While EA's Origin and Ubisoft's Uplay both offer digital game downloads, the biggest player in the PC gaming space by far is Valve's Steam platform. Home to 125 million active users, the service is responsible for approximately 75% of all PC game sales. That popularity is fuelled in part by the fact that Steam hosts a massive game library of over 3,000 titles that range from popular indies like DayZ to big budget blockbusters like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
And Valve has consistently encouraged people to release games on its platform too, with Early Access and Steam Greenlight allowing developers get their work onto Steam without massive financial backing or a large-scale marketing plan. It's options like these that give developers the freedom to decide how they release their games, and it has given players lots of new (and sometimes quirky) titles to play.
That's why it comes of little surprise that Valve has just announced their Source 2 engine. The original Source engine that they created was used to power hugely popular games like Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2, and in providing access to its successor, the game development community will have another tool at their disposal to help them make great games. Great games that Valve will hope that the developers will release on Steam.
Valve's Senior Engineer Jay Stelly explained:
"The value of a platform like the PC is how much it increases the productivity of those who use the platform. With Source 2, our focus is increasing creator productivity. Given how important user generated content is becoming, Source 2 is designed not for just the professional developer, but enabling gamers themselves to participate in the creation and development of their favorite games."
Their goal of "increasing creator productivity" for developers across the board is also backed up by the fact that Source 2 will be released for free. This will certainly alleviate the financial burden of game development for many budding game devs, especially as two other popular game development tools, Unity and Unreal Engine 4, have just been made available for free too. Stelly adds that these decisions will "help continue the PCs dominance as the premiere content authoring platform".
Furthermore, Valve is also working on a Vulkan-compatible version of Source 2, which will make those Source 2-developed games look incredibly polished. Recently announced by Khronos Group, Vulkan is a cross-platform and cross-vendor 3D graphics API that gives devs the ability to juice every drop of good graphics out of their hardware. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell even calls Vulkan "a critical component of SteamOS and future Valve games," which certainly explains why they're keen to make Source 2 compatible with it.
With all of these game development tools being made available for free, there is the obvious concern that we may begin to see an overwhelming amount of bad games flood Steam. Given that Steam Greenlight has let some questionable titles through its gates, that concern is entirely valid. But, on the bright side, now that the cost barriers have been removed, we may also see some fantastic games released on Steam that developers were never able to create before due to financial constraints.
There are also rumors that Valve may even use Source 2 to power Half-Life 3, since Half-Life 2 was a launch title for the original Source engine. Given that Valve is also busy launching its own VR headset with HTC (called Vive) and they're working on Steam Link (a piece of tech that lets users stream Steam around their homes), the company most likely doesn't have time to develop the highly anticipated title. Valve's may not yet be done with its GDC reveals, though, and may still have something tucked up their sleeves, so we'll keep you posted.