Steam (software)

Steam (software)
Steam
Steam logo.svg
SteamcontentMay2010Storehighlight.jpg

The home page of the Steam Client for Windows
Developer(s) Valve Corporation
Initial release September 12, 2003 (2003-09-12)[1]
Stable release API: v012 Package: 1742/1742  (November 11, 2011; 7 days ago (2011-11-11)) [+/−]
Preview release [+/−]
Development status Active
Written in C++
Platform Microsoft Windows
Mac OS X[2]
PlayStation 3 (partially)[3]
Size 41.5 megabytes (Windows)
153.5 megabytes (Mac)
Available in 21 languages
Type Content delivery
Digital rights management
Social networking
License Steam Subscriber Agreement (Proprietary software)
Website store.steampowered.com

Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute games and related media online, from small independent developers to larger software houses. Steam also has community features, automated game updates, in-game voice and chat functionality.

As of October 2011, there are over 1,400 games available through Steam,[4] and 35 million active user accounts.[5] Although Valve never releases sales figures, Stardock, the previous owner of competing platform Impulse, estimated that Steam has a 70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.[6]

Many major publishers have large catalogues available on Steam, including Bethesda Softworks, Electronic Arts, Activision, Rockstar Games, Square Enix, 2K Games, and Telltale Games.

Contents

Client functionality

Software delivery and maintenance

Steam's primary service is to allow its users to download games and other software that they have in their virtual software library to their local computers. Steam-integrated games are stored as single non-compressed archive files with the extension .gcf (an initialism for Game Cache File[7]). Steam allocates space on the user's hard disk for .gcf files before downloading in order to reduce fragmentation which may occur when downloading large files and performing disk access. Game Cache Files help to make games more portable, stop users from accidentally overwriting important files, allow for easy modification of resources, and allows for validation of content for errors.[8] For games that do not integrate, a 'No Cache File' system is provided. Here, a .ncf index file points to a directory of loose files somewhere else on the system.[9] Users can enable Steam to automatically patch software packages as they are updated by their publishers, or alternatively allow users to manually initiate this patching process. The client allows users to backup game data files to other media, and remove game content files to free space on their machines.

Steam provides minimal digital rights management (DRM) for software titles, by providing "Custom Executable Generation" for executable files that are unique for each user, but allow that user to install the software on multiple computing devices via Steam or through software backups without limitations.[10] As such, the user is required to have started Steam while connected to the Internet for authentication prior to playing a game, or have previously set up Steam in an "offline" mode while connected online, storing their credentials locally to play without an Internet connection.[11] Steam's DRM is available through Steamworks to software developers, but the service allows developers and publishers to include other forms of DRM on top of Steam.

To protect against hijacking of accounts, Valve added Steam Guard functionality to the Steam client in March 2011. Steam Guard takes advantage of the identity protection provided with Intel's second generation Core processors and compatible motherboard hardware to allow the user to lock their account to a specific computer. Once locked, activity by that account on other computers must first be approved of by the user on the locked computer. Support APIs for Steam Guard are available to third-party developers through Steamworks.[12] An alternative option available to users interested in using Steam Guard is two-factor authentication through the use of a one-time verification code sent to a verified email address associated with the Steam account. Many of Steam Guard's features will work the same with the only real difference being the method of authentication.[13]

In September 2008, Valve added support for Steam Cloud, a cloud computing file share that can automatically store game saves and related custom files to Valve's services; users can then access this data from any other machine running the Steam client.[14][15] Games must use the appropriate features of Steamworks for this feature to work. Users are able to disable this feature as well on a per-game and per-account basis.[16]

Storefront

Steam includes a digital storefront called the Steam Store, through which users can purchase computer games digitally. Once purchased, software is permanently attached to the user's Steam account (however "gifting" of games to other accounts is possible). Content is delivered using a proprietary file transfer protocol from an international network of servers.[17] Steam sells its products in US dollars, Euros, pounds sterling, and Roubles based on the user's location.[18] From December 2010, the client also supports the Webmoney payment system, available for many European, Middle East, and Asian countries.[19] The Steam storefront validates a user's region, and certain titles may be restricted to specific regions due to release dates, game classification, or publisher agreements.

