In a recent interview with MCV, Valve Software's director of business development and legal affairs Jason Holtman was asked his opinion about traditional brick-and-mortar retailers refusing to stock PC games bundled with Steamworks. Ultimately he and VP of marketing Doug Lombari said that Steam was actually good for retail despite fears that digital distribution will one day drive Main Street shops out of business.
"From time to time, we have people react to us in that way," Holtman said. "But the proof in the pudding is when you look a few months after those articles and those flare-ups happen. Retailers are still stocking those games, they are supporting them. And the reason they are stocking those games isn’t because someone won a war, it’s because these products are successful. It’s good to stock a game with Steamworks integrated. It’s good business. People want them. It makes customers happy."
According to Holtman, all the work Valve has dumped into Steam ultimately makes the PC and Mac better platforms for retailers. It's also a given that Steam users will ultimately purchase something through the digital store, but Steam clearly drives players into stores thanks to offerings of demos, free weekend sampling and advertisements of physical special editions from publishers.
"Steam is good for retail," he said. "If you look at some examples of things we’ve done in the past, it shows that. One thing we did with Left 4 Dead was have a free weekend, so every one of our customers were able to play the game. At the end of the weekend, we give people the option to buy the game, and the Steam sales went up. But something that people didn’t see was that retail sales spiked, too. And of course this happens. Everyone is talking about the game, but not everyone has a credit card, or credit on their card. Not everyone wants to make a purchase right away and lots of people are heading into the High Street anyway."
Holtman pointed out that Steam is also used to fulfill offers of virtual goods, typically in Special Editions sold only through retailers like GameStop and Target. He used Left 4 Dead as an example again, saying that Doug Lombardi was behind an exclusive Special Edition pre-order deal with GameStop featuring the in-game baseball bat. Steam was even used as a advertising platform to promote the pre-order prize.
"At the end of the day, everyone likes a fight," Holtman said. "Everyone likes to have a diametric opposition, and when we look at it, this is not a fight, this is about people getting their product out to as many people as possible. Retail and digital, they’re both awesome channels. They’re both very important for games companies. Publishers should absolutely have their games in stores, and should absolutely promote people going to retail. The idea is to get more copies out to people so they can play."
Valve says Steam is on the retailer's side. It's not out to trample the Main Street shops. After all, the industry is focused on the console sector and right now, retail is the biggest outlet. But the industry has seen the future, and it clearly points to the cloud-- that forecast was made clear last month during the East Coast Game Conference. Still, as long as gamers have a special place for physical special editions, there will always be retail doors open to greet them, with or without Steam pushing them in.