Steam (content delivery)

Steam (content delivery)

Infobox Software
name=Steam
logo=


caption=The Steam welcome screen with the default skin
developer=Valve Corporation
released=2003-09-12cite web|url=http://store.steampowered.com/news/183/|title=Steam Client Released|date=2003-09-12|accessdate=2008-02-03]
frequently_updated=yes
operating system=Windows 2000, XP or Vista [cite web|url=http://www.steampowered.com/v/index.php?area=getsteamnow|title=Get Steam Now|accessdate=2008-02-02]
language=Multilingual (18)
genre=Content delivery
license=Proprietary/freeware
website= [http://www.steampowered.com/ steampowered.com]

Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute and manage (sometimes exclusively) a wide range of games and related media entirely over the internet, stretching from one-man independent efforts to some of the world's most popular games. Steam is set apart from its peers in terms of functionality primarily by its residency in the system tray, and the desktop tasks that the client software performs, which will be detailed in the article, to make use of that position.

As of |accessdate=2008-10-10]

Client functionality

Steam allows users to purchase access to games through a digital distribution system. Instead of receiving a box, disc, or even CD key, purchased software is immediately attached on the Steam servers to the user's Steam account (which is registered for free), from which it can be accessed and downloaded from anywhere that allows the use of the Steam client. Games can either be bought individually or as part of a package of multiple games.

The system itself works similarly to a feed reader: The user selects the game they want on their computer and Steam then automates the process of downloading the content and keeping it up to date. The latest version of the game is immediately downloaded, and if there are multiple versions (e.g. a 64-bit edition) the correct one will be chosen automatically based on the computer's hardware and/or software environment. This process happens every time Steam is started online, not just when a game is installed, ensuring that as many users as possible have the latest software. Steam transfers content over its own protocol, as opposed to a standard protocol such as HTTP or FTP. It downloads only from dedicated "content servers" spread out across the world by Valve and authorized third parties,cite web|url=http://store.steampowered.com/stats/content|title=Content Server Stats|work=Steam homepage|date=n.d.|accessdate=2007-05-20 (click “View individual server statistics”)] connecting to several at once to try to ensure a fast and stable connection.cite web|url=http://steamgames.com/v/index.php?area=news&id=1402|title=Steam client update released|work=Steam News|date=2008-01-10|accessdate=2008-01-11]

Steam can validate its downloaded content for errors, a process that gives many of the benefits of reinstalling in a fraction of the time.

Steam has a Distributed File System that allows a game to launch before it has been completely downloaded.cite web|url=http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Content_streaming|title=Content streaming|work=Valve Developer Community|date=2006-05-14|accessdate=2007-05-20] By creating lists of files and requesting them only when about to be needed, a linear game can be begun with only the executable code and a buffer of the first few areas downloaded. In the worst-case scenario, the game will stall while Steam downloads in the background.

Steam-integrated games download to non-compressed archive files with the extension .gcf. This helps to make games more portable, to stop users from overwriting important files, and can be used to prevent files from being tampered with (for instance, the creation of "pure" servers that do not allow custom textures or player models that may give unfair advantagecite web|url=http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Pure_servers|title=Pure servers|work=Valve Developer Community|date=2007-06-06|accessdate=2007-07-11] ).

Valve Anti-Cheat, Valve's proprietary anti-cheat system, has been incorporated into Steam.

Steam's interface treats mods in almost exactly the same way as it does purchased games, including, for some, [http://steamgames.com/v/index.php?area=find&category1=997 browsable pages on the official site] . This is in contrast with most games that offer no built-in launch utility at all. Mods appear in a user's list of installed games with the icons, developer links and other such details that are used by full games.cite web|url=http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Steam_3rd_Party_Mod_Support|title=Steam 3rd Party Mod Support|work=Valve Developer Community|date=2006|accessdate=2007-06-04] They can also use VAC, Friends, the server browser, and any other Steam feature supported by their parent game. Currently, mods for Valve's GoldSrc games, Valve's Source games and "" can be integrated.

On October 3, 2008, Steam began distributing selected mods. The initial selection consisted of only five, but it is expected to grow. These mods use auto-updating and Steamworks. [cite web|url=http://storefront.steampowered.com/Steam/Marketing/message/1843/|title=Steam mod hosting announcement|publisher=Valve Corporation|accessdate=2008-10-01]

Payment

All purchases are made from the desktop through the Steam client, with an encrypted connection. Users are required to enter their billing details from scratch for each purchase as Steam does not store them between transactions.

