In a post on Steam’s blog, Valve has announced several changes to Steam’s gifting system. Before today, users on Steam could purchase a game as a gift and store that copy in their inventory for later use. When sending games, users could either deliver the gift directly through Steam or attach it to an email through the client if you weren’t friends with the giftee on the service. With today’s changes, you cannot store gifts for future use, although gifts you already have stored will not be affected. When purchasing a game you already own, you are forced to choose a recipient of the gift and a time when it will be delivered. Sending games through email is now impossible, although it is now possible to schedule a game to be delivered months in advance.
When trading games between regions, Steam will detect if there is a large difference in price and prevent trading in these cases, blocking users from taking advantage of regional pricing and pricing errors that have been exploited by certain users in the past. This isn’t the first time that Valve has tried to stem this particular issue, as they’ve previously turned on region locking on gifts by default. This sometimes had the effect of users buying a game to gift to someone, but then finding out that they couldn’t send the gift due to region locking something that will no longer happen as it’s revealed when a gift is purchased.
Collectors have often used Steam’s gift inventory to store and trade copies of delisted Steam titles, and such games will be impossible to procure after the fact with this new system. These changes will also affect users who trade and sell Steam gifts on third party websites. Sites like G2A traffic in some Steam gifts, although it’s small potatoes compared to the trading of Steam keys, which is unaffected by this. Steam-specific operations such as SteamGifts and TF2 Outpost will be hit the hardest, as the ability to store and trade gifts were a large reason for the creation of such tools.
In somewhat related news, Valve has also increased the maximum Steam Wallet limit to $2000, up from $500. In addition, items on the Steam marketplace can now be sold for up to $1800, an increase from the previous $400 limit.
I’m not denying that there weren’t issues with the gifting system as it was, but it feels like Valve is throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. The way gifts worked were one of the key elements in making Steam bigger than a storefront, and taking the ability to distribute games between friends away will continue the erosion of Valve’s image in the eyes of the gaming public. It is especially worrying at how the announcement is worded like a propaganda piece, trying to convince gamers that these new limits somehow gives them more options.
I’m personally devastated at how hard it will be for players to get at games taken down from Steam due to rights issues and/or developer shenanigans since games preservation for digital only titles is already a nightmare and Valve regularly removes games from their storefront without any warning or communication. Considering that Valve is also working on some sort of game distribution system that removes Steam keys from the equation for reviewers, I can’t help but see the company becoming more draconian with their platform and destroying all the reasons that gamers had to buy into this DRM scheme in the first place.