Last November Paradox finally stopped
updating the GamersGate version of Crusader Kings 2, leaving the game 'Steam-only' like Europa Universalis IV. This sparked once again the usual Steam-rocks/Steam-sucks
debates in the forum. A few years ago I would have also been firmly with those who consider Steam an evil monopoly hell-bent on world-gaming domination, but frankly, after the advent of mass-market consoles and mobile gaming the reality is that PC gaming has become a small country in a very big continent (even if, of course, you or I think it is the purest, truest, best form of gaming
). I understand that Paradox have better use of their scarce resources than to produce separate installers for multiple online sellers.
That is not to say I dismiss all the concerns raised on the anti-Steam camp, in particular the issues of privacy and digital ownership; I do think they are important, but they affect a much wider set of cases and digital content, which my opinion will only be addressed eventually through legislation, not by market forces. So feel free to mistrust Steam all you want, but if you love Paradox games you are going to have to live with it for the time being. Why not make the most of it and try to use some of the good things it actually brings to gaming while minimising the not-necessarily-so-good ones?
One of the most frequent complaints about Steam is the way it wrestles control away from the player, imposing updates and always-on Orwellian checks. And though it is true that Steam would much rather you played always connected and with the latest updates installed (never mind the DRM nature of this, in the end you are less likely to give Steam trouble if you run the latest client and patches at all times) the fact is that you can control both from your Steam client.
To be able to play your games without internet connection – whether it is due to privacy worries, having to wait for your internet provider while moving house, working offshore or simply because you are stranded on holiday in a remote and magical place like Tahiti – you can take your account offline in the menu with "Steam > Go Offline" (in Windows) or "Account > Go Offline" (in Macs). You will have to do this while connected to start with, and ensure that the games you want to play offline are up-to-date. For as long as you are on offline mode you will not be able to access any other Steam service (granted, if you are without internet connectivity this will not be particularly high on your list).
On the other hand, if you are simply worried that a patch or update could stop a certain game or save games from working (as it is often the case with Paradox games, where big patches tend to break compatibility with previous saves) you can tell Steam not to apply updates automatically for a particular game. To do this, right-click in the game you want to safeguard in your Steam library and select "Properties" in the pop-up menu; on the "Updates" tab you can change the automatic updates setting to "Do not automatically update this game":
From now on, whenever there is an update for that game you'll see it flagged next to the game, but it won't be applied until you go to "Downloads" and explicitly choose to install it.
Alternatively, Paradox has been leaving older patch versions under the beta program for some games after a new patch is released, which you can also access under the tab "Betas" in the game properties. In there you can select the particular version you are happy to keep playing from the drop down list and Steam will download and 'revert' the game folder to that version for you. An indicator of the version next to the game will let you know that you are using a 'beta' version, until you decide to move on back to the latest official version. For example, you may choose to stay on patch 1.5.1 on EUIV while you assess the changes brought about by Wealth of Nations/1.6 in the forum.
You can touch this
Another popular misconception is that Steam locks all your games in some digital/magical black box from where they can never be retrieved (cue evil Disney-witch laughter). However, it is not Steam, nor the wicked witch, but the game publishers who choose when and how to enforce DRM for each game. And as it turns out, Paradox are decidedly on the nicer side of the witchy scale, being very relaxed about you doing whatever you want with their games once you've bought them; whether it is to mod them or to make a hundred copies of them in your hard drive, you can. This is not surprising, given how modder-friendly Paradox games have traditionally been.
Depending on your platform and assuming you installed Steam in the default location, you should find all your games in the 'steamapps' folder (in Windows: 'C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\common', in 64-bit Windows: 'C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common', and a little more hidden in a Mac: '/Users/youruser/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/common' and in Linux: '/home/youruser/.local/share/Steam/SteamApps/common'). If you can't find it in the default folder you can always bring up the properties of the game in your Steam library, as we saw in the previous section, and click on "Browse Local Files" under the "Local Files" tab.
Once you've located the game you want to mess with you can copy its entire folder elsewhere in your hard drive and keep it there, safe from any future updates and ready to be surgically modded to your most experimental desires, without affecting the main copy of the game. You will have to launch these now orphan copies from their own executable, though, not from Steam, and you will not have access to Steam features like achievements and cloud saves, but if you are into modding in a big way or want to finish a certain save game with a particular patch version while still being able to play the current one you will definitely want this extra control of your game folders.
Embrace the cloud
The cloud might be that overhyped, overused and ridiculed word, but it is undeniable that when it works
it is a fantastic technology. Two of the most powerful Steam features are cloud-based: seamless multi-platform support and remote saving. The former may not be of use to many players, but the latter should be tried by everyone.
In the latest Paradox strategy titles the so-called Ironman
mode allows you to initiate a game in which a single save is kept in the cloud, where it gets frequently refreshed so you don't lose any progress. Naturally, this also means that the save file itself (and the old play-reload-rinse-repeat
method) is out of your hands. This could seem ludicrous to consider as a feature at first (especially if you are the kind of person that hoards gigabytes worth of saves for each
running game), but it can actually be quite liberating – what is done is done. Removing the choice of reloading does add a lot more weight to the choices in-game, which may lead you to consider them more carefully, like a real statesman would (an old-fashioned
statesman anyway, some might add).
If you are writing an AAR (and even depending on the type of AAR) you will be either thrilled at the added sense of jeopardy this mode gives your story, or rightfully horrified at the thought of embarking on a writing project where you have little control of the outcome whenever the capricious random number generator, the ever-fickle AI or your mercurial cat decide to conspire against you. As always, use your discretion and see what works for you. Another plus coming from this mode, given how AARland is full of early graves due to 'lost' saves, is that at least it might reduce the mortality rate.
One last thing to say about the Ironman mode: because Paradox game saves tend to be easily-editable plain text you will only be able to obtain Steam achievements when playing in this mode. Generally I like to think of achievements a bit like missions in EU3/4, they are nice to have, can be fun and sometimes give you some aim and purpose, but you shouldn't end up playing the game just for them. And if it's just bragging rights you are after, well, forget achievements! Nothing can beat writing a good AAR about something you've accomplished in a game!
One final point that shouldn't really come as a big ask to any Paradox forum member: enjoy, participate and contribute to the community whenever you have the chance. With over 75 million users Steam may not always be the polite, affable community we've all grown used to here at Paradox Plaza, but like any big city it has its nice and less nice corners – you should explore them and find the ones you like. You may be surprised to find old games you thought no one played anymore having their small communities still modding and discussing them, and helping new people (re)discover them.
If you already have friends on Steam you can make use of the in-built chat feature and hook up with them for a multi-player game. Even in-game you can use the Steam overlay to keep track of friends and notifications (of course you can disable this if you'd rather not be disturbed while you are empire-building).
A relatively recent addition to encourage both social interaction (and gamers parting with more of their money) is trading cards. Each game in Steam that supports them will give you a certain number of free cards out of a set as you play the game. You can complete the set by trading those missing ones for other game cards you don't want, or purchasing them from other players. When you complete a set you can craft a badge to display proudly on your user profile... All that fuss for a badge, you say? Well, it might an irrational thing, but if you've been in the Paradox forums long enough you should know there are few things gamers love more than badges on their profiles!
I hope these few tips help you make the most of Steam while you play your favourite games on it. If you have any questions don't hesitate to post them on the AARlander feedback thread or contact me directly (you can also find me on Steam with the same handle, I'll likely be playing EUIV, CK2 or my current guilty retro-gaming pleasure: Luftrausers!).