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We're in the process of game development where we need to integrate with the Steamworks API for multiplayer matchmaking, achievements, player stats, etc. We also have a rudimentary implementation integrating with the Steam Workshop in order to distribute player-authored content.

However, I have a remit that the game should be publishable on other distribution platforms such as GOG.

  • If we were to distribute on an alternative platform such as GOG, is it acceptable to rely on steam features? I presume this would mean the player purchasing on GOG and being forced to install steam and set up a steam account before playing. (I'm also aware that GOG are very much anti-DRM which might entail a separate build version too, if even possible).

  • If not acceptable, what's the alternative? Are developers expected to employ platform-specific or a proprietary network system for multiplayer matchmaking for instance? How is this achieved in other games?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Steam builds don't necessarily have DRM: steam.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_DRM-free_games I am sure this question is answered somewhere in the Steam documentation. \$\endgroup\$ – Almo Jan 16 '19 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, that's something I didn't know, thanks. As to the rest of the question, I've scoured the documentation on SW and GOG; I can't find the answer. I know Humble sometimes effectively just gives you a steam key, but I don't have experience with using other platforms and wanted to know what other games do internally. \$\endgroup\$ – Rab Jan 16 '19 at 20:09
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To some extent, the answer depends on how you are defining your terms. My interpretation of the docs is that it's okay to:

  • Sell Steam keys through other venues provided you are doing so in a way that's generally comparable to how you sell on Steam
  • Games using Steam keys can use the Steam infrastructure (servers, bandwidth, etc), even if those keys were not sold directly through Steam.

I was not able to find definitive info (edits to the contrary are welcome) addressing whether or not, you cannot make use of the Steam infrastructure without a Steam key. I could see this being allowed for things like cross-platform play, but wasn't able to determine if this was being done on Steam or 3rd party servers. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to assume that Steam doesn't want to bleed out money or assume legal liability for content completely outside their ecosystem. They pitch use of their infrastructure as way of "enhancing the value of legitimate copies."

If the documentation doesn't address your concerns, I suggest reaching out directly to Steam for additional clarification.

Here is an excerpt taken from the public facing documentation on Steam keys:

Overview

Steam keys are meant to be a convenient tool for game developers to sell their game on other stores and at retail. Steam keys are free and can be activated by customers on Steam to grant a license to a product.

Valve provides the same free bandwidth and services to customers activating a Steam key that it provides to customers buying a license on Steam. We ask you to treat Steam customers no worse than customers buying Steam keys outside of Steam. While there is no fee to generate keys on Steam, we ask that partners use the service judiciously.

...

Steam Key Rules and Guidelines

You should use keys to sell your game on other stores in a similar way to how you sell your game on Steam. It is important that you don't give Steam customers a worse deal.

It's OK to run a discount on different stores at different times as long as you plan to give a comparable offer to Steam customers within a reasonable amount of time.

Here is an excerpt taken from the public facing documentation on Steam DRM:

Overview

The Steam DRM wrapper is an important part of Steam platform because it verifies game ownership and ensures that Steamworks features work properly by launching Steam before launching the game.

The Steam DRM wrapper by itself is not is not a anti-piracy solution. The Steam DRM wrapper protects against extremely casual piracy (i.e. copying all game files to another computer) and has some obfuscation, but it is easily removed by a motivated attacker.

We suggest enhancing the value of legitimate copies of your game by using Steamworks features which won't work on non-legitimate copies (e.g. online multiplayer, achievements, leaderboards, trading cards, etc.).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for very eloquently surmising what I was beginning to conclude myself: it's cool to distribute steam keys but "grey" about just using the back-end infrastructure with a game that wasn't specifically bought using a steam key, thanks. Indeed; the next step will be to go to Valve for clarification, however I figured with the thousands of games on Steam, I can't be the first developer to come against this! - which is why I thought best to ask here first. \$\endgroup\$ – Rab Jan 17 '19 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rab You're probably right, but I've also inferred that their NDAs about discussing such grey areas out in the open are bit restrictive. My suspicion is even if some discussions might be ok, it's easier & safer to pass than run the risk of finding yourself in breach of contract for the sake of a stack exchange post. Good luck & if you find info that you can share, feel free to edit this answer (if it was close enough to warrant) or post a more correct one. \$\endgroup\$ – Pikalek Jan 17 '19 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Never thought, @Pikalek that it could be a result of NDAs. Well if I get anywhere with Valve and I can, I'll report back in case it helps others in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Rab Jan 17 '19 at 20:02

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