Steam Logo
"An Expanded Company"

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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; in October 2012, Valve expanded the service to include non-gaming software. Steam provides the user with installation and automatic management of software across multiple computers, community features such as friends lists and groups, cloud saving, and in-game voice and chat functionality. The software provides a freely available application programming interface, Steamworks, that developers can take advantage of to integrate many of Steam's functions within their software products, including copy protection, networking and matchmaking, in-game achievements and micro-transactions, and support for user-created content through Steam Workshop. Though initially developed for use on Microsoft Windows, the client has expanded to include OS X and Linux versions, and clients with limited functionality on the PlayStation 3 console and for both iOS and Android mobile devices. In addition to being a central hub for gaming software, Valve has created a version of Steam with altered functionality to be used in schools for educational software, including a modified version of Portal 2 for teaching science and critical thinking lessons.

As of December 2012, there are over 1860 games available through Steam,[5] and 54 million active user accounts.[6] As of January 2013, Steam has seen over 6.6 million concurrent players.[7] Steam has an estimated 50–70% share of the digital distribution market for video games.[8][9]

The Steam logo is a stylised left-side fly-crank and rod from the Walschaerts valve gear of a steam locomotive.


[hide] *1 Client functionality

[edit] Client functionalityEdit

[edit] Software delivery and maintenanceEdit

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 acronym for game cache file).[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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 back up game data files to other media, and remove game content files to free space on their machines.

Steam provides 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.[13] 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.[14] Steam's DRM is available through Steamworks to software developers, but the service allows developers and publishers to include other forms of DRM and other authentication services on top of Steam; for example, some games on Steam require the use of "Games for Windows – Live", and various titles from publisher Ubisoft require the use of their "UPlay" gaming service.

In September 2008, Valve added support for Steam Cloud, a service that can automatically store game saves and related custom files on Valve's servers; users can then access this data from any other machine running the Steam client.[15][16] 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.[17] In May 2012, the service added the ability to manage their game libraries from remote clients, including other computers and mobile devices; users are able to instruct Steam to download and install games they own through this service if their currently running Steam client is active.[18]

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.[19] An alternative option available to users interested in using Steam Guard is two-factor, risk-based authentication, through the use of a one-time verification code sent to a verified email address associated with the Steam account. If Steam Guard is enabled on an account, the verification code is sent each time the account is used from a new machine.[20] Many of Steam Guard's features will work the same with the only real difference being the method of authentication.[21]

[edit] StorefrontEdit

Steam includes a digital storefront called the Steam Store, through which users can purchase computer games digitally. Once purchased, a software license is permanently attached to the user's Steam account, allowing them to download the software on any compatible device. "Gifting" of some game licenses to other accounts is possible under set conditions. Content is delivered using a proprietary file transfer protocol from an international network of servers.[22] Steam sells its products in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling, Brazilian Reais and roubles based on the user's location.[23] From December 2010, the client also supports the Webmoney payment system, popular in many European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26]

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,[27] 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.[28] 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.[29] Introduced in December 2011, Steam Coupons provides single-use coupons that can be used to discount the cost of an item; Steam Coupons can be provided by developers and publishers to users, and users can trade these Coupons between friends in a similar fashion with gifts and in-game items.[30] Further extending this is Steam Market, a feature introduced in beta in December 2012, that would allow users to sell virtual items to others via Steam Wallet funds. Valve has set a 15% transaction fee on such sales, and game publishers who employ the Market can add an additional transaction fee; for example, the first game supported at the beta phase, Team Fortress 2 by Valve, included both fees. Full support for other games is expected to be available in early 2013.[31]

Valve carries out regular sales periods on Steam, during these periods, individual titles, packages, and other bundles such as ones for specific publishers, will be offered on sale, along with other promotions. These large discount sales have been criticized by owners of competing services[32] and Origin as devaluing brands. In response, Valve have said it is "key to introducing players to new intellectual properties."[33]

In October 2012, Steam introduced non-gaming applications that will be sold over the service.[34] Such creativity and productivity applications can be able to access the core functions of the Steamworks API, allowing them to use Steam's simplified installation and updating process, and incorporate features like cloud saving and Steam Workshop. Developers of non-gaming software will be able to submit their applications to the Steam Greenlight service to judge interest for later inclusion onto the Steam storefront.[35]

Valve has a no refunds policy, but in some circumstances has offered refunds if third-party content fails to work or improperly reports on certain features. For example, the Steam version of From Dust was originally stated to have a single online DRM check with Ubisoft, its publisher, after installation, but on release, the game required a DRM check each time with Ubisoft's servers. At the urging of Ubisoft, Valve offered refunds to those that had purchased, if they opted for it, while Ubisoft worked on releasing a patch that would remove the DRM check altogether.[36] On The War Z's release, players found that the game was still in an alpha-build state, failing to have many of the features advertised on its Steam store page. Though the developers Hammerpoint Interactive altered the description after launch to reflect the current state of the game software, Valve opted to pull the title from sale and offer refunds to those who had purchased it.[37] Valve will also remove games if they no longer meet Valve's business terms for developers. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was pulled from Steam due to a claim from the Recording Industry Association of America over an expired license of one of the songs on the soundtrack.[38] Near the launch of Electronic Arts' (EA) own digital storefront, Origin, Valve removed Crysis 2 and Dragon Age 2 from Steam due to the terms of service which prevented games from having their own in-game storefront for downloadable content.[39] In the case of Crysis 2, a "Maximum Edition" was later readded to Steam, which contained all the available downloadable content for the game and removed the in-game storefront.[40] Games that are pulled can still be downloaded and played by those that have already purchased these titles prior to their removal.[38]

