Valve: Steam Unlikely To Dissipate
I have been a gamer for many, many years, ever since playing on my older brother’s Commodore 64 when I was a kid, right up until the point we all heard the news of Sony’s latest PlayStation project. Gaming has grown in leaps and bounds, and it has been an absolute pleasure to watch. Graphically, commercially, cinematically; it might come as a surprise to many, but gaming has not only conquered the entertainment industry, but the realms of art and education, too. It is a way for passionate people to share stories and beautiful design with an equally passionate audience, and they are obviously doing something right; the global video game market was valued at US$65 billion, as of June 2011, and has no doubt increased exponentially since then, and it’s all because of creative and driven development companies leading the march into the future of gaming. And who is leading this march? Arguably, it could be none other than the Valve Corporation.
The Valve Corporation (formerly Valve Software, commonly referred to as Valve) is an American video game development and digital distribution company. It was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. The company is most famous for its critically acclaimed Half-Life (released in November 1998) and Portal series (released in October 2007). It is also well known for its social distribution network Steam, a revolutionary new way for individuals to purchase and download their games without ever having the need to leave their home. This of course requires one to have a stable internet connection, and the platforms Steam provides for are limited, but it’s a start. In this day and age, where illegal downloading and piracy have become an epidemic, costing development companies millions, Steam offers a solution, and many game studios have already begun leaping at the chance to have their products sold on the network.
But let’s talk about Steam for a moment. How exactly does it work? Without going into complicated tech-talk, I’ll try my best to explain. Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform. It is used to distribute games and related media online, from the smallest independent developer to larger software houses, and as of October 2012, Valve has expanded the service to include non-gaming software as well. Although Steam was initially developed for use on Microsoft Windows, the client has been expanded to include OS X and Linux versions, as well as providing limited functionality on PlayStation 3 consoles, and both the iOS and Android mobile devices. But what is it, exactly, that Steam provides the user? First and foremost, the client allows for the installation and automatic management of software across multiple computers. Secondly, Steam provides one with community features that resemble some social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook; allowing gamers to not only keep in touch, but see what their friends are playing, join multiplayer games far more easily, swap screenshots and tons more!
However it’s not only the gamers that are benefiting from Steam. The service offers a freely available application programming interface. This allows developers to integrate many of Steam’s functions – such as the multiplayer aspect, in-game voice and chat, and sometimes even a web browser one can access without even leaving the game – within their software products. Steam can also be enabled by users to automatically patch software packages as they are updated by the publishers, never requiring them to go on the hunt across cyberspace. More importantly, Valve announced Steam Greenlight in July, 2012, which was subsequently released the following month. This is a way for users to help promote which games should be added to the service. Developers are able to submit information about their games – sometimes even early builds or beta versions – for the consideration of gamers using the client. Users can give their support for the games they like, and Valve will help to make those the first to be available on the Steam service listing. Due to a flood of inappropriate or false submissions in the first week of release, however, Valve added the requirement that developers put forward US$100 fee to list a game on the service. This fee would then be given to the Child’s Play Charity organization.
The digital storefront – called the Steam Store – allows one to purchase computer games digitally. Once purchased, software licenses are permanently attached to the user’s Steam account, allowing the software to be downloaded on any compatible device. Steam also allows users to back up game data files to other media, giving one the option to remove game content from these machines in order to free up space. Always handy. In 2012, Valve began to offer Free To Play games on the client, such as Global Agenda, Spiral Knights and Champions Online. Valve also carries out regular sales periods on Steam – individual titles, packages and other bundles – along with many other promotions. Recently, Valve has implemented the Steam for Schools project; a limited-functionality version of Steam software that is available for free for educational institutions and use within the classroom. Part of the initiative by Valve to support educational uses of games for classroom instruction.
There is no denying that what Valve is trying to accomplish with Steam could very well save the gaming industry from past economic disasters, and considering the statistics, we could very well be on our way to a new age in digital distribution and online gaming software:
- By December 2012, there have been nearly 2000 games available through Steam.
- By January 2013, Steam has seen over 6.6 million concurrent players.
- 54 Million active user accounts.
- Steam has approximately 50-70% share of digital distribution market for video games.
And the best part? The tentatively titled Steam Box, a promising new gaming console that Valve is currently developing, with no anticipated release date, could see us welcoming a new contender for the bid of greatest platform for gaming excellence. Hopefully more information will become available in the coming months, but for now, Steam has the eye of the industry upon it and I know it won’t disappoint.