Steam Autumn Sale (and Steam Awards Nominations) Begin!

Subject: General Tech | November 25, 2016 - 04:17 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam, pc gaming, black friday

Okay, I admit it: I’m a little late on this one. Sorry, all! Sometimes you need to shelf a post because it’s taking forever to write, but you only realize it after days of researching and editing have gone by. In the mean time, simple posts, like this one, begin to collect dust in the queue. You just need to know when to let go, even if it’s temporarily. This time I didn’t.

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Oh well. So Valve decided to host their Autumn Sale from now until 1pm (EST) on Tuesday. To me, a sale that starts just before American Thanksgiving and ends hours after Cyber Monday... seems like a Black Friday sale. They even acknowledge it as such in their announcement, so I guess I’m not alone.

There really isn’t much to say, though. Gabe Newell will get your money via big discounts on new and bundled back catalog games... oh wait, there is. Remember how Steam was pushing “Discovery” with their new store aesthetic? How it was supposed to help users find relevant content within their store? They just decided to create “The Steam Awards”, which are user-nominated through the store listing.

This is quite interesting. From Steam’s perspective, it allows a handful of games to get promoted to a wider audience, which could allow some games break out of their niche. On the other hand, since it is user-selected, it would need a niche to have a chance at that exposure. Whether it helps good games find an audience that would otherwise die off? Not sure. I am interested to see, if this really is a phase in the Discovery initiative, what else will be introduced. Time will tell...

Source: Valve

Podcast #425 - Samsung 960 EVO, NZXT S340, NVIDIA revenue, wireless Vive, Serious Sam VR, Steam VR on Linux and more!

Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2016 - 03:53 PM |
Tagged: wireless, VR, video, valve, TPCAST, tempered glass, steam, serious sam, Samsung, S340, podcast, nzxt, linux, htc, 960 EVO, 375.86

PC Perspective Podcast #425 - 11/17/16

Join us this week as we discuss new Samsung 960 EVO, NZXT S340, NVIDIA revenue, wireless Vive, Serious Sam VR, Steam VR on Linux and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts:  Allyn Malventano, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Sebastian Peak

Program length: 1:13:46

  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Ryan:
  4. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Valve says VR is soon coming to Linux

Subject: General Tech | November 14, 2016 - 01:31 PM |
Tagged: linux, mac os. valve, steam, VR, steamvr, OpenVR

Valve's OpenVR based project, which goes by the obvious moniker of SteamVR, has been shown powering an HTC Vive, using Vulcan on an unspecified Linux distro.  This proof of concept is to back up their claims that SteamVR should be available to consumers very soon.  At the moment their are few VR games using either OpenGL or Vulkan so your software choices will be limited.  At the same time, you may also be limited in the headset you can choose as Oculus developers have stated that all Mac OS support projects are currently on hold.  Road to VR has the full presentation from Valve’s Joe Ludwig embedded in their post here.

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"However, Valve will soon move to encourage a diminishing of that monopoly, as it plans to bring SteamVR – the company’s Steam-integrated VR platform – to both Linux and Mac OSX platforms within the next few months."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Road to VR

Steam "Discovery Update 2.0" Is Now Live

Subject: General Tech | November 7, 2016 - 09:07 PM |
Tagged: valve, steam, pc gaming

As we mentioned last week, Valve was working on a major refresh of the Steam homepage, with a heavy emphasis on letting users find products that interest them. This update is now live, and will be presented to you the new next time you load (or reload) the store page. They also have a banner link, right near the top, that highlights changes, including a few they've already made over the course of 2016.

valve-2016-steam-discoveryupdate2.png

One glaring thing that I note is the “Recently Viewed” block. There doesn't seem to be a way to disable this or otherwise limit the amount of history that it stores. While this is only visible to your account, which should be fairly obvious, it could be a concern for someone who shares a PC or streams regularly. It's not a big issue, but it's one that you would expect to have been considered.

Otherwise, I'd have to say that the update looks better. The dark gray and blue color scheme seems a bit more consistent than it was, and I definitely prefer the new carousel design.

What do you all think?

Recordings of Valve's Steam Dev Days Now on YouTube

Subject: Shows and Expos | November 4, 2016 - 02:35 AM |
Tagged: VR, valve, steam, pc gaming

A little over three weeks ago, Valve hosted a fairly big developer conference, which excluded journalists so that attendees could network without feeling anxious. The goal was not to keep information from the public, however, and so they created high-quality recordings of the talks and the Steamworks Development YouTube channel, which I assume is owned by Valve but cannot verify this, made the videos public.