Steam accepts credit and debit cards, PayPal, Visa Electron and ClickAndBuy. [cite web|title=Buying Games through Steam|date=2007-09-07|accessdate=2007-11-03|url=https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=8360-WEJC-2625#acceptedforms|work=Buying Games through Steam]

Games available on Steam are priced on varying levels, where older games tend to be less expensive, and newer releases tend to be the same as the retail prices. Gamers have been critical of Steam for the high prices it charges for games added through the other publishers.cite web|url=http://podcast.next-gen.biz/?p=10|title=Next-Gen.Biz Podcast Episode 6|work=Next-Gen Podcasts|date=2006-10-17|accessdate=2007-05-20] [cite web|url=http://www.clubskill.com/article/4704|title=Full Steam Ahead!|accessdate=2007-12-10]

team Community

On September 12 2007, Valve released [http://steamcommunity.com/ "The Steam Community"] website, a social network that allows Steam users to communicate with each other on a many-to-many scale, from both the desktop and an "overlay" program that can be accessed within 3D-accelerated games.

Each user's "SteamID" account page contains information such as their Friends (i.e. contacts), how long they have played individual games in the past two weeks, their "Steam Rating" [cite web|url=http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Steam_rating|title=Steam rating|work=Valve Developer Community|accessdate=2007-11-03] (a 0-10 scale of how much overall playtime has been logged in the past two weeks), and of which groups they are a member.

Steam's server browser allows users to search, filter, bookmark and join internet and LAN games for the titles that integrate with it. It works from the desktop and from an integrated game's menu system, and polls Friends to show a list of servers to which a user's contacts are connected.

Friends, Steam's instant messaging tool, supports both one-to-one and many-to-many conversations, held publicly or privately, and Peer-to-Peer VOIP. It provides extended information about what games each user is playing, allowing others to join their contacts in Steam-integrated multiplayer games with a single click.

The Friends system is a popular attack vector for phishers.cite web|url=http://steamgames.com/v/index.php?area=news&archive=yes&id=733|title=Steam client update released|work=Steam news|date=30 August 2006|accessdate=2007-05-20] cite web|url=http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showpost.php?p=5227948&postcount=3|title=Steam Accounts - eBay & Hijacking Alerts|work=Steam news|date=1 February 2006|accessdate=2007-02-18] Complaints have also been made about the practice of 'invite spamming'. [cite web|url=http://www.golem.de/0709/54798.html|title=Privacy? Steam provides again for excitement|publisher=golem.de|language=german|accessdate=2008-04-07]

Localization

Steam is currently available in the following languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, and Thai.

As a centralized system, Steam also allows Valve to enforce regional lockout on their games. This became an issue when some North American customers bought Valve's "The Orange Box" from Russian and Thai retailers. The retailers were issued authorization codes specific to their regions. When Valve noticed that these codes were in wide use on computers located in other countries, the company disabled their use outside their intended region of sale.Cite web|title=Valve locking out user accounts for "incorrect territory"|last=Caron|first=Frank|date=2007-10-25|accessdate=2007-11-26|publisher=Ars Technica|url=http://arstechnica.com/journals/thumbs.ars/2007/10/25/valve-locking-out-user-accounts-for-incorrect-territory] Cite web|url=http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/49656|title=Valve Responds to Steam Territory Deactivations (Updated)|last=Breckon|first=Nick|date=2007-10-29|accessdate=2007-11-26|publisher=ShackNews]

teamworks

On January 28th, 2008 Valve released [http://steamgames.com/steamworks/ Steamworks] , a free development and publishing suite that gives developers access to every component of Steam.cite web|url=https://partner.steamgames.com/documentation/api|title=Steamworks API Overview|work=Steamworks partner site|publisher=Valve Corporation|date=2008-05-01|accessdate=2008-08-01] 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; "Audiosurf" became the first game to be released in this way on February 15th, 2008. [Cite web|url=http://storefront.steampowered.com/v/index.php?area=game&AppId=12900|title=Audiosurf purchase page|publisher=Valve Corporation|date=n.d.|accessdate=2008-02-26] To date, no game has used the Steamworks API without also opting for a presence in the Steam store.

Promotions

"Guest Passes" are allocated to a user when he or she purchases an applicable game. The user can then share the passes with others who have not purchased the game, allowing the new user to play the game for a limited time (which varies depending on the game). Once an activated guest pass expires, the recipient will be prompted to purchase the game in order to continue playing. The number of guest passes available to a game purchaser is determined on a game-by-game basis, and they expire one month after being granted if not used.

