Posted on February 20, 2014, Ron Whitaker Valve’s Track Record of Trust Earns Player Forgiveness
Since its founding in 1996, Valve has transformed from a small game developer into the owner of the most influential digital distribution platform in the world, but the most important thing it has gained is the almost unwavering trust of its users.
Trust is important. Trust is what makes gamers willing to buy your games sight unseen. Trust means that people give you the benefit of the doubt, and that they’re willing to go along with you when you try something new. Trust means huge numbers of customers put up with your DRM and believe you when you say you’ll deactivate it if your platform ever fails.
Trust also means that you can explain things to people, and they’re likely to accept your explanation, provided it makes sense. For an example of this, look no further than Valve’s Gabe Newell posting on Reddit earlier this week.
As rumors began to circulate that Valve’s anti-cheat software, VAC, was recording users’ browser DNS cache entries and reporting them back to Valve, Newell took to Reddit to explain. He begins by opening up with his own references to trust, saying, “Trust is a critical part of a multiplayer game community — trust in the developer, trust in the system, and trust in the other players. Cheats are a negative sum game, where a minority benefits less than the majority is harmed.”
Newell then spends the better part of 625 words explaining how the VAC system works, and how it doesn’t return your browsing history to Valve. While this is important information, the really important thing to observe is how the community reacts to it. Here are a few selected quotes:
- ”That’s pretty awesome and it restores my faith in VAC.”
- ”Thank you for being honest and transparent about what is going on…”
- ”Thanks for clearing this up Gabe…”
- ”Valve is a company I definitely trust and it has been a pleasure ‘doing business’ with you.”
- ”Keep on swinging the crowbar and keep doing what you guys love and I am sure the rest of us will be right there behind you.”
Contrast that with the response that Blizzard has gotten to its Warden software over the years. While it’s obvious that Warden has been talked about less and less since it came to light in the MDY Industries v. Blizzard Entertainment lawsuit and the developers’ customers grew accustomed to the anti-cheat software, it’s also obvious that even a company with as many fans as Blizzard couldn’t simply remove concerns with a public-facing post.
The major reason that Valve has wide latitude with gamers is the sheer amount of goodwill it has banked over the years. While EA has been hampered by everything from a Battlefield 4’s troubled launch to the host of problems that plagued SimCity, Valve has simply cruised along, making games that are popular and ruffling few feathers. While Valve’s avoidance of a major problem with a game is part of the goodwill it has gained, it’s the Steam Sales that have really cemented Valve’s place in gamers’ hearts.
The Steam Sale isn’t just another sale — each is an event eagerly awaited by gamers and developers alike. As a dev, having your game featured in a sale can do amazing things for your revenue, even doubling it in some cases. Gamers anticipate the sales so much that news of their start dates leaking can take over the Internet.
Another reason Valve doesn’t have the headache inducing PR failures that some other major companies do is that it tends to move quickly to address problems. Just last week, Valve added a tagging system to Steam. When abuse became a concern, the company quickly moved to introduce an abuse reporting feature. When The War Z’s Steam launch went horribly wrong, Valve quickly pulled the game off Steam, and admitted posting it in an incomplete state was a mistake.
Even in the case mentioned earlier in this story, Valve didn’t call a meeting of PR personnel and try to decide how to influence the narrative. It simply went to the source of the concerns (Reddit), and addressed the problem in a straightforward and forthright manner.
So if this works so well for Valve, why don’t more companies use similar tactics? Why wasn’t EA more open about the BF4 issues? Well, those companies don’t all have the same advantages Valve does.