Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2016 - 09:56 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, steam, pc gaming
A few days ago, Valve changed how user reviews work on Steam. Now, user reviews on the search page and at the top of the product page will only reflect customers who purchased the game from Steam. Other user reviews will still be collected, but only from the product's reviews panel with a more broad filter applied, which must be done manually.
This change was made because Valve detected some titles where review scores varied greatly between Steam user and outside keys. If the vast majority of reviewers who purchased the content on Steam and the vast majority of reviewers who acquired the game outside of Steam are the same, then random error converges quickly. An average of 1000 reviews should be within 3% of the average opinion of 1,000,000 random customers, for 95% of titles. 99% of titles would be within 4% of the average opinion, given 1000 reviews for a million customers.
Of course, the differences are not always truly random. Keys which were given to crowd-funding backers could be abnormally good, if it well-served the niche audience that helped it get made, or abnormally bad, if it slighted that audience.
In the worst case, developers could be giving away keys to services that flood fraudulent reviews.
As such, Valve took the position that
it will (Update: Yeah, I kind-of messed up the grammar on this sentence when I restructured it in editing... read it without the strikethrough, and this update of course) only reviews from their direct customers would be promoted. This upset many developers, although some games received a bump in score, if you trust Steam Spy. Again, if their title was a hit on Kickstarter, Patreon, or other services, then it subtracts their most evangelical users.
On the other hand, from Valve's perspective, they want to promote the opinion that best applies to someone browsing on Steam. This makes sense, since a review should be intended to guide someone who doesn't already have an opinion of the title one way or the other. Again, reviews are designed to be the general consensus of a random group of people -- the expected value of an average user -- but constrainted to a certain set of properties.
Of course, it would be beneficial to Valve to run further experiments to make sure that an average Steam reviewer reflects an average Steam customer for each, specific title. Basically, it's a good hypothesis, but testing isn't done. It could change greatly as it evolves through the Scientific Method.
Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 09:21 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, htc, steam, steamvr, vive, Oculus, oculus rift
According to the Steam Hardware Survey, the HTC Vive is dominating the Oculus Rift by more than a factor of two (0.15% to 0.06%). More-so, its rate of change is also double that of Oculus (0.06% to 0.03%). If these numbers are accurate, this means that the SteamVR is massively overtaking Oculus SDK in terms of both amount and rate of change.
Now the questions are “why?” and “what does that mean?”
The most obvious reason, to me, is that HTC has much better availability than Oculus. For the last month, they announced that the Vive ships within two-to-three business days. If you look at Oculus? The website tells you to expect it in August. It is currently the second day of July. While a month is not too long of a time to wait, it would make sense that a consumer would look at the two options and say “Yeah, the this week one, please.”
If that's the case, then the platform battle could be decided simply by retail availability. It wouldn't be decided by a Valve-developed first-party game. It wouldn't be decided by DRM locking games into an exclusive deal. It would simply be decided by “you can buy this one”. That is, unless Oculus ramps up production soon. At that point, we'll need to look back at hardware surveys (not just Steam's) and see what the split is. They could catch up. They could be left behind. Who knows? It could be another factor altogether.
For now, the Vive seems like it's the crowd favorite.
Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 02:21 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, steam, linux
The current split of Steam users, according to the Steam Hardware Survey, is 95.5% for Windows, 3.6% for Mac OSX, and 0.8% for Linux. Phoronix reports that this does not count SteamOS, and there might be other “inaccuracies” with the survey, but the Linux figures are 0.04% less than they were before (a relative drop of about 4.8%).
Windows users are up, and Mac OSX is flat.
A 4.8% drop in a month isn't promising, but it's also not too concerning. If you were intending to target a platform with 0.8% marketshare, then you can benefit from the long shelf life that Linux provides. It's not like a publisher is counting on that platform to reach two-week launch window sales figures. We'll see if the pendulum will swing back in the future, especially if Valve creates compelling, new, first-party content for Linux. They seem to be waiting to put their full weight behind it.
Subject: General Tech | June 30, 2016 - 10:35 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: video, summer sale, steam, RX 490, rx 480, radeon, Polaris, podcast, matebook, Huawei, gtx 1060, amd
PC Perspective Podcast #406 - 06/30/2016
Join us this week as we discuss our AMD RX 480 review, the new Huawei MateBook, GTX 1060 and RX 490 leaks and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Lenovo!
Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Josh Walrath
Subject: General Tech | June 24, 2016 - 03:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, sale, sales, steam sale, pc gaming
You probably already know this at this point, but the Steam Summer Sale has begun. The theme, this year, is Steam Summer Picnic Sale. As far as I can tell, it has no relevance other than it ends on July 4th. They do claim to have 12785 titles on sale, though, and filtering all on-sale software by Windows lists 12595 of them.
Some interesting deals include 40% off DOOM, 50% off Fallout 4, 35% off Rise of the Tomb Raider, and 50% off Just Cause 3. The Witcher 3 is also 50% off, although it was like that before the sale and its DLC are still basically full price if you want the both of them. If you're looking for older titles, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is 75% off, as is Civilization V and Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. As always, have a browse if you are okay with tempting your credit card.
