Any PC gamer out there will be able to tell you that there are three truths in life: we’re all going to die, we all need to pay taxes, and we all know how awful Steam’s customer support is. Steam’s lack of comprehensive customer support has become a meme at this point, and with Steam being the king of the PC digital distribution hill for so long, it seemed like it was never going to change.
Throughout the past year, however, Epic Games has emerged as a serious competitor to Steam. There have been other digital distribution platforms that have appeared since Steam established itself as the one to beat, but Epic is going after Valve in a big way by putting the heaps of money it earned from Fortnite toward securing timed exclusivity deals for a lot of big-name PC games.
Not only that, but Epic is also making its store a more attractive place for developers by severely undercutting Steam on its revenue split. While Steam takes 30% of each sale (a percentage that goes down the more a game sells), Epic takes only 12%, which is paltry by comparison.
Epic’s attempts to brute force its way into the digital distribution space have been met with controversy by PC gamers who largely only want to use Steam to buy and play their games. Every time a company announces that one of their highly-anticipated games will be an Epic Store exclusive at launch, it’s met with outcry from legions of PC gamers who swear they will only ever buy games through Steam.
I can’t say I blame those gamers, because with more than 300 games in my Steam library, I would prefer to avoid fragmenting my PC games collection across multiple platforms too. It makes me cringe to say that, though, because it’s abundantly clear that Valve’s long reign as the king of PC digital distribution has led it to become complacent and lazy, only implementing change when it thinks those changes will help it sell more games.
Valve knows that people will never entirely jump ship and go to a different service no matter how bad Steam gets because their Steam libraries will keep them bound to it in some way. My feelings about fragmentation aside, I was really hoping that Epic’s all-out assault on Steam would force Valve to play on the defensive for the first time in a decade and actually make Steam a more attractive place for both developers and gamers. That, as if you couldn’t already tell from the headline of this article, didn’t happen.
I’m sure it won’t surprise any of you to learn that even after this pressure from Epic, Valve’s customer support is still straight up garbage. I’ve dealt with a number of really awful companies as a customer and I can confidently say that I’ve never had a more difficult time actually talking to a real person than I have with Steam.
If, for whatever reason, you ever run into a problem with your Steam account that requires the attention of a human, you’re essentially out of luck. Your only option is to open a ticket with Steam support and hope that they address your issue in a timely manner, but as plenty of Steam forum users will attest, ticket response times aren’t exactly stellar.
Perhaps you’d like to chat with a Steam support rep instead? Too bad, you can’t. Maybe you’d like to give Valve a call? You actually can find a published phone number for Valve support, but good luck getting any human support for Steam over the phone.
When I tried to call Valve’s support line earlier today, I was greeted with an automated response that said “For questions about Valve products or Steam support, press 7.” When I did that, the automated robot lady said, “Steam does not offer phone support for any of our products, but you can obtain support by visiting our website at help.steampowered.com” before hanging up on me.
For a platform as big as Steam, refusing to talk to users over the phone is just laughable. It might be forgivable if you were given an easy way to have your issue looked at by a human, but that’s also needlessly complex. Going to that website simply takes you to the Steam support help page, where you’re showed your recent purchases and a number of links to help articles that aim to offer self-service troubleshooting.
You’re also given the option to head to the Steam forums and present your problem to the Steam community, turning other Steam users brave enough to navigate those stormy waters into what’s essentially a volunteer support team. You also have the option to open one of the aforementioned tickets, but the link to do so isn’t easily accessible from the homepage of the Steam support site.
Perhaps the most damning thing of all is the fact that the Steam Support Twitter account has sat inactive since 2017. In the time since then, the main Steam Twitter account hasn’t picked up the ball either, only posting ads for deals or new releases.
Valve’s approach to customer service is possibly the laziest and most anti-customer approach I’ve ever seen, and that’s really saying something because I’m a current Comcast and Verizon subscriber and I’ve been an AT&T customer in the past. At least with Comcast I can go to their website and start a live chat with a customer service rep with little hassle, and with Verizon, I can just call their customer service phone number and keep pressing the “0” key until its automated system gives up and transfers me to a human.
Valve doesn’t give me that option, though. There’s no easy way for me to say “your help system isn’t solving my problem and I need to talk this through with a person.” I expect companies to try to push me through automated troubleshooting when I initially contact them with an issue, but I also expect them to give me ways to talk to a human in real time when those methods inevitably fail. With many companies I deal with a regular basis, I have multiple avenues for accomplishing that, but with Steam, I have none.
For those who might argue that this is a matter of scale and that Steam has so many users it can’t roll out comprehensive customer support, I have to say I don’t think that’s true. Valve said that Steam had 90 million monthly active users in 2018, while Verizon’s financial results for Q3 2019 (which can be found on Verizon’s investor relations website) said that the company had around 93 million postpaid and prepaid wireless subscribers – that’s not counting Fios, broadband, or landline subscribers.
So, Valve and Verizon have similarly-sized user bases but vastly different customer support experiences. Valve is a private company that doesn’t really talk financials, but Forbes pegs the net worth of Valve co-founder Gabe Newell at $3.5 billion. It stands to reason that Steam is raking in a ton of cash, because I don’t think Newell built that wealth from Valve’s games alone. I would assume that Steam makes enough money to justify having much better customer support than it does now, but Valve just doesn’t want to bother with it.
The unfortunate thing is that I don’t think Valve is going to change based only on feedback from customers. We’ve been complaining that Steam’s customer support is terrible for years at this point and the only thing we have to show for it is an automated refund process (which, admittedly, works pretty well). I long for the day when we’ll see a live chat option for Steam support or a phone support line that doesn’t hang up on you when you try to get help with Steam, but I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.
The only way I can see that happening is if developers leave Steam en masse and force Valve to take a cold, hard look at the service’s failings. Given Steam’s market share, though, it’s going to be a long time before that happens too. In the end, I can’t help but feel that what I’ve published here will just fall on deaf ears, like all of the complaints before it.