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Type Content Delivery
Digital Rights Management
Social Networking
Launch Date September 12, 2003
Status active
Product Line Video Games
Video Gaming Related Media
Platform Microsoft Windows
Mac OS X
PlayStation 3

Steam is the world's largest online gaming platform and is owned and operated by Valve.[1] Steam features over 1800 game titles which can be bought, downloaded, and played in both Microsoft Windows and the Apple OSX operating systems. Additionally, certain Play Station 3 (PS3) games can also make use of the Steam platform, such as Valve's game Portal 2.[2] Third party games (games not developed by Valve) can be integrated with Steam through the Steamworks API. Steam is currently available in 237 countries in 21 different languages and has over 35 million active users.[1] It was originally programmed to only work on Microsoft Windows, but has expanded to include a Mac OSX version. In 2009 it was estimated that Steam held 70% of the video game digital distribution market.[3] Controversies regarding Steam include hacked accounts and differential pricing. Furthermore, there are ethical concerns about Steam involving password protection.

"Big Picture", a new mode designed to allow functionality of Steam with console controllers from their living room, has been made public as of December 3rd, 2012. This mode, like the previous Steam, is still compatible with mouse and keyboard. [4]


Steam is an online gaming platform owned and run by Valve Corporation. It was originally started as a tool to update Counter-Strike, the most popular online action game made by Valve. Steam allows users to download games from a large selection of both purchasable and free titles, from producers such as Electronic Arts, Sony Online, Valve, 2K games, and many more.[5] With Steam, users can buy, play, share, modify, and build communities around Valve products as well as those from independent studios.[1]

Counterstrike is a popular first-person shooter game that is hosted on the Steam platform. Today Counter-Strike is still played by many people, though fewer than when it's popularity peaked in 2007.
Steam also allows users to add games that are not sold in the store to be added to the client giving gamers the ability to store all of their games in one place. [6] The client makes use of embedded Internet Explorer to synthesize community, friends, store, games library and news. [7]

History of Development: Valve & Sierra

Prior to the release of Half-life in 1998, Valve entered a publishing contract with Sierra Studios in 1997. Within their original contract, Sierra controlled some Intellectual property (IP) and publishing control. During this contract, Valve published additional games including expansions for Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Valve became concerned with Sierra’s amount of IP control in 1999 when they started work on Half-Life 2. Valve and Sierra renegotiated their contract in 2001 which eliminated Sierra’s IP rights and gave Valve sole control over digital distribution of its content. [8]

"In 1997, Valve and Sierra entered into two agreements whereby Valve undertook to develop certain computer games and Sierra undertook to manufacture, market, and distribute the games. Among other benefits, these 1997 agreements granted Sierra intellectual property rights in the games.”[9]
"Beginning in 1999, following the success of its first game, Valve began to threaten Sierra that it would halt or slow development of the remaining games it was obligated to develop unless Sierra relinquished certain rights under the 1997 agreements. Sierra eventually capitulated to these demands and, relying on misrepresentations by Valve, entered into a new software publishing agreement (SPA) with Valve in 2001.”[10]

Brick and mortar stores like gamestop (pictured) have contracts with larger publishing companies to distribute products.
Steam eliminated the need for brick and mortar location and publisher by allowing consumers to purchase and download products from their homes.[11]

Another issue began to arise during this time, Valve had difficulty with getting published game updates to players. Providing downloadable patches required many players to disconnect for multiple days causing a major lull in activity. Reaching out to their user base via surveys, Valve discovered that most of their customers have access to a high speed internet connection. Using this information, Valve made the decision to create a platform that could update games automatically and enforce stronger anti-cheating/piracy measures.[12] Valve originally went to multiple major corporations including Microsoft and Yahoo but did not succeed in obtaining a contract.[13]

Available Games

Popular games available for purchase on Steam include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.[14] Steam also offers free downloadable games including Portal, Team Fortress 2, and Champions Online. In total, Steam currently hosts 30,000 games for purchase in their store [15]. After adding 9,300 games to the service in 2018, many people expect the store will reach 40,000 games by the end of 2019.