If not? ... ... Sorry.
Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2016 - 07:46 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, pc gaming, linux
According to Phoronix, gaming on Linux has experienced exponential growth in recent times. Over the course of the last two years, Steam's catalog on the platform expanded from 500 games up to over 2200. This is a little over a 4.4x increase over two years. If I'm doing my high-school math correctly, and I seriously hope I am, this corresponds to an average increase of just under 2.1x year-over-year.
In other words, this is litearlly the trend, minus half-life. Snicker snicker snicker.
The quantity of Linux's games catalog is a very different argument from its quality, of course. Still, you can find many interesting titles there. Valve has been porting their catalog to the OS, as have other, high-end titles, like Tomb Raider, Trine, Civilization V, Civilization: Beyond Earth, XCOM, and a couple Borderlands versions. If interested in specifics, and you enjoy a sense of humor like you would see on our PC Perspective Podcast, check out LinuxGameCast for their reviews of specific titles.
Subject: Graphics Cards | February 22, 2016 - 06:03 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: vive, valve, steamvr, steam, rift, performance test, Oculus, htc
Though I am away from my stacks of hardware at the office attending Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Valve dropped a bomb on us today in the form of a new hardware performance test that gamers can use to determine if they are ready for the SteamVR revolution. The aptly named "SteamVR Performance Test" is a free title available through Steam that any user can download and run to get a report card on their installed hardware. No VR headset required!
And unlike the Oculus Compatibility Checker, the application from Valve runs actual game content to measure your system. Oculus' app only looks at the hardware on your system for certification, not taking into account the performance of your system in any way. (Overclockers and users with Ivy Bridge Core i7 processors have been reporting failed results on the Oculus test for some time.)
The SteamVR Performance Test runs a set of scenes from the Aperture Science Robot Repair demo, an experience developed directly for the HTC Vive and one that I was able to run through during CES last month. Valve is using a very interesting new feature called "dynamic fidelity" that adjusts image quality of the game in a way to avoid dropped frames and frame rates under 90 FPS in order to maintain a smooth and comfortable experience for the VR user. Though it is the first time I have seen it used, it sounds similar to what John Carmack did with the id Tech 5 engine, attempting to balance performance on hardware while maintaining a targeted frame rate.
The technology could be a perfect match for VR content where frame rates above or at the 90 FPS target are more important than visual fidelity (in nearly all cases). I am curious to see how Valve may or may not pursue and push this technology in its own games and for the Vive / Rift in general. I have some questions pending with them, so we'll see what they come back with.
A result for a Radeon R9 Fury provided by AMD
Valve's test offers a very simple three tiered breakdown for your system: Not Ready, Capable and Ready. For a more detailed explanation you can expand on the data to see metrics like the number of frames you are CPU bound on, frames below the very important 90 FPS mark and how many frames were tested in the run. The Average Fidelity metric is the number that we are reporting below and essentially tells us "how much quality" the test estimates you can run at while maintaining that 90 FPS mark. What else that fidelity result means is still unknown - but again we are trying to find out. The short answer is that the higher that number goes, the better off you are, and the more demanding game content you'll be able to run at acceptable performance levels. At least, according to Valve.
Because I am not at the office to run my own tests, I decided to write up this story using results from a third part. That third party is AMD - let the complaining begin. Obviously this does NOT count as independent testing but, in truth, it would be hard to cheat on these results unless you go WAY out of your way to change control panel settings, etc. The demo is self run and AMD detailed the hardware and drivers used in the results.
- Intel i7-6700K
- 2x4GB DDR4-2666 RAM
- Z170 motherboard
- Radeon Software 16.1.1
- NVIDIA driver 361.91
- Win10 64-bit
|2x Radeon R9 Nano||11.0|
|GeForce GTX 980 Ti||11.0|
|Radeon R9 Fury X||9.6|
|Radeon R9 Fury||9.2|
|GeForce GTX 980||8.1|
|Radeon R9 Nano||8.0|
|Radeon R9 390X||7.8|
|Radeon R9 390||7.0|
|GeForce GTX 970||6.5|
These results were provided by AMD in an email to the media. Take that for what you will until we can run our own tests.
First, the GeForce GTX 980 Ti is the highest performing single GPU tested, with a score of 11 - because of course it goes to 11. The same score is reported on the multi-GPU configuration with two Radeon R9 Nanos so clearly we are seeing a ceiling of this version of the SteamVR Performance Test. With a single GPU score of 9.2, that is only a 19% scaling rate, but I think we are limited by the test in this case. Either way, it's great news to see that AMD has affinity multi-GPU up and running, utilizing one GPU for each eye's rendering. (AMD pointed out that users that want to test the multi-GPU implementation will need to add the -multigpu launch option.) I still need to confirm if GeForce cards scale accordingly. UPDATE: Ken at the office ran a quick check with a pair of GeForce GTX 970 cards with the same -multigpu option and saw no scaling improvements. It appears NVIDIA has work to do here.
Moving down the stack, its clear why AMD was so excited to send out these early results. The R9 Fury X and R9 Fury both come out ahead of the GeForce GTX 980 while the R9 Nano, R9 390X and R9 390 result in better scores than NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 970. This comes as no surprise - AMD's Radeon parts tend to offer better performance per dollar when it comes to benchmarks and many games.