Users who already owned either "Half-Life 2" or "" and who purchased "The Orange Box" are eligible to give "Gifts" of these games. Valve does not allow these gifts to be bought, sold or traded because doing so violates the Steam Subscriber Agreement, and Valve may disable the Steam accounts of users who are believed by Valve to have done that.cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/cgi-bin/steampowered.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=549|title=Gifts and Guest Passes|accessdate=2007-10-27]

"Free Weekends" are multi-player promotions in which a game becomes free to play on Steam for a weekend. When the promotion ends participant users can no longer play the game, but the game's files can remain installed on their PCs which would save time in downloading future updates if they purchase the game.

Steam has also allowed Valve to run the subscription-based Valve Cyber Café Program,cite web|url=https://cafe.steampowered.com/|title=Valve Cyber Café Program|date=n.d.|accessdate=2007-11-07] which is the only legal way for a cyber café to offer Steam-based games. There are two pricing models: a flat-rate per-client fee each month, or the "Valve Time Tracker" system that offers a pay-as-you-go model.

Hardware promotions

Steam keeps a record of the hardware in the computer it is running on for various purposes, one of which is enabling hardware manufacturers to run after-sale promotions directly to their customers. Both ATi and nVidia use this feature: owners of ATi's Radeon video cards receive ' and ', as well as a discount on "Half-Life 2"cite web|url=http://steamgames.com/ati_offer1a/|title=ATi Steam Offer|work=Steam homepage|date=2007-05-30|accessdate=2007-06-04] , while owners of nVidia's GeForce video cards receive "Half-Life 2: Deathmatch", "Half-Life 2: Lost Coast", "Portal: First Slice" (a demo of "Portal", now available to all Steam users for free) and "Peggle Extreme" (available as part of The Orange Box).cite web|url=http://www.valvesoftware.com/news.php?id=1398|title=Portal: The First Slice for NVIDIA owners|work=Valve Homepage|accessdate=2008-01-11]

History

Steam's development began at an uncertain date prior to 2002. Prior to "Steam", its codenames were "Grid" and "Gazelle". [cite web|url=http://www.gameguru.in/pc/2007/24/steam-registers-13-million-active-accounts/|title=Steam Registers 13 million Active Accounts|accessdate=2007-12-08] It was revealed to the public on 22 March 2002 at the Game Developers Conference,cite web|url=http://gamespot.com/news/2857298.html|title=GDC 2002: Valve unveils Steam|work=GameSpot.com|date=22 March 2002|accessdaymonth=7 September |accessyear=2006] and was presented purely as a distribution network. To demonstrate the ease of integrating Steam to a game, Relic Entertainment had created a special version of "Impossible Creatures".

The client application, Steam version 1.0, was first made available for download in 2002 during the beta period for "Counter-Strike" 1.6. At that time, it appeared to be a method of streamlining the patch process common in online computer games. Installation and use of the Steam program was mandatory for CS 1.6 beta testers, but Steam remained an optional component. In 2004, the World Opponent Network was shut down and replaced by Steam.

Recently, Valve has been negotiating contracts with several publishers and independent developers to release their products on Steam, typically with a pre-order discount of 10% off their MSRP. "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.

"Half-Life 2" release

On November 16, 2004, "Half-Life 2" was officially released. The game required activation via Steam to play the game. Later in the day of the launch, a significant number of buyers (both through Steam and retail) found themselves unable to play the game, due in part to a bottleneck of Valve's Steam system. The European authentication servers went down for about five hours before being fixed, preventing those with accounts stored on them from decrypting or playing the game they had bought.cite web|url=http://www.theinquirer.net/en/inquirer/news/2004/11/16/half-life-authentication-servers-steam-up|title=Half Life authentication servers steam up|accessdate=2007-12-09] Other problems included long download times, glitches and seemingly unnecessary updates. [cite web|url=http://www.netjak.com/review.php/780 Netjak review|title=Half Life 2 Review|accessdate=2007-12-09] [cite web|url=http://www.sharkyextreme.com/features/games/article.php/3449611|title=Half Life 2 Review|accessdate=2007-12-09] cite web|url=http://www.contractoruk.com/news/001819.html|title=Half Life 2 fires up web users|publisher=Contractor UK Limited|accessdate=2008-02-19] It came second in 1UP.com's Top 5 Botched PC Gaming Launches. [cite web|url=http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3166996|title=Top 5 Botched PC Game Launches|publisher=1UP.com|accessdate=2008-04-07]

ecurity

Many hacks sprang up following "Half-Life 2's" launch, each claiming to be able to circumvent Steam and enable the user to get the games for free. Valve responded to these hacks by patching the servers and disabling accounts. It is still possible to download and play some games from Steam, and the games are unrestricted for single-player, LAN play and on illegal "cracked" servers (as and when they can trick the master server). [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4041289.stm|title=Ban hits Half-Life 2 pirates hard|publisher=BBC News|date=2004-11-25|accessdate=2008-02-02]

