In keeping with years-long tradition, Valve today finally got around to implementing the bare minimum amount of expected functionality for one of its flagship platform’s services. From now on (sorta, I’ll get to that in a second), soundtracks on Steam may no longer be classified as DLC for their respective games, which means that you might not have to buy and download a game in order to buy and download its soundtrack. If you’ve never tried to buy a soundtrack on Steam before, yes, this is how it’s been since Valve introduced Steam’s bare-bones music player back in the prehistoric caveman days of 2014.
As one might expect, being able to sell things in the normal way that everyone wants has a number of advantages over the previous system. Not needing to buy a soundtrack’s related game means that you won’t have to download and install said game, as with the previous system. This will also allow developers to sell soundtracks for games that just straight-up aren’t on Steam, like Control, or Untitled Goose Game, or, uh, Metroid, I guess. You get the idea.
In this bright and glorious future, Steam users will be able to access, download, and organize their soundtracks through the recently overhauled Steam Library interface, as they currently do games. The previous system, which is still accessible from Steam’s seldom-used “View” menu, makes VLC Media Player look like a far-future brain hologram designed by an infallible super-intelligence, so this too is a welcome change. Soundtracks will default to compressed formats like MP3, but lossless WAV and FLAC files will be available to those who want them. Great!
The main catch — and there’s always a catch — is that not only is the new system not automatically retroactive, but it’s not required for future soundtracks either. Developers have to convert their existing DLC soundtracks into the new soundtrack format manually for them to receive the new functionality, and likewise, any soundtrack listed on Steam in the future can still be sold as game-exclusive DLC if the developer wants to. I guess it’s fine that a developer still has the option to sell their music only to the people who have purchased their game, but that also leaves the door open for massive fragmentation in how Steam manages and sells music, and how the end user organizes and listens to it.
I somehow own multiple soundtracks on Steam, but none have been converted to the new system yet, so they all still require that I have the associated game installed. They also require the use of the old organization interface, as well as Steam’s bargain basement audio player, and I’m sure it’ll be that way forever for some of the OSTs that made their way to my account. Meanwhile, a second family of soundtracks will live elsewhere, as part of the Steam interface that people actually look at and use, and that’s just tough nuggets for me, the consumer.
This all means that, despite these new updates, the actual solution will be the same as it’s been since 2014: move the MP3s you buy from Steam into another directory and listen to them with the actual audio management software that you already use. Stay tuned for more digital platform innovations from the masterminds at Valve!