Steam is a video game digital distribution service and storefront by Valve. It was launched as a software client in September as a way for Valve to provide automatic updates for their games, and expanded to distributing and offering third-party game publishers ‘ titles in late Steam offers various features, like digital rights management DRM , game server matchmaking and anti-cheat measures , and social networking and game streaming services. It provides the user with automatic game updating, saved game cloud synchronization, and community features such as friends messaging, in-game chat and a community market.
Valve released a freely available application programming interface API called Steamworks in , which developers can use to integrate Steam’s functions into their products, including in-game achievements, microtransactions , and user-created content support. Mobile apps to access online Steam features were first released for iOS and Android in The platform also offers other digital content and Valve gaming hardware, including productivity software, game soundtracks, videos and VR headset Valve Index.
Valve had entered into a publishing contract with Sierra Studios in ahead of the release of Half-Life. The contract had given some intellectual property IP rights to Sierra in addition to publishing control. Valve published additional games through Sierra, including expansions for Half-Life and Counter-Strike.
Around , as Valve started work on Half-Life 2 and the new Source engine , they became concerned about their contract with Sierra related to the IP rights, and the two companies negotiated a new contract by The new contract eliminated Sierra’s IP rights and gave Valve rights to digital distribution of its games.
Valve was looking for a way to better update its published games as provide downloadable patches for multiplayer games resulted in most of the online user base disconnecting for several days until players had installed the patch. Valve decided to create a platform that would update games automatically and implement stronger anti-piracy and anti-cheat measures. Steam’s development began in , with working names for the platform being “Grid” and “Gazelle”.
Prior to the announcement of Steam, Valve found that Sierra had been distributing their games in PC cafes which they claimed was against the terms of the contract, and took Sierra and their owners, Vivendi Games , to court in Sierra countersued, asserting that with the announcement of Steam, Valve had been working to undermine the contract to offer a digital storefront for their games, directly competing with Sierra.
The case was initially ruled in Valve’s favor, allowing them to leave the contract due to the breach and seek other publishing partners for retail copies of its games while continuing their work on Steam. Between 80, and , players participated in the beta test before Steam’s official release on September 12, In , the World Opponent Network was shut down and replaced by Steam, with any online features of games that required it ceasing to work unless they converted over to Steam.
In November , Half-Life 2 was the first game to be offered digitally on Steam and require installation of the Steam client to play for retail copies. During this time users faced problems attempting to play the game. By May of that year, 13 million accounts had been created on the service, and games were for sale on the platform.
Electronic Arts removed some of its games from Steam because of restrictive terms of service in and launched Mass Effect 3 only on its Origin service in Steam’s primary service is to allow its users to download games and other software that they have in their virtual software libraries to their local computers as game cache files GCFs. Valve intended to “make DRM obsolete” as games released on Steam had traditional anti-piracy measures, including the assignment and distribution of product keys and support for digital rights management software tools such as SecuROM or non-malicious rootkits.
The CEG technology creates a unique, encrypted copy of the game’s executable files for the given user, which allows them to install it multiple times and on multiple devices, and make backup copies of their software.
Normally this is done while connected to the Internet following the user’s credential validation, but once they have logged into Steam once, a user can instruct Steam to launch in a special offline mode to be able to play their games without a network connection. In September , Valve added support for Steam Cloud, a service that can automatically store saved game and related custom files on Valve’s servers; users can access this data from any machine running the Steam client.
Users can disable this feature on a per-game and per-account basis. Steam also offers a framework for selling and distributing downloadable content DLC for games. In September , Steam introduced the ability to share most games with family members and close friends by authorizing machines to access one’s library. Authorized players can install the game locally and play it separately from the owning account.