There is obviously a lot more to consider than the results this SteamVR Performance Test provides when picking hardware for a VR system, but we are glad to see Valve out in front of the many, many questions that are flooding forums across the web. Is your system ready??
Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 11:48 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, steam, security, Privacy
On Christmas Day, Valve had a few hours of problems. Their servers were being overloaded by malicious traffic. The best analogy that I could provide would be a bad organization who sent a thousand people to Walmart, to do nothing but stand in the check-out line and ask the cashier about the time. This clogs up the infrastructure, preventing legitimate customers from making their transactions. This was often done after demanding a ransom. Don't pay? Your servers get clogged at the worst time.
A little too much sharing...
There are two ways to counter-act a DDoS attack: add hardware or make your site more efficient.
When a website is requested, the server generates the page and sends it to the customer. This process is typically slow, especially for complicated sites that pull data from one or more database(s). It then feeds this data to partners to send to customers. Some pages, like the Steam Store's front page, are mostly the same for anyone who views it (from the same geographic region). Some pages, like your order confirmation page, are individual. You can save server performance by generating the pages only when they change, and giving them to relevant users from the closest delivery server.
Someone, during a 20-fold spike in traffic relative to the typical Steam Sale volume, accidentally started saving (caching) pages with private information and delivering them to random users. This includes things like order confirmation and contact information pages for whatever logged-in account generated them. This is pretty terrible for privacy. Again, it does not allow users to interact with the profiles of other users, just see the results that other users generated.
But this is still quite bad.
Users complained, especially on Twitter, that Valve should have shut down their website immediately. From my position, I agree, especially since attempting to make a purchase tells the web server to pull the most sensitive information (billing address, etc.) from the database. I don't particularly know why Valve didn't, but I cannot see that from the outside.
But again, I don't work there. I don't know the details.
Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2015 - 07:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, pc gaming
I'm not sure how useful this is, but Valve has added the ability to remove a game from your Steam account through their customer support website. When you log into Steam with your web browser, or select “Steam Support” from the Steam Client's Help menu, you can select a game and see its available options. One is “I want to permanently remove this game from my account.”
I don't exactly know all of the specifics for will happen when you do this, but it sounds like you will need to repurchase the title if you change your mind. This is probably most useful for free little experiences, like Portal Story: Mel or Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, which you've completed and don't want cluttering your Steam library.
On the other hand, users at NeoGAF, who (of course) broke this story, are concerned that it will be abused by trolls who phish accounts. Not only can they sell off their items, they can delete all of their games just because. I would hope that Valve has methods to track deleted games, even just for a limited time, in extreme cases.
On the other hand, a service like GoG could benefit from this feature. Since everything is DRM free, it could provide a transaction and let the user delete the record after they purchase it, rather than flaunt it on a public profile as Steam sort-of does. In that case, deleting the record wouldn't destroy the content -- just place the burden on the user to back-up.
Subject: General Tech | November 26, 2015 - 11:22 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: uplay, steam, pc gaming, origin, GOG
While everyone's in a turkey and gravy coma, retailers are hoping that you'll feel a bit browsy with your drowsy. Black Friday deals are popping up everywhere; some are good, but some are token at best... including the Black Friday sale on tokens at the local arcade.
Anyway, four (edit: Fixed typo) of the largest PC gaming services are Steam, UPLAY, Origin, and GOG.com. Steam is predictably the largest sale. It's another “Exploration Sale,” which is another way of saying, “Here's a few examples of great deals; browse for crap you like. You might find something cheaper. I dunno.” Speaking of a few examples, Elite Dangerous is now just a third of its price. Grand Theft Auto V is now reduced too, although it's not yet in the impulse buy territory. Call of Duty Black Ops III also received a little chop in price, which is unusual for the franchise. You'll probably want to browse Steam in general, especially if there's a game that you've been eying but couldn't justify buying yet.
UPlay's sale is a bit more... weird. If you played Tropico 5 but put it down before buying the DLC, the pack of boosters is now 75% off ($11 CDN here). Surprisingly, the vast majority of sales have nothing to do with Ubisoft titles, and the three exceptions are from 2013 / 2014.
Origin is a bit more rounded in terms of old and new titles. FIFA 16, released just this fall, is about 40% off where I am. Tomb Raider is in the mid-single digits of dollars. Battlefield Hardline is about $10. Do not buy The Witcher 3 here though, if the Canadian prices carry over to the US. The sale even extends back to Command & Conquer: The Ultimate Collection, NHL 09, and Medal of Honor: Airborne. It just keeps scrolling.
Now for GOG. This is, again, a sale that you should probably browse. If you were interested in The Witcher 3, purchasing it from GOG instead of Steam will get you the same sale but DRM-free. Its new price is $29.99 USD, unless you're Canadian. We get it for $23.49 USD at GOG or $29.99 CDN at Steam. I guess they feel like giving a slightly larger discount to compensate for the lack of turkey-goggles. Browse the “On Sale” tab in the bottom right before you leave too.