I keep getting the feeling that if I want an alternative to Steam, that I'm going to have to program that alternative myself. That frightens me. I'm probably not the best person to do such a thing. I'm too easily distracted and the like. Plus, I'm only one person.
This is one of the reasons why I try to learn about Steam. I don't think it will die because a few or many people keep bitching about how they don't like Steam. They offer something that makes the market better, even if their other policies are not forgivable (or easily forgiven). To beat it, I think you will need a beast that can actually compete with it. Without competition, Steam can do what ever it wants because few developers can really afford to leave Steam at this time. Steamworks is the baited trap that brings developers in. From what I understand, it saves devs time and money because the developers don't need to buy code or program their own code to do what Steamworks. Unfortunately this means their games are unavoidably tied to Steam (unless they offer some sort of alternative game that uses no Steamworks code).
It's not that easy. There's all kinds of alternatives. Why would anybody use yours?
EA's tried to do it with Origin, and it's not exactly been smooth sailing for them. EA is a company with massive financial resources, and a very strong library of first party games they can use as a carrot to get people to install Origin in the first place. They still haven't particularly bothered Steam. Do you ever hear anybody say "gee, if only this game was on Origin?"
Before Steamworks came along, companies either had to do that on their own or pay for significantly more expensive and inferior solutions like GameSpy, or use even more inferior solutions like the loathed GFWL. Steamworks is a "trap" in the sense that it offers the best features for what it does AND offers those features at an unbeatable price. Developers aren't being suckered into it, they're getting tremendous value and aren't asked for a whole lot in return.
It's possible to make a game that uses Steamworks if it's there, and uses something else if it's not. But then you have to code the "something else", and if you're talking stuff that requires servers (matchmaking, cloud saves), you have to pay for that infrastruture too. Or you let Steam do it for you, and you focus on making games.
I mean just look at how far Brad has turned around on them.