Certain games sold through retail channels can be redeemed as titles for user's library within Steam by entering a product code within the software.[20] For games that incorporate Steamworks, users can purchase redemption codes from other vendors, and redeem these in the Steam client to add the title to their library. Steam offers a framework for selling and distributing downloadable content (DLC) for games.[21]

Players can add non-Steam games to their library, allowing the game to be easily accessed from the Steam client, and provides support, where possible, for the Steam Overlay features. The Steam interface allows for user-defined shortcuts to be added. In this way third-party mods, and games not purchased through the Steam Store, can use Steam features. Valve sponsors and distributes some mods for free,[22] and mods that use Steamworks can also use VAC, Friends, the server browser, and any Steam features supported by their parent game.

During mid-2011, Valve began to offer free-to-play games, such as Global Agenda, Spiral Knights and Champions Online; this was tied in with their move to make Team Fortress 2 a free-to-play title.[23] Valve included support via Steamworks for microtransactions through Steam's purchasing channels for in-game items in these titles, in a similar manner to the existing in-game store for Team Fortress 2. A subsequent addition later that year added the ability to trade both in-game items and "unopened" game gifts between users.[24]

Steam Community and Matchmaking

The Steam client, as part of a social network service, allows users to identify friends and join groups through the Steam Community feature.[25] Users can use both text chat and Peer-to-Peer VoIP with other users, identify what their friends and other group members are playing, and, for Steamworks-based games that support it, join and invite friends in multiplayer games. Users can also participate in forums hosted by Valve regarding Steam games. In January 2010, Valve reported that 10 million of the 25 million active Steam accounts had signed up to Steam Community.[26] Each user has a unique page that shows what groups and friends they have, their game library including achievements earned, game wishlists, and other social features; users have the option to keep this information private if desired.[27] The Steam client has been made into an OpenID provider, allowing third-party websites to utilize a Steam user's identity without requiring the user to expose their Steam credentials.[28][29]

Steam, through Steamworks, provides a means of server browsing for multiplayer games that utilizes the Steam Community features, allowing users to create lobbies with friends or members of common groups. Steamworks also provides Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC), Valve's proprietary anti-cheat system, for game servers to automatically detect and report users who are using cheats in online multiplayer games.[30]

Steam collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance.[31] With the exception of Valve's hardware survey,[32] most collection occurs without notifying the user or offering an opt-out. Some of these metrics are available publicly, such as what games are being played or statistics on player progress in certain games.[33] Valve has also used information from these statistics to justify implementing new features in Steam, such as the addition of a defragmentation option for game caches.[34] Valve announced on July 15, 2010 that in conjunction with collecting hardware information in Steam's opt-in hardware surveys, they would begin collecting a list of the user's installed software as well.[35]

Steam Overlay

For most games launched from Steam, Steam provides an overlay atop the game that can be accessed by a specific keypress. From the Overlay, the user can access their Steam Community lists and participate in chats, manage selected Steam settings, and access a built-in web browser without having to exit the game.[36] The Overlay also allows for players to take screenshots of the games in process, automatically storing these and letting the player to review, delete, or share them during their play session or after completion.

Steamworks

Steamworks is a freely available application programming interface (API) that provided development and publishing tools to game developers, allowing them to take advantage of the Steam client's features.[37][38][38][39] Specifically, Steamworks provides means of games to integrate with the Steam client, including networking and player authentication tools for both server and peer-to-peer multiplayer games, matchmaking services, support for Steam community friends and groups, Steam statistics and achievements, integrated voice communications, and Steam Cloud support; the API also provides for anti-cheating devices and digital copy management.[39] Steamworks can be combined with a standard Steam distribution agreement, the latter of which gives it advertising space in the Steam store but also provides Valve with a share of revenue.[40]

Supported platforms

Steam was originally released only for Microsoft Windows-enabled computers, but has since expanded to at least two other platforms.

Mac OS X

On March 8, 2010, Valve announced that Steam was in development for Mac OS X.[41] The announcement was preceded by a change in the Steam beta client to support the cross-platform WebKit web browser rendering engine instead of the Trident engine from Internet Explorer.[42][43][44] Prior to this announcement, it teased the release through several images emailed to Mac community and gaming web sites featuring Valve game characters with Apple logos or featured in parodies of old Macintosh advertisements.[45][46] In one case, Valve developed a full video homage to the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial to announce the availability of Half-Life 2 and its episodes to the service, with some concept images for the video previously used to tease the Mac Steam client.[47]

Prior to Steam's Mac OS X release, Valve released teaser ads that paid homage to famous Apple advertisements, such as the 1984 commercial.