Users can access their saved games and achievements providing the main owner is not playing. When the main player initiates a game while a shared account is using it, the shared account user is allowed a few minutes to either save their progress and close the game or purchase the game for his or her own account. In accordance with its acceptable use policy , Valve retains the right to block customers’ access to their games and Steam services when Valve’s Anti-Cheat VAC software determines that the user is cheating in multiplayer games, selling accounts to others, or trading games to exploit regional price differences.
The Steam client includes a digital storefront called the Steam Store through which users can purchase computer games. Once the game is bought, a software license is permanently attached to the user’s Steam account, allowing them to download the software on any compatible device.
Game licenses can be given to other accounts under certain conditions. Content is delivered from an international network of servers using a proprietary file transfer protocol.
Since , the Steam Translation Server project offers Steam users to assist with the translation of the Steam client, storefront, and a selected library of Steam games for twenty-eight languages.
In February , Steam began to open similar options for in-game item purchases for third-party games. In conjunction with developers and publishers, Valve frequently provides discounted sales on games on a daily and weekly basis, sometimes oriented around a publisher, genre, or holiday theme, and sometimes allow games to be tried for free during the days of these sales.
The site normally offers a large selection of games at discount during its annual Summer and Holiday sales, including gamification of these sales to incentive users to purchase more games. Users of Steam’s storefront can also purchase games and other software as gifts to be given to another Steam user. Prior to May , users could purchase these gifts to be held in their profile’s inventory until they opted to gift them.
However, this feature enabled a gray market around some games, where a user in a country where the price of a game was substantially lower than elsewhere could stockpile giftable copies of games to sell to others, particularly in regions with much higher prices. The Steam store also enables users to redeem store product keys to add software from their library. The keys are sold by third-party providers such as Humble Bundle in which a portion of the sale is given back to the publisher or distributor , distributed as part of a physical release to redeem the game, or given to a user as part of promotions, often used to deliver Kickstarter and other crowd funding rewards.
A grey market exists around Steam keys, where less reputable buyers purchase a large number of Steam keys for a game when it is offered for a low cost, and then resell these keys to users or other third-party sites at a higher price, generating profit for themselves.
In , Steam began to accept player reviews of games. Other users can subsequently rate these reviews as helpful, humorous, or otherwise unhelpful, which are then used to highlight the most useful reviews on the game’s Steam store page. Steam also aggregates these reviews and enables users to sort products based on this feedback while browsing the store.
In particular, Valve announced in March that it mark reviews they believe are “off-topic” as a result of a review bomb, and eliminate their contribution to summary review scores; the first such games they took action on with this was the Borderlands games after it was announced Borderlands 3 would be a timed-exclusive to the Epic Games Store.
During mid, Valve began to offer free-to-play games, such as Global Agenda , Spiral Knights and Champions Online ; this offer was linked to the company’s move to make Team Fortress 2 a free-to-play title. Later that year, Valve added the ability to trade in-game items and “unopened” game gifts between users.
Steam Coupons can be provided to users by developers and publishers; users can trade these coupons between friends in a similar fashion to gifts and in-game items. For example, Team Fortress 2 —the first game supported at the beta phase—incurred both fees. Full support for other games was expected to be available in early In October , Steam introduced non-gaming applications, which are sold through the service in the same manner as games.
Valve have also added the ability for publishers to rent and sell digital movies via the service, with initially most being video game documentaries. Entertainment offering the Mad Max films alongside the September release of the game based on the series ,  Lionsgate entered into agreement with Valve to rent over one hundred feature films from its catalog through Steam starting in April , with more films following later.
While Steam allows developers to offer demo versions of their games at any time, Valve worked with Geoff Keighley in in conjunction with The Game Awards to hold a week-long Steam Game Festival to feature a large selection of game demos of current and upcoming games, alongside sales for games already released.
A Steam Points system and storefront was added in June , which mirrored similar temporary points systems that had been used in prior sales on the storefront. Users earn points through purchases on Steam or by receiving community recognition for helpful reviews or discussion comments. These points do not expire as they had in the prior sales, and can be redeemed in the separate storefront for cosmetics that apply to the user’s profile and chat interface.
