After almost giving the game away when non-gaming categories briefly appeared in its mobile application, Valve Software has announced a big expansion for its Steam distribution service. Starting on the 5th of September Steam will sell general software titles for PC and Mac.
This is huge news for a variety of reasons – not only is Steam the dominant online distribution for PC and Mac gaming tiles, it has a bunch of gaming focused technologies that will translate well to general software. Falling under the Steamworks banner this includes automatic patching, simple installation and the ability to access software titles you own wherever you log in to steam. According to the announcement developers will also be able to adapt their titles to use Steam Cloud, which until now has been online storage for savegames.
This move will also be incorporated into the recently announced Steam Greenlight program, which is a crowdsourcing effort designed to let the audience choose which titles end up on Steam. It isn’t the only way to get a title published on Steam (you can bet that Valve has deals in the works with a myriad big name software companies), but it provides a good avenue for independent developers to get their work in front of a massive audience.
Valve’s expansion of Steam comes as Microsoft plans to launch its own software store in Windows 8, and comes on the heels of Valve head Gabe Newell’s comments that Windows 8 could be “a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space”. It also fits nicely into news that Valve is making serious efforts to port its platform and in-house games to Linux, which has been seen largely as a hedging strategy against Windows 8 until now.
Just what the shift beyond gaming will entail is a little murky still, with the announcement fairly light on details. Whether Valve is able to bring its notorious wallet-emptying sales to the wider software sphere is going to be fascinating, as is the range of software on offer. If Valve can get decent titles for a decent price, then Steam could become an even more important part of our computing lives.