Steam is known for it's generous and frequent sales. Games that are more expensive from retailers or the original developers are much cheaper on Steam during these sales, specifically Holiday Sales. It is not uncommon for games to be sold for 75% off the regular asking price. [16]


Many third party games are now being fully integrated with Steam by using the Steamworks API. This means that they require Steam to play, have direct access to its friends network, allow for achievements, and save games to the cloud. If a game is bought through a boxed retailer, then the serial key must be registered with Steam. Examples of games using Steamworks are The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Torchlight 2. [17]


Steam's Volatile Future

Although Steam provides a platform for storing game installation files on their cloud servers, the controversy that comes up is "What happens when Steam isn't here anymore?". Users can spend hundreds of dollars buying games available and playable on the Steam platform, but if Steam were to go out of business, then users would no longer be able to enjoy their purchases. Steam's solution to this issue was releasing a new client that allowed users to run their purchased games in an offline environment.[18]

Hacked Accounts

Steam was victim to a major hacking attack on November 6, 2011. The hackers gained entry through a few forum accounts into a larger database of information associated with those accounts. Steam detailed the damage in an email sent to all Steam users:

"We learned that intruders obtained access to a Steam database in addition to the forums. This database contained information including
user names, hashed and salted passwords, game purchases, email addresses, billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. We do
not have evidence that encrypted credit card numbers or personally identifying information were taken by the intruders, or that the
protection on credit card numbers or passwords was cracked. We are still investigating."

These forum accounts are maintained separately from the main Steam accounts, and so the damage was somewhat contained. In order to ensure that their user's accounts were secure, Valve forced all users to change their forum account passwords the next time they logged in.

Differential Pricing

There has been some public outcry over Steam's differential- or "tiered"- pricing[19]. As of December 2011, the comment section of this forum shows that some consumers in high-cost tiers simply order some games from other, more egalitarian websites. Perhaps the tiered pricing does not cause any significant problem for Steam due to the ease of ordering via other platforms, leading customers who would otherwise express anger to simply do so. In addition, gamers tend to be more extensively networked in online communities than most of the population, and can therefore solve problems on a case-by-case basis using collaborative forums like Reddit

Ethical Concerns

One ethical concern is the consolidation of one's game collection into one account. This is the digital equivalent of "putting all your eggs in one basket." Therefore, it is of paramount importance that Valve and its users take extra precautions to protect accounts and conceal their passwords. The most recent technological advancement made in this regard is the concept of two-step authentication. This is the requirement that each time a user logs into their Steam account, the user must enter a time-sensitive randomly generated code which is sent to the user's email account. This is called the Steam Guard.[20]

In an older security update, Valve added a simple warning at the top of the Steam chat windows that displayed the text Never tell your password to anyone. At the time it was implemented, there was a serious problem regarding people falling for simple social engineering attacks. Specifically, many people were contacted through Steam chat by people with user names that would suggest that they were Steam or Valve employees. The imposter would then claim to work for Steam or Valve and attempt to phish for the account password, and once obtained would promptly log into the user's account and change the password and email associated with the account so that the user could not recover their account. There is now a notice on Steam's website that reads, "Steam Support does not contact users over the Friends network - decline Friends requests from users you do not know. Steam Support will never need your password for any reason. Ignore any password request you receive."[21] The hope is that this will help dissuade users from divulging any of their account information to unauthorized individuals.

The Steam URL protocol has also been linked to potential security risks. Criminals have the power to alter the way browsers and other applications process steam:// protocol URLs in order abuse several weaknesses in the actual Steam client, or the game itself. When Steam is installed on any system, it registers itself as a steam://URL protocol handler. After this is done, every time a user navigates to a steam:// URL in a browser, the url is delivered to Steam in order to execute the request. The problem resides in the fact that several Steam protocol commands can significantly manipulate game data. For example, these steam URLs can install, uninstall, update, and start games. It is also possible to boot a game with different parameters than originally intended, and access backup files. Hackers can abuse this functionality by fooling Steam users into using maliciously made URLs. Several browsers and applications automatically pass these URLs to the Steam client, usually without asking for confirmation from the users.[22]

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Valve: Home Page
  2. Steam: Playstation 3 Support
  3. Graft, Kris (November 19, 2009). "Stardock Reveals Impulse, Steam Market Share Estimates". Gamasutra. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  4. December 3rd, 2012. Steam News. Steam Big Picture
  5. Steam: About Page
  6. Steam Support. Adding non-Steam game to your Library
  7. June 12th, 2009. Steam User Forums. [1]
  8. December 15, 2004 at 12:09PM PST. Gamespot Article [ ]
  9. December 15, 2004 at 12:09PM PST. Gamespot Article [ ]
  10. December 15, 2004 at 12:09PM PST. Gamespot Article [ ]
  11. December 15, 2004 at 12:09PM PST. Gamespot Article [ ]
  12. Origins of Steam,2817,41291,00.asp
  13. Valve and Steam
  14. Steam: Stat Page
  15. “How Many Games Are on Steam? - 2019 Update.” GameRevolution, 14 Jan. 2019,
  16. July 5th, 2011. No Game No Talk. The Steam Sale Guide
  17. Steam FAQ Page
  18. "What happens if Steam/Valve goes out of business" Steam Forum
  19. Steam Unpowered: Euro Tiers
  20. Steam: Support Page
  21. Steam's Account Security Recommendations page

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