutely not. There are serious problems with detecting on the consumer's side. And on the developer page, well, it's the above-mentioned 30 percent income cut. Now that there is no cure and most games barely get any attention, it's hard to justify Valve's big blow.
But Steam's competitors are their own worst enemy, time after time. Publishers want to win PC players away from Steam, but most do little to make the transition more appealing. They expect the games themselves to be enough, a strong arm tactic that basically goes, "Play Fallout 76 here or not play it at all." And it works technically, but it's not the endearing game or launch to the users. Sooner or later you are a Windows 10 store, a storefront person launches once a year with reluctance even after some of the major issues are resolved. Early impression means something.
Just ask games for Windows Live.