Streaming may or may not be the future of gaming. I’m rooting for not — I’m not wild about the complete dependence on a silky-smooth internet connection with near-zero latency. But I can’t deny that this technology is incredibly handy for trying out games I might want to purchase without having to go through the hassle of downloading and installing a demo. With services like Gaikai and OnLive, we can play time-limited demos of select games, such as Dead Island, in our browsers with no download or install hassles. Steam needs some of that mojo built into its store. Particularly for games that have no demos, such as Skyrim, this kind of try-before-you-buy access would be invaluable.
Streaming could extend beyond demos as well — I certainly wouldn’t mind an OnLive-like service that allows me to play all of the PC games I’ve already purchased on any device (like a tablet) — even if it cost a few bucks a month for that access.
Of course, Streaming doesn’t completely eliminate the need for traditional demos, since it gives no indication of how well a given game will run on a PC, but as long as it doesn’t become the only option for playing, streaming would be an awesome addition to Steam.
I’ve been a die-hard Dropbox user for years. (Microsoft’s Skydrive, Box.net, and Google Drive are all great alternatives.) I love the way it makes my stuff available everywhere I go, and it makes me imagine a world where no one ever loses a saved game again, regardless of hard drive crash, theft, fire, or bone-headed accidental deletion. It’s not that far off — in fact, Steam already offers Steam Cloud, which syncs some saved games (though typically only games with checkpoint saves). Plus, we’ve all got a couple of gigs’ worth of screenshot space on Valve’s servers. But a true online “Steam Stash” could give us the ability to store saves from even games that don’t support Steam Cloud. This, of course, would probably require that developers get on board and agree to set their games up to put saved games in a specific location, which thus far they’ve been maddeningly unable or unwilling to do. But the way saved games are spread all over the place is another major hassle that Steam could solve — and Valve might actually have the clout to lead an initiative to finally consolidate save files.
Video Capture and Sharing
Steam already has the ability to capture screenshots in nearly any game. The next logical step is to capture video as well, and allow us to upload our best gaming moments directly to YouTube with the push of a button. Sure, we can do that easily enough today with tools likeFRAPS or Xfire, but that’s yet another program we have to remember to run before we launch our games through Steam. Plus, with the coming release of Valve’s own Dota 2, streaming video from live competitive matches is almost certain to become a major thing, and an integrated tool would be amazingly handy for that. This is a feature that some gamesalready plan to add, such as Paradox’s Showdown Effect (via Twitch.tv), but it seems like it’d make much more sense to add it to Steam to enable streaming from all games.
If there’s one thing PC gamers love, it’s bragging about how powerful their newly upgraded PC is. Building a 3DMark-style benchmark utility into Steam would not only give us all a shiny piece of profile bling, it’d give us a general idea of what kind of performance we can expect to get in various games on our hardware. Naturally benchmarking is an imperfect science, but more information certainly couldn’t hurt — and if other gamers with similar specs are having problems with a game, we’d be able to spot that landmine and steer clear.
Sure, you can already download FutureMark’s hefty 3DMark 11 benchmark utility and do your own benchmarking, but just as Steam Workshop has brought modding to the masses, a Steam benchmark utility could introduce a whole new universally understood standard.
The one concern I have is that adding more features to Steam eventually leads to bloat, which would inevitably cause it to run slower than it already does for a lot of us — even those who wouldn’t necessarily use all of them. That’s why I’d love to see Steam adopt a plugin system similar to those in Chrome and Firefox, where users can build their own add-ons to tweak and enhance everything, from the way games are sorted in the library to letting me rename people in my friends list so I don’t have to remember their goofy-ass screen names — and to do it without installing features I don’t want.
I’m sure this last one would require a serious re-working of the Steam application on a scale we haven’t seen since the 2010 revamp, but if the story of MySpace taught us nothing else, it’s that holding still is the best way to get passed by.