And one thing that TechCrunch’s correspondent didn’t mention is how easy it is to give games to other people. Just buy it, click “send as a gift”, complete the purchase process, and boom—you’re done. If the friend you’re gifting is on your Steam friends list, it will even tell you before you buy whether he already has that game so you aren’t wasting your money.
During times when they’ve been on sale, my brothers have bought their favorite games for me (Torchlight, The Witcher, Borderlands), and I’ve bought my favorite games for them (Left 4 Dead, the X-Com bundle, Beat Hazard). Their birthday was just a few days ago, and it sure made it easy to buy them presents!
And it’s worth noting again that when you buy a game from Steam that is available for both Windows and OS X, buying one version gets you both versions at no extra cost.
The anonymous letter writer notes (as I also have mentioned) that Steam games do involve DRM, but because Steam makes the process of buying, downloading, and installing so easy, it’s as if the DRM isn’t even there. It goes back to something I used to say about eReader’s DRM, before Barnes & Noble bought Fictionwise—DRM that doesn’t get in the way of how you want to use it is effectively invisible.
Steam runs sales quite often, especially on weekends or around holidays, and many of them are 24-hour-only events. However, I’ve found that adding SteamGameSales.com to Google Reader helps me keep track of what’s on sale whenever new ones pop up.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to depending on a “cloud” storage system, as the disappearance of e-books from Fictionwise/eReader users’ libraries in the wake of the agency pricing implementation demonstrates. In that light, some may consider buying games from Steam to involve an unacceptable risk that they might lose access to those games at some point in the future.
But I’m still buying those games even knowing the risks; Valve is big enough already that it doesn’t seem likely it will be bought and crippled by a larger competitor. And if I lose access to the games after a few years, well, I’ll still have had my money’s worth.
How can e-book providers learn from this? By making their systems just as easy to use. Granted, most of them already have the “buy and download immediately” part down—that’s one of the Kindle store’s main selling points. But if I want to give a Kindle e-book to a friend as a gift, how can I do that? Amazon only lets me buy it for myself as far as I can tell.
Valve’s Steam is a marvelous example of wooing customers away from piracy via great customer service. I wish more e-book vendors did the same.