Criticism of Steam

Privacy

Steam collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance,cite web|url=http://www.valvesoftware.com/privacy.htm|title=Valve Privacy Policy|work=Valve Corporation homepage|date=2004-08-10|accessdate=2007-10-25] all, with the exception of Valve's [http://www.steampowered.com/status/survey.html hardware survey] , without notifying the user at the time of collection or offering an opt-out.

Steam is also used to report similarly anonymous and non-identifying data by several of its games.cite web|url=http://steamgames.com/status/ep1/|title=Half-Life 2: Episode One Stats|work=Steam homepage|date=n.d.|accessdate=2007-10-25] While some forms of this data are reported back to the public in aggregate form, for instance the results of the aforementioned hardware survey and gameplay statistics, other non-identifying data has been known to be collected without any indication (as is described in Valve's privacy policy). The only known example of this undisclosed collection of data has been that of the level of fragmentation of Steam's files. The data was used to justify the development of an defragmentation option within Steam to reverse the performance-degrading process. "Rather than having to guess or estimate performance bottle-necks", a Steam Update News entry said at the time, "Steam gave us the ability to precisely solve the real-world problem."cite web|url=http://www.steampowered.com/Steam/Marketing/message/639/|title=Wednesday May 31, 2006 - Steam client update released|work=Steam Update News|date=31 May 2006|accessdate=2006-10-26]

Regional restrictions and pricing

Although Steam is an entirely virtual entity, Valve allows developers and publishers to geographically restrict where a game is available, and at what price.

Region restrictions are unpopular with Steam users affected by them, and supported by the media a Steam community group called "Rest of World." [cite web|url=http://steamcommunity.com/groups/restofworld|title=Steam Community Group "Rest Of World"|date=2008-04-01|accessdate=2008-04-14] was set up on April 1st, after Ubisoft announced the sale of their titles on Steam to only North American territories, with the intention of lobbying Steam publishers about releasing games region free.Cite web|url=http://www.cnet.com.au/broadband/0,239036008,339288255,00.htm|title=Getting Steamed: digital distribution for games isn't there yet|last=Craig|first=Simms|date=2008-04-18|accessdate=2008-04-25|publisher=CNET]

Some of the difficulties in selling a retailing game worldwide are detailed by a forum post from a member of Valve's staff:

While Valve does not have region restrictions on their own games, they do use 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. [cite web|url=http://consumerist.com/consumer/drm/valve-deactivating-customers-who-bought-orange-box-internationally-314690.php|title=Valve "Deactivating" Customers Who Bought "Orange Box" Internationally|publisher=The Consumerist|date=2007-10-24|accessdate=2008-02-19]

Regional pricing on Steam is also a controversial subject. It is widely used by publishers to artificially ensure that prices on Steam stay comparable to or above the retail price of a game in user's area, which considering regional differences and exchange rate fluctuations can lead to dramatic differences. Thus, as of April 2008, "" costs $49.95 USD in the United States but $88.50 USD ("not" AUD) in Australia. [Cite web|url=http://www.news.com.au/technology/story/0,25642,23945533-5014108,00.html|title=Aussies paying five times more for software|date=2008-07-01|accessdate=2007-07-09|publisher=News Limited]

ystem failure

It is necessary to validate every Steam game online before it can be launched, although an offline mode is available. There are no alternate methods of activation such as via telephone or fax, which causes the system to deny access to those without Internet connections. 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. [cite web|url=http://www.steampowered.com/v/index.php?area=subscriber_agreement|title=Steam Subscriber Agreement|accessdate=2007-11-04]

Temporary system failures may occur preventing users from activating their games. The first temporary system failure affected Europe on November 2004 just after "Half-Life 2" was released, and in December 2006 the root authentication servers were unavailable due to storms in Seattle.cite web|url=http://www.shacknews.com/onearticle.x/45062|title=Steam Unavailable; Seattle Area Power Outage|work=Shacknews|date=15 December 2006|accessdate=2007-09-23]