[edit] Steam Community and MatchmakingEdit

The Steam client, as part of a social network service, allows users to identify friends and join groups through the Steam Community feature.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43] In conjunction with the 2012 Steam Summer Sale, user profiles were updated with Badges reflecting the user's participating in the Steam community and past events.[44] 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.[45][46]

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.[47] In August 2012, Valve will start introducing new features into the Community area, such as dedicated hub pages for games that highlight the best user-created content, screenshots, top forum posts, and other details.[48] One such feature added in December 2012 are Game Guides, where users can upload text and images detailing a game and strategies for playing it, in the same manner as GameFAQS.[49]

Steam collects and reports anonymous metrics of its usage, stability, and performance.[50] With the exception of Valve's hardware survey,[51] 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.[52] 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.[53] 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.[54]

[edit] Steam OverlayEdit

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.[55] The Overlay also allows for players to take screenshots of the games in process, automatically storing these and allowing the player to review, delete, or share them during their play session or after completion.

[edit] Big Picture modeEdit

Steam's "Big Picture" mode was announced in 2011, with public betas starting in September 2012 and integrated into the software in December 2012.[56] Big Picture mode is a 10-foot user interface, optimizing the display of Steam to work on high-definition televisions, allowing the user to control Steam via a gamepad or through keyboard and mouse. Newell has stated that Big Picture mode is a step towards a dedicated Steam entertainment hardware unit.[57]

[edit] SteamworksEdit

Steamworks is a freely available application programming interface (API) that provides development and publishing tools to game developers, allowing them to take advantage of the Steam client's features.[58][59][59][60] Specifically, Steamworks provides the means for 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.[60] 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.

[edit] Steam WorkshopEdit

See also: Category:Steam Workshop gamesThe Steam Workshop provides a way for players of Valve and Steamworks-enabled games to find and obtain user-created content. Users can use in-game or separate tools to construct new levels, game modifications, or other content for games that support the Workshop and then publish them. End users can then subscribe to such content through the Steam client or web site and automatically download it to the user's computer and integrate with the game. The Workshop was originally used for distribution of new items for Team Fortress 2,[61] the Workshop was revamped in early 2012 to extend support for any game, including mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.[62] A May 2012 patch for Portal 2 introduced the ability to share user-created levels enabled by a new map-making tool through the Steam Workshop.[63] Indie games, such as Dungeons of Dredmor, are also able to provide Steam Workshop support for user-generated content.[64] Dota 2 became Valve's third published title available for the Steam Workshop in June 2012, with features including customizable accessories, skins and voice packs.[65]

[edit] AuthenticationEdit

See also: List of games using Steam authenticationIt is necessary to authenticate every Steamworks game online, whether purchased via Steam itself or installed via a retail disc, the first time it is played.[66] After the initial authentication, an offline mode allows games to be run without being connected to the internet.

[edit] Steam GreenlightEdit

See also: Category:Steam Greenlight gamesIncredipede, an example of a game that has been through the Steam Greenlight process.Announced in July 2012 and released the following month,[67] Steam Greenlight is a way for Steam users to help promote which games should be added to the service. Developers are able to submit information about their games, as well as early builds or beta versions, for consideration by users. Users can pledge support for these games, and Valve will help to make top-pledged games available on the Steam service.[68] In response to initial complaints during its first week that finding games to support was made difficult due to a flood of inappropriate or false submissions,[69] Valve added the requirement that developers put up a $100 fee to list a game on the service to cut down on non-legitimate submissions. The fee will then be given to the Child's Play charity.[70] A later modification allowed developers to put conceptual ideas on the Greenlight service without fee, as to garner interest in potential projects; votes from such projects are only visible to the developer.[71] Further, Valve allowed non-gaming software to be voted onto the service through Greenlight.[72] The first game to be released via Steam Greenlight was McPixel.[73]

[edit] Early AccessEdit

Steam's Early Access program was launched in March 2013. The service allows developers to release functional but yet-complete products to the service, such as beta versions, to allow users to buy the title and help provide testing and feedback towards the final production. This also helps to provide funding to the developers to help complete their titles. Initial titles including Prison Architect and Kerbal Space Program.[74]

[edit] Steam for SchoolsEdit

Steam for Schools is a limited-functionality version of the Steam software that is available for free for educational institutions and use within classrooms. It is part of an initiative by Valve to support educational uses of games for classroom instruction; its release was alongside free versions of Portal 2 and a standalone Puzzle Maker application to allow educators and students to create and manipulate levels. It features additional authentication security that allows educators to share and distribute content via a similar Steam Workshop-type interface, but blocks such access from students