Originally planned for release in April 2010, Steam for Mac OS X was launched worldwide on May 12, 2010, following a successful beta period.[48] In addition to the Steam client, several features were made available to developers to take advantage of a cross-platform Source engine and platform and network capabilities using Steamworks.[49] Through SteamPlay, the Mac OS X client allows players who have already purchased compatible products in the Windows version to re-download the Mac versions at no cost, allowing them to continue to play the game on the other platform; however some third party titles may require the user to purchase again to gain the cross-platform functionality.[50] The Steam Cloud is cross-platform compatible. Multiplayer games can also be cross-compatible, allowing Windows and Mac players to play with each other.[41]

Upon launch, over 50 games, most supporting the SteamPlay feature, were available for the client. As part of the launch, Valve offered both PC and Mac users to download Portal for free during the first two weeks of launch.[51][52] For some weeks after the Mac client launch, Valve expanded the catalog of offerings for the service on a weekly basis, with each week highlighting a new feature of the service.[53] Valve has released the native Mac OS X, OpenGL versions of Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike: Source, Portal, and Half-Life 2 and its episodes following Steam's release.[54] Portal 2, released in 2011, was the first Valve title simultaneously released on both the Windows and Mac versions of Steam.[55]

PlayStation 3

At E3 2010, Newell announced that Steamworks would arrive on the PlayStation 3 with Portal 2. It will provide automatic updates, community support, downloadable content and other unannounced features.[56] Portal 2's PlayStation 3 release saw Steamworks make its debut on consoles. Several features were offered including cross-platform play and instant messaging, Steam Cloud for saved games, and the ability for PS3 owners to download Portal 2 from Steam (Windows or Mac) at no extra cost.[3] Valve's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive will also support Steamworks and cross-platform features on the PlayStation 3, including using keyboard and mouse controls as an alternative to the gamepad.[57] Valve said they "hope to expand upon this foundation with more Steam features and functionality in DLC and future content releases".

Other platforms

Based on Valve's website "There are no plans to create a native Linux Steam Client at this time."[58] Following the announcement of Steam for Mac OS X, Linux benchmark and news website Phoronix found Linux-related references in a beta release of the Mac Steam client. This was followed later by the discovery of files for an incomplete Linux client available for download on Valve's own web servers.[59][60] On May 12, 2010, The Daily Telegraph claimed that Valve had confirmed that a Linux client was planned to be released "in the coming months", but gave no other details.[61] This claim was then repeated on other websites as hearsay evidence.[62] Valve has since denied working on a Linux version of Steam.[63] Steam is compatible with newest Wine layer, and most games operate correctly, although some run slow and require external libraries.[64][65]

The Xbox 360 currently has no support for Steamworks, but Newell has indicated that they would like to bring the service to the console through the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which would allow them to provide the same feature set that they can for the PlayStation 3.[66]

Market share and impact

Sales figures for Steam have not been released by Valve. Forbes reports that Steam sales contribute 50 to 70% of the $4 billion market for downloaded PC games, and that Steam offers games producers gross margins of 70% of purchase price, compared with 30% at retail.[67]

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale sold more than 140,000 units, which its localization distributor, Carpe Fulgur, attribute in part to Steam and its sales.[68] Magicka sold 30,000 copies on its day of release in January 2011,[69] and went on to sell 200,000 in 17 days.[70] Garry's Mod sold 312,541 in its first two years[71] and reached 1,000,000 after five years[72] with yearly sales growth of 33%.[73].

In November 2011, it was revealed by the developer of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings that Steam was responsible for 80% of the online sales of the game[74].

History

Beginnings

Prior to Steam, Valve had problems releasing updates for their online games, such as Counter-Strike, wherein a patch would result in the disconnection of the larger part of the online user base for several days. They decided to make a platform which would update games automatically, and implement better anti-piracy and anti-cheat measures. Valve originally approached several companies—including Microsoft, Yahoo!, and RealNetworks—to build a client with these features, but all turned them down.[75]

Steam's development began at an uncertain date prior to 2002. Working titles included "Grid" and "Gazelle".[76] It was revealed to the public on 22 March 2002 at the Game Developers Conference, and was presented purely as a distribution network.[77] To demonstrate the ease of integrating Steam to a game, Relic Entertainment had created a special version of Impossible Creatures.[78] The game was ultimately not released on Steam, however.