Forced auto-updates

By default, to play a game offline, Steam and the game itself must be fully updated. When Steam starts online, the system checks to see if there are updates available. If there are, the user is forced to wait for update process to finish before being able to play again, though games can be streamed online.cite web|url=http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Content_streaming|title=Content Streaming|work=Valve Developer Community|date=28 June 2005|accessdate=2007-01-18] These updates cannot be rolled back by the user, which prevents users with unusual or unrecognized issues reverting their software to its previous, functional state. Steam can be set to stay offline and not attempt a connection,cite web|url=http://steamgames.com/v/index.php?area=news&id=1110|title=Steam client update released|work=Steam news|date=2007-06-27|accessdate=2007-06-27] but this offline mode has its own restrictions and limitations, including preventing games which have not been updated from running in offline mode.cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/cgi-bin/steampowered.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=213|title=Offline Mode|work=Steam Support|date=2007-06-27|accessdate=2007-10-27]

Auto-updating can be turned off by the user, on a game by game basis. Doing this will cause multiplayer games to not function due to the users version being out of date compared to both other users who took the update, and game servers. Choosing to update the game is possible without re-activating the auto-update feature.

Changes to minimum specifications

On June 30, 2007, users who ran Windows 98 or Windows Me were no longer allowed to run Steam or any games that previously supported those operating systems. However, only a small percentage of Steam users were affected by these changes.cite web|url=http://steamreview.org/posts/win98supportends/|title=Windows 98/ME support ending this July|work=The Steam Review|date=2007-03-01|accessdate=2007-04-05] Installing Steam on either of these operating systems results in an error forwarding the user to the Steam support website. [cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=6311-YPSD-1357|title=Steam is no longer supported on this computer's operating system.|work=Steam support|date=2008-01-30|accessdate=2008-02-03] Additionally, users without SSE processors were warned that Source engine games would no longer function "within the next few months" if they did not upgrade their computer hardware (due to the impending release of its multiprocessor update).

Gaming sites have criticized Valve for not making Steam natively available on Mac OS X or Linux; Valve describes the system as "strictly a Windows application". [cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=1313-QIPD-5381|title=Platforms supported by Steam|work=Steam support|date=2008-01-29|accessdate=2008-02-03] Despite this, Steam can run with most of its functionality under Wine. [cite web|url=http://appdb.winehq.org/objectManager.php?sClass=version&iId=1554|title=Wine AppDB - Steam All Versions|accessdate=2008-03-15] There have been rumours that Steam and the Source Engine are being ported to other operating systems, but no plans have been announced by Valve. [cite web|url=http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=source_linux&num=1|title=Valve's Source Engine Coming To Linux.|work=Steam Linux port|date=2008-05-07|accessdate=2008-06-04]

Resale limitations

Games bought through Steam cannot legally be resold due to the unsuitability of current proof of purchase laws. The only valid proof in an entirely digital transaction is the credit card used during the process, but as ownership of credit cards cannot be transferred, neither can that of Steam-bought games.

When a buyer purchases a boxed game they must authenticate it with the registration of a CD Key.cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/cgi-bin/steampowered.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=68|title=Retail CD Keys|publisher=Valve Corporation|date=2007-02-27|accessdate=2007-03-18] In the event that the CD Key that they have registered is already in Steam's database the user is required to submit an image of the physical purchased CD Key for verification purposes, as well as a purchase receipt. Valve does not accept receipts from eBay or known game resellers.cite web|url=https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=1673-IDGK-4694|title=CD Key Reset Process|publisher=Valve Corporation|date=2007-02-27|accessdate=2007-03-18]

Payment issues

Due to Steam products' ephemeral nature and Steam's resultant susceptibility to fraud, billing details entered must match exactly with those held by the bank.cite web|url=http://support.steampowered.com/cgi-bin/steampowered.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=429|title=Why was my purchase declined?|work="Steam Credit Card Purchase and Billing FAQ|date=17 October 2006|accessdate=2006-10-21] Similarly, certain types of failed transactions (such as chargebacks) will cause the user's Steam account to be disabled until audited by support staff.cite web|url=https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=5406-WFZC-5519|title=Why is my Steam account disabled?|work=Steam Support|date=17 October 2006|accessdate=2006-10-26]

ee also

*SteamID
*Valve Corporation
*Valve Anti-Cheat
*Digital distribution
*World Opponent Network

References

External links

* [http://www.steampowered.com/ Steam website] - Official Steam website
** [http://steamcommunity.com/ The Steam Community] - Web access to Steam's social networking features
** [http://steampowered.com/steamworks Steamworks] - Steamworks information
* [http://www.valvesoftware.com/ Valve Software] - Valve's official website
* [http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Category:Steam Valve Developer Community/Steam] - Steam category on the official VDC Wiki


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