For those of you who aren’t aware of its existence, there’s a website called Is Steam Down? It’s exactly what its title says: it answers whether or not Valve’s highly popular Steam service is up and running, or if it’s currently down. It’s a pretty useful tool, especially if you’re not sure if you’re having Internet issues, or if there are troubles on Valve’s end.

But there’s a problem. As useful as this tool is, I’m not glad it exists. I don’t mean to say that the tool is not a good resource for verifying Steam’s status. Rather, I mean that Is Steam Down? shouldn’t need to exist. The fact that it does shows that Steam has a long way to go before PC gamers can fully trust it.

Steam, when it works, is a great service. In fact, it’s the best of the major video game stores/launchers. It’s more fully-featured than Origin, it’s easier to use than Uplay or Capsule, and it’s way more stable than the abomination that was Games for Windows Live.

Unfortunately, Steam has a major problem with working. The front end is slow and crash-prone. The Steam store frequently fails to load, instead popping up the infamous error code -118. (What the hell are negative error codes supposed to mean, anyway?) And Steam Community is an outright mess. Half the time, screenshots don’t load. The activity feed often starts a few days back from the current date. Community also likes to disconnect and reconnect users, seemingly at random. And on top of that, some users (such as myself) have trouble with their usernames not appearing in such results. (I contacted Steam support to fix the issue over a year ago. It still hasn’t been resolved.)

The problem is that Steam has no incentive to improve. It has no real competitors. Origin and Uplay are widely derided by gamers. GOG.com offers an alternative for indie games and old titles, but its no-DRM stance means it can’t compete in the AAA space. Steam is frequently undercut by Amazon and Green Man Gaming, but both of those outlets often just sell Steam codes anyway. Plus, no other service offers Steam’s plethora of social features, and none of them are anywhere near as big. Steam can afford to be the way it is because everybody needs Steam.

Meanwhile, instead of improving the nuts and bolts of their Steam service, Valve is busy working on other projects, like controllers, computer hardware, and operating systems. Maybe Valve is just dabbling in these projects for fun. But if Valve seriously thinks these projects are its future, if Valve wants to become a gaming and media giant whose influence extends far beyond the PC sphere, if Valve wants to become a household name, then it’s in for a rude awakening.

Valve simply isn’t as trustworthy as the people who run it would like to believe. Steam’s reliability issues are well-documented and frequently criticized. Greenlight has been a confusing, opaque addition that makes indie developers jump through hoops to get their games on Steam. Valve lets developers moderate the community forums for their own games, which has in some cases led to the censoring of negative opinions. And Steam has also come under fire for giving games of incredibly shoddy quality a berth on its service.

People use Steam because it provides great deals and frequent sales, and more importantly, it’s practically a requirement for a lot of PC games. Despite what the Internet memes might say, they don’t use it because they love Valve or have a fondness for Valve’s managing director, Gabe Newell. As far as Steam goes, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for now. But the rest of Valve’s projects are unproven, and Valve is going to have to show their worth if they want users to adopt them. The best way to get people to believe in their new projects is to show that Valve is committed to the quality of their old ones. That means improving Steam’s reliability so that people can actually have faith in the service. People may be willing to put up with having to visit Is Steam Down? But they’re going to be far less willing to have to deal with Is SteamOS Down?

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