Valve has made big changes to its Steam platform by expanding into the world of productivity software. Now you can buy and use programs like GameMaker Studio, ArtRage Studio Pro, and CameraBag 2 directly from Steam. This raises a few interesting questions and shows a lot of promise for the company as it moves toward providing additional support for Linux and OS X.
Imagine buying a program through one app store and having it run in every operating system for which it’s designed. Like the games side of Steam, you only have to make a single purchase to play a game on either Windows or OS X. If this type of app store existed for regular apps, it could be a very big deal.
As it is, apps purchased in the Mac App Store only work on OS X. Windows 8 will introduce a Microsoft app store for programs that only work in the Windows 8 environment. Linux is the same way. Each app store is specific to the OS, and you can’t exactly buy something once on Windows and use its OS X port. Steam’s integration of non-gaming software poses a very interesting question: Would you buy regular software through Steam if it meant being able to keep one license for every computer you own?
Steam is Already Trusted by Millions of Gamers
Steam is perhaps the most trusted source of gaming software out there. It manages your licenses, keeps the software up-to-date, and makes it available to you on whatever computer you happen to be using at the time. Many games are available cross-platform. This means if you purchase it through Steam, you can install it on either OS X or Windows without any hassle or additional charge. This, to me, is the very essence of the software retail store of the future. To be able to enjoy your purchase whenever and wherever you need it is something traditional boxed software just doesn’t do (except in rare circumstances).
The initial software being offered on the platform relates to gaming and game design, so the target market is certainly already there. If Steam were to eventually grow to include video editing software or perhaps an office suite, it might very well resonate with the same user base. What’s to say a gamer can’t also be a professional? The gamers of the ’80s and ’90s are starting to fall into their fields of choice and lead the workforce of today. This doesn’t mean they put their joysticks and keyboards down to do it. It just means their software choices are more diverse than they once were.
Being Locked Down to an Ecosystem Isn’t Always a Good Thing
I’m not a huge fan of locking myself down to a single OS. If someone were to switch from OS X to Windows, they’d lose the benefit of all the software purchased through the Mac App Store, regardless of whether or not it is available for Windows separately. A cross-platform app store would be incredibly useful for frequent switchers and folks who need their software regardless of the presence of a physical disk. I know of no more trusted and widely available store to fill this role than Steam.
Let’s be honest here: What other cloud-based app store is available on Windows, OS X, and Linux (coming soon) that isn’t locked down to a single brand or family of products? I can’t think of a single one off the top of my head. At least, not one that deals in software outside of games.
I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Web apps for everything just yet. In my experience, there are still too many variables that could interrupt or otherwise cause you to lose your work. They’re also incredibly slow and impractical for things like video editing and sound design. For those purposes, I still trust good old-fashioned local software.
What about you? Do you believe this is a good move for Steam? Would you buy non-gaming software through it?