Monday, July 19, 2010

using STEAM in a net cafe

STEAM is a digital distribution platform. Essentially, you use your credit card or paypal account to buy software (games) on steam and you download it. Once downloaded, you can play it. Once you bought it, you can download it multiple times and install it multiple times even on different PC's. But for most games, the DRM wont let you play the game simultaneously on multiple PC's. And practically all games require you to login to your steam account before you can play. You can login to your account from any PC but not from 2 PC's at the same time, this serves as part of the DRM. Although steam has an offline mode, I'm not sure how that works with the DRM.

Why is STEAM so great?
  • From time to time, there are sales on selected software. There was a big summer sale that ended last 4th of july. Lots of games were 50-75% off. As in less than $10 or even less than $5 for big name branded games. Older games of course have a bigger chance of going on sale for lower prices. 
  • A lot of times, the sale price is much better than in physical stores. Being digital, they could change the price every hour if they wanted to
  • For even more savings, some games are available in packs. Say several related games, or all games from a particular manufacturers, or even 4 packs - 4 copies of a game that you can sell or give to 3 of your friends, keeping one for yourself. Sometimes a popular or new game is bundled with an older one, giving you a 2 for 1 sale.
  • Being digital distribution, there are no costs in making and shipping physical discs, boxes and manuals. This helps keep costs down
  • Being digitally distributed, it is available anywhere you have a net connection. Perfect for people who live away from big cities or who like me live in 3rd world countries. Although some digital distribution companies limit sales of some games to specific areas. fortunately, STEAM doesn't do that
  • A newly released game is available immediately. sometimes you can even pre order
  • Automatic updates
  • Did I mention that it can be cheap??

Anyway, first read the disclaimers.

  • Nothing in this post/blog may be construed as advocating software piracy. Heck, this entire post is about trying to help net cafe owners go legit by giving them access to paid but cheap games.
  • I dont have a net cafe so I have not fully tested some of the techniques here with multiple PC's. Most of this post is just brainstorming.
  • This might violate some rules or EULA in steam or some EULA for a particular game, so please read your EULA.
  • Digital distribution has no paper trail unless you print out your email from steam or produce a credit card report. Depending on the laws in your country, this might not be enough to prove that your software is legitimate. Some countries require a certificate, a box and a physical disk as proof of authenticity. So good luck if the law in your country is not keeping up with technological innovation.
  • Join STEAM's cyber cafe program for more information and more savings. A bulk purchase or a commercial liscence may be cheaper. See <link>.

OK now with that out of the way, we can now ask, can I use steam in a net cafe?  Although the correct term is "LAN gaming center". A net cafe only offers internet access but a LAN gaming center offers multiplayer gaming, either MMO's or via LAN.  Since in the Philippines, they are practically interchangeable, we'll use the shorter term "net cafe".

Why use STEAM or any digital distribution in a net cafe? The biggest reason is cost. Software is a big expense, especially in third world countries since the cost of games usually is the same world wide.

The main technical hiccup in using STEAM for multiple PC's is the DRM. STEAM itself has some DRM and some games have their own DRM on top of that. STEAM's DRM is simple in that it only requires you to login to the STEAM user account tied to that game (hence, requiring internet access) before the game will launch. With STEAM, you can download and install the game multiple times on multiple PC's but you cannot log in with the same STEAM account on 2 PC's at the same time.

Ideally you could give each PC in your net cafe one STEAM account and purchase one of each game for each PC. Unfortunately, without a bulk purchase or a commercial liscence this can be expensive and inefficient, especially for games that are not too popular. Here's a better way if you dont want to join STEAMs' cyber cafe program. For example, if you have say 10 pc's in your net cafe and at most, only 5 customers at a time play a particular game, then you just buy 5 copies of that game. Each game has one steam account and you shuffle logins. This can get complicated if you have lots of games and lots of PC's. Plus there is the danger of your paswords being copied by your customer.  A way to automate this is by using net cafe management software like True cafe.

With this you setup a separate Steam account for every game you provide for your customers in your Internet cafe. Then you register your Steam accounts (login/password) in the TrueCafe CD-key management system and create a shortcut to your game on the TrueCafe Client program panel.  When a customer double clicks on a game shortcut, the CD-key management system takes an available Steam account from the stock and use it to start and login Steam.

To reduce downloads, you can just download each game once and use STEAM's backup function to backup the game to a portable hard drive or flash drive and just use STEAM's restore function on another PC. Not sure if merely copying the /steam/steamapps/common directory on each PC will work.

OK I hope this gives net cafe owners some ideas on how to stay legit and save money at the same time.

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