With the digital age in full swing it should be no surprise to any of us that the digital distribution of computer and console games has not only become a major part of the industry but also a preferred part for the emerging and existing gaming communities alike. There are several digital download platforms providing the gaming community with quick, 100% digital access to games but Steam, the platform developed by Valve Corporation and released in 2003, is by far the biggest and most well known.
Steam itself is completely digital and shares features with online matchmaking, online stores, blog forums, and cloud databases, and even wiki pages. Steam is available to computer and Playstation users and requires an active internet connection for most of its features; although games with single player modes can be accessed and played offline.
The services the Steam Client provides can be grouped into three broad categories: Steam provides a game library, a place to purchase those games, and a forum and profile system where a gamer can meet and communicate with other gamers. The Steam Client itself is the interface through which gamers access Steam’s services. Newcomers to Steam create an account online, then download the Steam Client onto their desktop. Through the Steam Client gamers can browse the store for new releases, sales, and of course view Steam’s ever increasing library of games.
Games purchased through Steam and added to the gamer’s profile and can be downloaded onto any computer that the gamer installs the Steam Client onto. A library keeps track of all purchased games, installed or otherwise, and Steam automatically downloads patches and updates to all installed games (these settings can be changed by the gamer). Gamers can also access guides, forum discussions, and downloadable content (DLC) for their games through the Steam Client.
Perhaps one of Steam’s best features is the ability for gamers to find friends who also use Steam. ‘Friends’ can view each other’s profiles, send messages through a simple instant messaging system, and receive updates on what games their friends are currently playing. Steam’s invite system allows multiplayer between friends to be seamlessly and swiftly initiated.
Although Steam is managed by a game company with its own products, Steam offers thousands of titles, including several main franchise such as Elder Scrolls, Half-Life, and Fallout. A select few titles already owned in CD/DVD format can be unlocked by their owners who then receive the digital versions for free. Purchases on Steam are facilitated through a number of options such as the Steam Wallet, Paypal, and direct credit and debit card transfers. Gamers receive a digital receipt and the game is added to their library to be downloaded at their convenience.