For almost a decade, Steam has been the go-to source for downloadable PC games and content. The service has expanded a great deal since its earliest days as a Valve game distribution center, with thousands of titles, support for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows, as well as its own third-party mod distribution system and Early Access hub. Now it seems that Valve is expanding Steam in another direction: Streaming movies.
The company announced today that it had signed a major deal with Lionsgate to distribute more than 100 feature films via Steam. Films from The Hunger Games, Kill Bill, Saw, and Divergent series are already available online, as are titles from The Expendables, Twilight, and Leprechaun (nobody said these were all good movies.)
“We’re delighted to partner with Steam, a leader in the digital entertainment and gaming space, as part of our commitment to remain at the cutting edge of innovation in delivering content to online audiences around the world,” said Lionsgate President of Worldwide Television & Digital Distribution Jim Packer. “With over 125 million users, Steam represents a unique, exciting and disruptive opportunity to expand our global distribution business.”
This is an interesting angle for Steam to take, but it remains to be seen how serious the company is about tackling Netflix. It’s also a little odd to see a company like Steam adding a video-on-demand service option as opposed to tackling game streaming — while there are significant technological hurdles to building a smooth game streaming service, it’s a concept that fits directly in Steam’s wheelhouse and that other companies like Sony and Nvidia already offer.
One significant question, if Valve is serious about launching its own video-on-demand service, is whether the company would overhaul the Steam client to create something better suited to movies and video. While Steam has definitely evolved over the last 12 years, the current version of the application is very much an evolution of what we worked with back in 2003.
The current Steam client isn’t particularly easy to navigate unless you know exactly where things already are. I appreciate the minimalist design — I don’t need skeuomorphic graphics and cutesy animations — but new features are often buried in submenus and program navigation is often anything but clear. It’s hard to see how the existing client can reasonably expand to include a full suite of movies (and possibly eventually television shows) without rethinking the underlying software.
For now, this Lionsgate deal is probably a test run to see if Steam users are interested in this kind of content — but if the deal proves successful, Valve might want to rethink how it organizes and structures Steam’s client. Feature discovery and configuration are already poor; it’s hard to see how jamming an entirely new set of media into the mix will help things.