Valve has released a new software framework for Steam that will allows the digital distribution service's partners to improve the online performance of their games. The update was released late last week, and will likely allow multiplayer games to make use of a stronger online service to host better quality matchmaking and gameplayer performance in an online setting.
Steam has recently come under fire for some of its policies, especially those related to the platform's content curation system. With a bonafide competitor in the Epic Games Store beginning to entice developers way from Valve's digital distribution service, many have called for Steam to begin making some serious policy changes to compete. That change began with a recent change to Steam's user review policy that was meant to prevent review bombing from users who were dissatisfied with a game's decisions.
Those changes continued late last week when Valve released its new software framework. The move is intended to improve connection quality, including lowering lag for multiplayer titles, guarantee better support for home routers, and protect players against the denial of service attacks that plagued the platform around Christmas last year with anonymized traffic and better defense systems. Here's a brief summary of what the new networking APIs will give to Steam partners:
- Access to the Valve network, which will give players protection from attack, what's being described as "100% reliable NAT traversal," and improved connectivity.
- Tools for instantly estimating the ping between two arbitrary hosts without sending any packets.
- A high quality end-to-end encrypted reliable-over-UDP protocol.
For those unfamiliar with some of the terminology, Valve is essentially giving away some extremely valuable online connectivity tools to its partners. The better connection that will come with these tools will still vary depending on what each player's access and location are, but Valve's data suggests that at least 43% of gamers will see a reduction in lag thanks to these changes. A further 10% of players will see their ping times drop by 40ms or more, which is an extremely useful change. According to the data, the biggest improvements will likely be in India and Europe, where a more pronounced number of users will experience noticeable differences in performance.
Valve's gesture to its developers isn't just one being made in good faith, though. The company needs to rework its image a little after some recent controversies, and the Epic Games Store has continued to push developer incentives as a big draw to that platform over Steam. Providing developers with the tools to give players better online experiences - and thus avoid any of the negativity that comes with problematic connections, especially at launch - could be an alluring factor in the decision many studios need to make soon between Steam and Epic.