Anyone who’s a gamer, or is friends with gamers, is now probably aware of Steam and what they do. Mostly, they’ll know of their legendary summer sales and cries of ‘Steam took all my money!’ from eager fans of the platform. It certainly is one of the most popular ways of buying games recently, with up to 75% of all PC games being bought through it, as claimed in October 2013. So, what is Steam exactly, and how did it get so big?
Steam began life in 2002, after Valve, developers of Counter-Strike, noticed that the game suffered issues with updating, which could often leave the online user base disconnected for several days at time. The company decided to create a platform that could automatically update their games, as well as implementing better anti hacking and anti cheat measures. After approaching several high companies to create the platform for them, the decision was made to create it themselves in house.
Nowadays, the client is much more than a distribution platform. Steam offers social features, such as in game chat, communities, and friend groups. They also have developed their own achievement system, and offer cloud saving for all games. In addition to this, there are also the Steam Workshop and Steam Greenlight services, that allow for user made content to be made available through their service.
It’s easy to see how the service became as popular as it is. It offers a much simpler alternative to currently ailing brick and mortar game sellers, by being convenient, simple, and offering a much more unified and often cheaper service. It appears to have created an even easier way of buying games online than buying from online retailers such as Amazon, since the user simply downloads the game they buy, rather than waiting on a delivery of a hard copy.
There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of competition online to Steam either, which helps explain its success. EA tried to create a competing service called Origin, which through all it’s games are exclusively sold, but issues with dubious account suspensions and accusations of spying on users, has stopped it from becoming as successful as it’s counterpart. There’s also GOG.com, an online service that offers downloads of classic games, but as they offer such a limited selection of new titles, they aren’t really a comparable service to Steam.
This doesn’t mean that Steam hasn’t seen its share of controversy, however. During its initial release, it was required to be installed with copies of Half Life 2, prompting discussions about software ownership, software requirements, and overloaded servers. When the Steam Greenlight feature was released, many false and inappropriate submissions flooded the system, prompting Steam to install a $100 charge to submit on the site, which would be donated to Child’s Play.
With such a massive share of the marketplace and ease of use, Steam has been described as ‘the fat cat it’s ok to like’. It could be argued that one platform owning so much of the marketplace could be dangerous for the gaming industry, but at the moment gamers seem to be happy with the way the service is ran. With such influence in the industry, not to mention their huge sales (last we heard Don’t Starve was being offered at 75% off), they won’t be going away any time soon.