Valve partnered with a number of companies including AT&T, Acer and GameSpy Industries. The first mod on the system was Day of Defeat.[79][80] (See Mods.)

The Steam client was first made available for download in 2002 during the beta period for Counter-Strike 1.6. At that time, its primary function was streamlining the patch process common in online computer games. Installation and use of Steam was mandatory for Counter-Strike 1.6 beta testers, but Steam remained an optional component. 80,000–300,000 gamers tested the system when it was in its beta period.[79][81] The system and web site choked under the strain of thousands of users simultaneously attempting to play the latest version of Counter-Strike.[82] In 2004, the World Opponent Network was shut down and replaced by Steam. The online features of games which required World Opponent Network ceased to work unless they were converted to Steam.

Around this time, Valve began negotiating contracts with several publishers and independent developers to release their products on Steam. Rag Doll Kung Fu and Darwinia are two examples, and Canadian publisher Strategy First announced in December 2005 that it would be partnering with Valve for digital distribution of current and future titles.[83] In 2002, Gabe Newell, the head of Valve, said he was offering mod teams a game engine license and distribution over Steam for $995.[79]

Profitability

Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software, at QuakeCon 2007 presenting the release of all id Software games on Steam

In 2005, the first third-party games began to appear on Steam. Valve also announced that Steam was starting to be profitable, if only due to some highly successful Valve games. Although digital distribution was still no match to retail in terms of sales volume, profit margins for Valve and developers were far bigger on Steam than at retail.[84]

In 2007, big developer-publishers such as id Software, Eidos Interactive and Capcom started to distribute their games on Steam. In May 2007, 13 million accounts had been created on Steam, and 150 games were for sale on the platform.[85] In October 2007, the release of The Orange Box, and the distribution of high-profile games such as BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, helped increase Steam's popularity.[citation needed]

Steam Translation Server

In March 2010 Valve launched the Steam Translation Server, which is a service that allows Steam users to help in the translation of Steam and a selected library of Steam games. The service was undergoing a closed beta until October 2010. Since then, every Steam user has the ability to apply as a translator.

November 2011 hack

On November 6, 2011, Steam temporarily closed the community forums, citing potential hacking threats to the service. Subsequently, on November 10, Valve reported that the hack included a compromise of one of their customer databases, potentially allowing the perpetrators to access customer information including encrypted password and credit card details. At that time, Valve was not aware if the intruders actually accessed this information or discovered the encryption method, but warned users to be alert for fraudulent activity.[86][87]

Criticism

Regional restrictions and pricing

Some games purchased in one region become unplayable if user moves to another.

Steam allows developers and publishers to change prices and restrict game availability depending on the user's location. This can cause some games to cost more than retail prices, despite digital distribution removing the costs of manufacturing, packaging, design, and logistics.[88][89][90]

Valve also restricts game registration and playability to the buyer's country of residence. One example of this regional restriction can be seen where Valve uses Steam's authentication to prevent boxed versions of their games sold in Russia and Thailand, which are priced significantly lower than elsewhere, from being used outside those territories.[91]

Steam offers products in four currencies: US Dollar, Euro, Pound Sterling and Russian Ruble. The currency is selected automatically based on the user's location, and cannot be changed. Steam has been heavily criticized by European users for pricing games much higher in Eurozone countries.[92]

Authentication

It is necessary to authenticate every Steam game online, whether purchased via Steam itself or installed via a retail disc, the first time it is played.[93] After the initial authentication, an offline mode allows games to be run without being connected to your Steam account.

According to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, Steam's availability is not guaranteed and Valve is under no legal obligation to release an update disabling the authentication system in the event that Steam becomes permanently unavailable.[94] Despite this, Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve, said in a post on the Steam User Forums that "Unless there was some situation I don't understand, we would presumably disable authentication before any event that would preclude the authentication servers from being available." He added, "We've tested disabling authentication, and it works."[95]

Distribution policies

In July 2011, several Electronic Arts games were removed from Steam. EA has stated that this is because of disputes over Valve's policies regarding how Downloadable Content can be distributed to Steam users.[96] In a blogpost Minecraft developer Markus Persson also cited similar content-related policies as a reason of the game not being available through Steam.[97]

See also

References

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