Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Steam On

When I tried to log into Riders of Icarus this morning, so I could leave the game idling in the background until I'd done my thirty minutes for the daily login reward (stimulating gameplay at it's finest!), the servers were down for an update. So on a whim I logged into Project:Gorgon instead.

Since I've taken to using Steam for logging in to certain titles, RoI among them, this sort of thing has become more common. I didn't bother to blog about it (except now I am...) but the other day I logged into Otherland, entirely because I was on Steam, something else was unavailable and Otherland caught my eye.

I am a very late adopter of Steam. For several years I couldn't see any point in it at all. I didn't even bother to install it. Then something or other I was interested turned out to be only available on Valve's platform, so I grudgingly triggered the download and signed up.

For several more years after that I barely touched it. Didn't seem any point. Hardly any of the MMORPGs I was playing were on Steam. The ones that were I already had installed and ready to go. Why bother? 

Another reason for my lack of interest was that Steam looked and felt both alien and alienating to me. It was all tiny writing and lists.

Despite being a lifelong, obsessive reader and writer, I am, I think, quite strongly visually-oriented. I like pictures. I have run my PC from the Desktop by clicking icons for a quarter of a century at least. I hardly ever use the Start menu. I find it most natural to recognize pictorial symbols, either on the Desktop or the Taskbar.

I don't even organize my icons. I just let them sit where the system puts them. I like having to search through them before I click. It gives me a chance to change my mind and for serendipity to flourish.

It's the same process that means I have never bought any of the unlimited use gathering or salvage tools in Guild Wars 2. Why would you do that? Isn't running out at a really inconvenient moment and having to go to the vendor to buy more an essential element of gameplay? It is of mine.

And yet, I also love convenience. Let me trot out that Emerson quote again, only for once I'll give the next line, the one no-one ever mentions:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do".

Passing over the question of  the size and/or quality of my soul, if any, the full quote does double service. Consistency can be stultifying and convenience can be arid.

The point at which convenience overtakes participation is at the nexus of repetition. In MMORPGs we do things a lot of times. Sometimes it's the grind. Sometimes it's housekeeping. Even for someone with a very high tolerance for repetition, me for example, there's a limit to what can be passed off as "fun".

Take the title of this blog. I called it Inventory Full because a) mine always was and b) inventory management was my precious. I have commented and posted countless times about how much I love sorting my bags in various MMORPGs and in some games that's still true. Inventory management in EverQuest II is a total pleasure even after fifteen years.

After playing GW2 for less than half that time, however, I could very cheerfully slap whichever ANet developer is responsible for that game's execrable storage design around the head with a wet haddock. Inventory management in GW2 is no fun at all.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know we would like done for us, things we don't know we would like done for us and things we don't know could be done for us. Steam has introduced me to a member of the final category.

I have always enjoyed selecting my icons and clicking them. I have always liked using the individual patchers and launchers and updaters they spawn. I even like watching progress bars fill as the games bring themselves into a playable state.

The one thing about the process I have never enjoyed is typing in the damn login and password details. Because I am paranoid (or, possibly, sensible) I never use the same password twice. I also very, very rarely use the same login or screen name. I also point-blank refuse to allow my PC to remember any of those details and auto-fill them.

I can remember the details for all the games I play regularly. It's the long tail of games I used to play and might again that's the problem. Very often the reason my mouse pointer pauses over an icon, then moves on, is that I'm thinking about the time it's going to take to find my login details.

Add to that the fact that I really don't like the process of filling in the fields themselves. Even when I know the login and password there's a significant chance I'll mistype or mispell something. It's by far from unusual for it to take me three goes to log into GW2 because I've fat-fingered a key in the email address and not noticed.

Until the last few weeks it never occured to me there was another way. Even though I'd been dibbling about in Steam all this year, since I bought Atlas back in January, it hadn't occured to me that once I was logged into Steam I could click on any of the games in my Library and they would start up without asking me for any more details about myself.

When I finally noticed it just a couple of days ago it came close to being an epiphany. I could log in once to Steam then play different games all day without having to enter a single extra detail. Steam isn't just a storefront with inbuilt social media, which is pretty much what I always thought it was. It has an actual, practical use!