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Again, each of these talks were aimed at various types of developers, and they were hosted by numerous companies. One video has Tim Sweeney, the founder of Epic Games, discuss Physically-Based Rendering (PBR) and another has Na'Tosha Bard, the technical director at Unity, highlight points that a game developer should know if they intend to publish to Linux, including SteamOS.

In all, there are 25 videos, ranging from ten minutes to an hour and a half, with most clocking in around 45 minutes. It's a fairly large commitment if you want to watch it all, but the topics vary wildly, so it could easily be a “kill an hour learning something” sort of thing. Also, the talks from 2014 are available, too. (There wasn't a Steam Dev Days conference in 2015.)

Thanks Phoronix for finding these.

Call of Duty Has a Big Issue. Choose Your Store Carefully.

Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2016 - 09:14 PM |
Tagged: xbox, steam, pc gaming, fail

In a few short hours, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered will unlock on Steam and Windows Store. If you're intending to get it for the multiplayer, though, then you need to choose your store carefully. According to Activision's support page, Steam users can only play with other Steam users, and Windows Store users can only play with other Windows Store users.

Ouch.

activision-2016-codtwopeople.jpg

"We need to stick together! I wanted to pad my Gamerscore and you're the only one online!"

They do not elaborate on why this is the case. PC Gamer speculates that it could be an issue with Windows 7 versus Windows 10, but that makes basically no sense. The protocol between computers is just data, controlled by Activision, so the operating system that transfer it from network socket to game application is irrelevant.

I think I know what it is, though. According to the same support page, they note that a Microsoft Account is required to play online with Windows Store. I'm not sure if Activision voluntarily chose to use two different account systems, or if Microsoft pressured Activision to use Xbox accounts on Windows Store, but I'm guessing the incompatibility is due to Steamworks versus Xbox.

Again, I really don't know why Activision chose to, or was forced to, split their user base. We'll need to see if this becomes a trend going forward, though. If it is, I can see this hurting Microsoft more than Valve.

Source: Activision

Steam "Discovery Update 2.0" Changes Screenshot Policy

Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2016 - 03:58 AM |
Tagged: steam, valve, pc gaming

According to leaked images of an announcement that Valve made to Steam developers, which PC Gamer claims to have confirmed with Valve, the digital distribution platform will undergo several changes in “a couple weeks”. The message calls this initiative “Discovery Update 2.0”. While I would guess that this is the final name, it could be a placeholder that tells developers to expect changes similar to 2014's Discovery Update, which introduced Steam Curators and the Discovery Queue to the front page.

SteamLogo.png

A lot of the changes, like the original Discovery Update, affect how games can be found on the front page. There will be a focus on promoting whatever the user's Steam friends are consuming as well as elevating the visibility of the “Top Selling New Releases” screen. The will also be more picky about who to show ads for new games to, which Valve expects will lead to fewer impressions, but hopefully higher click-through.

Valve will also refresh the Steam Curator feature by allowing them to communicate about titles in a more nuanced way, possibly without even making a recommendation one way or the other at all. We'll need to wait a little while and see how it is actually implemented, along with all of the other changes, but they might nudge the platform away from the visibility issues that users and indie developers alike were complaining about. At the very least, you can expect Valve to carefully measure how sales are impacted by these alterations, and continue to experiment with why.

Then we get to the screenshot policy.

Two changes are planned, each addressing a wholly different issue. The first change regards mature content. Valve does not seem to be planning to discourage gory, lewd, or offensive content, but rather force developers to properly tag their content so the user can filter out what they aren't interest in (or disgusted by). Of course, censorship could creep in with the correct mix of misguided good intentions and complacency, but that doesn't seem to be the goal, which should mean that accidents will be fixed as they arise.

The other change alters the way they intend screenshots to be used. Previously, they were treated like promotional content, even by Valve. In fact, their one example picked apart the store page of their own game, DOTA 2. Valve seems to want to change it into a glimpse of the actual game, like a demo in still image form. Basically, the “screenshots” section is turning more literally into a section of screenshots, rather than, as they verbatim say, concept art, pre-rendered cinematic stills, or images that contain awards, marketing copy, or written product descriptions. “Please show customers what your game is actually like to play.”

This all seems like fairly routine changes to me, although we will need to wait until it's live (or another leak occurs) to truly know.

Valve Changes Its Review System on Steam

Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2016 - 09:56 PM |
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.

SteamLogo.png

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.

HTC Vive Currently Dominating Oculus Sales

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 09:21 PM |
Tagged: valve, htc, steam, steamvr, vive, Oculus, oculus rift

Thanks to Keith of WCCFTech for tweeting this out.

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.

htc-valve-2016-viveset.png

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.

Steam Hardware Survey Shows Drop for Linux

Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2016 - 02:21 AM |
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%).

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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.