I’ve written longing and loving, Stan-esque posts about Steam. Which, boiled down to it’s core components, is an online shop with a launcher on the back of it. This post will critique launchers, and I’ll try to explain the dichotomy.

This post is inspired, for want of a better word, by the recent launch of the 2k launcher.

It came to my attention because I was looking up new titles to get for my beloved Steam Deck. And recommendations for titles owned by mega-publisher 2k came with the caveat that the launcher is involved, or breaks the game’s ability to launch entirely. And hilariously, when introduced to titles, the update was cited as a “quality of life” update. Quality, indeed.

A quick search and there are dozens of Reddit posts and blog explainers on how to bypass the 2k launcher entirely. That’s how loathsome it is.

Launchers are a way for a publisher to feel closer to their customer. Steam, a games console or anything akin to something “in the way” of the customer feels like an abstraction to the marketing department at a big publisher. So a launcher is their way to take away that abstract relationship and bring the user closer, give them more offers they care about, and make them realise that they’re luxuriating in my product, not that of Steam, Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo.

But the reality is that these folks are putting launchers into launchers. I have a Steam Deck, which requires Valve’s Steam to purchase and launch a game like FIFA. But then EA, who have one or two titles in totality that I care about, insists on having Origin, their absolutely awful launcher load instead of FIFA. This launchception is a plague on the PC world, and I fear it’ll come to consoles next once EA, 2K or whoever else figures out how to extort the platform first.

As user-experience goes, these things are low-grade offerings run as a side project for some engineers at the publisher and have constant small updates to change the shop, add discounts or otherwise do things the customer doesn’t see any value from.

It means that the basis of a user experience hitting “Play” on a title like FIFA means it’s a lie. They won’t be going into the actual game title, but instead to a piece of software that insists on loading first, before launching the game. It’s poor UX no matter what way you look at it.

And that should be the crux of it. It’s why Valve, Epic and the console owners should fight against these things. And it’s why EA, 2K and other large publishers seeking to inject this kind of malware in front of their titles should do the right thing for their customers. Have a launcher with discounts, deals and special features by all means. But do not force everyone down a bad UX rabbit hole.