The popularity of Steam has led to the service’s being attacked by hackers. An attempt occurred in November , when Valve temporarily closed the community forums, citing potential hacking threats to the service. Days later, Valve reported that the hack had compromised one of its customer databases, potentially allowing the perpetrators to access customer information; including encrypted password and credit card details. At that time, Valve was not aware whether the intruders actually accessed this information or discovered the encryption method, but nevertheless warned users to be alert for fraudulent activity.
Valve added Steam Guard functionality to the Steam client in March to protect against the hijacking of accounts via phishing schemes, one of the largest support problems Valve had at the time. Once locked, activity by that account on other computers must first be approved by the user on the locked computer. In , between Steam-based game inventories, trading cards, and other virtual goods attached to a user’s account, Valve stated that the potential monetary value had drawn hackers to try to access user accounts for financial benefit, and continue to encourage users to secure accounts with Steam Guard, when trading was introduced in To improve security, the company announced that new restrictions would be added in March , under which day holds are placed on traded items unless they activate, and authenticate with Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator.
In July , a bug in the software allowed anyone to reset the password to any account by using the “forgot password” function of the client. High-profile professional gamers and streamers lost access to their accounts. In April , Valve added new privacy settings for Steam users, who are able to set if their current activity status is private, visible to friends only, or public; in addition to being able to hide their game lists, inventory, and other profile elements in a similar manner.
While these changes brought Steam’s privacy settings inline with approaches used by game console services, it also impacted third-party services such as Steam Spy , which relied on the public data to estimate Steam sales count.
Valve established a HackerOne bug bounty program in May , a crowdsourced method to test and improve security features of the Steam client. The vulnerability was then reported to Valve via the program, but it was initially rejected for being “out-of-scope”. Following a second vulnerability found by the same user, Valve apologized and patched them both, and expanded the program’s rules to accept any other similar problems in the future.
The Anti-Defamation League published a report that stated the Steam Community platform harbors hateful content in April Since November , Steam has allowed for users to review their purchased games and organize them into categories set by the user and add to favorite lists for quick access.
The Steam interface allows for user-defined shortcuts to be added. In this way, third-party modifications and games not purchased through the Steam Store can use Steam features.
Valve sponsors and distributes some modifications free of charge;  and modifications that use Steamworks can also use VAC, Friends, the server browser, and any Steam features supported by their parent game. For most games launched from Steam, the client provides an in-game overlay that can be accessed by a keystroke. From the overlay, the user can access his or her Steam Community lists and participate in chat, manage selected Steam settings, and access a built-in web browser without having to exit the game.
As a full version on February 24, , this feature was reimplemented so that users could share screenshots on websites of Facebook , Twitter , and Reddit straight from a user’s screenshot manager. Steam’s “Big Picture” mode was announced in ;  public betas started in September and were integrated into the software in December Newell stated that Big Picture mode was a step towards a dedicated Steam entertainment hardware unit. In , Valve announced Steam for Schools, a free function-limited version of the Steam client for schools.
It was released alongside free versions of Portal 2 and a standalone program called “Puzzle Maker” that allowed teachers and students to create and manipulate levels. It featured additional authentication security that allowed teachers to share and distribute content via a Steam Workshop-type interface, but blocks access from students. In-Home Streaming was introduced in May ; it allows users to stream games installed on one computer to another—regardless of platform—on the same home network with low latency.
The Steam client, as part of a social network service , allows users to identify friends and join groups using the Steam Community feature. Users can participate in forums hosted by Valve to discuss Steam games.
Each user has a unique page that shows his or her groups and friends, game library including earned achievements, game wishlists, and other social features; users can choose to keep this information private.
Using them, players can trade with other Steam users on the Steam community Marketplace and use them to craft “Badges”, which grant rewards such as game discount coupons, emoticons, and the ability to customize their user profile page.
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