For better or for worse, Steam is a part of everyday gaming life for nearly two and a half million, and is known to far more. Other developers are starting to use the service, episodic games are coming, and a handful of major mod teams are teetering on the edge of seeing their creations officially added to the system. Do you want in? Of course you do! No matter what you thought of how Half-Life 2 was handled there can be no denying that getting on board Steam gives you all the opportunities you need to take your mod’s potential audience and actual publicity to the next level. And so for the next few hundred words we are going to talk about what Steam does, can, and might one day do for your team.
There are some benefits your mod gets simply by existing. Installed mods are listed in Play Games, a small yet hugely important leap from previous systems where mods only appeared in interfaces after much menu navigation, and sometimes not at all. Your game has a presence as close to retail titles as it can get without confusing users.
The Steam player statistics page also takes this approach. Official games by the various professional developers are listed alongside mods made by that guy down the street, with popularity the only deciding factor in their position. As long as your mod has a player, it is on the list. The only problem is that the number of people checking that page isn’t likely to be particularly large and that’s why the chart is mirrored in the Steam UI itself, under the Third-Party Games tab in Browse Games. It isn’t entirely automatic this time however – Valve needs to notice your work and write a description before it appears.
Both of these might seem straightforward and indeed they are, but do not underestimate their importance. Were you to pay for this sort of coverage, and if you could in the first place, it would easily cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, it’s all yours for the price of going for it.
Despite helping immensely all three of these portals still need user input to be useful, either through clicking links or installing the mod beforehand. It takes something else entirely to really get the most out of Steam. If your mod is popular, well-made and suitable for widespread consumption you stand every chance of finding an message in your inbox inviting you to become an adopted, or official as some people misleadingly describe it, game. It hasn’t happened yet, with Natural Selection and Sven Co-op, the two mods known to have been offered, still languishing for various reasons and Codename: Gordon hardly counting, but rest assured that when the major Source mods like Dystopia and Insurgency start coming out Valve will start to dedicate more time to the matter.
What exactly does this mean though? Some things are certain, such as access to Steam’s auto-update features and a presence in the ‘My Games’ category, some are likely, such as access to the Steampowered.com news page, and some are speculative, like having your mod included in a ‘plus these community games!’ fashion to Steam package and even retail purchasers, as Epic demonstrated with UT2004 Editor’s Choice Edition.
Contract details are also speculative, but exercising some logic we can see that on top of the standard mod legalities you won’t be charged for Steam hosting your mod while on the other hand still won’t be able to sell it, nor will you be asked to hand over ownership or IP rights.
Future and Conclusion
There is clearly still potential for growth and improvement to Steam’s mod features, and with the recent news of version 3.0’s development that growth might not be too far off. From the little things like icons in Play Games and your mod’s name appearing on the ‘Preparing to play’ screen to a fully searchable mod directory like the one here at ModDB and a wider range of mods becoming adopted, Steam can only offer more.
But what of the bad things? The fact of the matter is that as far as mods are concerned there aren’t any. Steam is nearly technologically transparent: were it not for the odd CPP header and a bit of DLL copying needed to debug it might as well not exist. It has its bad parts, there’s no avoiding them, but none directly affect your work. The only complaint I can make is the lack of any recent improvements in the area and when 3.0 comes around, even that might be made invalid.
You now have an overview of what Steam can do for your mod. Although still in the embryonic stages and either automated or controlled solely by Valve, the features are already a welcome change and unmistakable improvement on former systems which stand only to improve.