Who knew? Well, obviously, everyone except me. I can see now why people are less than thrilled about Epic and others trying to carve out their piece of the pie. It's as if there'd only been Netflix for a decade and everything had been on it and suddenly Amazon and Sky and Google and Apple were all talking about launching services of their own, driven by exclusive content. As if such a thing could happen.

The thing is, of course, I did know all this. I knew it intellectually. I knew perfectly well you could add non-Steam games to your Steam Library, for example, so you could access them via that route. I even did it once, long ago, to see how it worked.

What I hadn't done was take the emotional leap necessary to transition from something I thought I liked doing (clicking icons on my Desktop) to something I thought I disliked doing (selecting a choice from a menu). That's always the hard part of change, the emotions.

The really strange thing is that, now I'm begining to become accustomed to doing it, using the Library is starting to develop a pleasing aesthetic of its own. There's the game's logo and the big, blue PLAY button and in the background a vague, hazy screenshot from the game itself. It's like a tiny desktop all by itself.

Whether this is going to lead to full Steam ahead I'm not sure yet. I'm not one hundred percent comfortable with adding non-Steam games to the interface and thereby, presumably, entrusting their secrets to Valve. It does seem to go against the whole point of having separate passwords and logins to begin with.

I guess if Steam is breached we're all screwed, though. Probably one of those things best not thought about, like supervolcanoes. For the time being I'll just add new games that are available via Steam, I think. No sense in going crazy.

There's still a post to write about what I saw when I logged in to Project: Gorgon but that will have to wait. At least now I know how easy it is I'm far more likely to do it again.

In the meantime, enjoy all these lovely pictures of lens flare.


  1. There's a button in the top left corner of your Steam Library interface that will turn it from a dull list of titles into a more colorful banner view, with variable zoom levels. I like to get a good look at the tone and style of games I'm scrolling through:

    But your mileage may vary.

    1. RIGHT corner.
      One day I'll get that correct on the first try.

    2. Oh yes! Never noticed that. Everything on the default interface is so small and dark. Thanks!

  2. My relation with Steam is still like yours was before your epiphany. I only fire it up when I want to play a game that's Steam-only. Whenever there's the option not to use Steam to play a game, I don't.

    There's various reasons for that, one of which you mentioned above: what if your account gets compromised somehow? Ah well, I'm sure the day will come when I'll no longer be able to avoid it as much as I do now.

    On a funny note: I was nodding furiously when I read the paragraph about being visually oriented and using your desktop icons to start stuff, because I'm exactly the same.
    Then came the part where you talk about not sorting these icons at all...and I almost gasped out loud. I could NEVER do that.
    My icons are neatly arranged, mostly sorted by genre or other correlations and even arranged not to cover important parts of whatever screenshot I'm using as background at any given time. :-)

    1. It was a slight exaggeration to say I never sort them. I have occasional tidy-ups. At the moment I do at least have all the MMOs on the right of the block. There are already six new ones that have plopped themselves down after those, though, so it will soon be chaos again

    2. While I wouldn't go so far as to say it is going to be 100% foolproof, there is at least a fairly strong two-factor authentication setup you use to assist with the security of the platform -- some info here:

      If there is a sign-in from an unrecognised device (or browser) it will request the secondary code in addition to the password.

      Touch wood, so far no issues after many years of use despite some breaches elsewhere. I do also additionally use a unique password for Steam to further assist though.

    3. I ought to do that. Considering I am pretty security-conscious I'm very lax on the whole two-factor thing, mostly because it compounds my dislike of having to enter a load of details in the first place. I guess if I'm just logging into Steam, though, that woul be less of an issue.

    4. For the main gaming PC it doesn't come up that often. On the rare occasion I need to login from the browser for some reason is the general time I have to deal with it. Day to day to can set and forget with a 'remember this device' type thing. :)

  3. You may end up liking some of the features coming in the rework of the library interface then!

    Although still eagerly awaiting even the beta of this to come. It was meant to be a few weeks away a few weeks ago. So come onnnnn. xD


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