My First Encounter With Steam
Steam, by Valve, is the most recognised and successful gaming platform around and if it weren’t for Half-Life and Half-Life 2, it probably wouldn’t exist. It was through Half-Life 2 that I, like many others, found our way to Steam, more or less by default. I had bought the original Half-Life back in 1999 having been introduced to it by a colleague at a medical equipment trade show of all places and I remember rushing over to our local PC World, buying the CD, and installing it on my Pentium II with a 3DFX card, then being mesmerised for months on end and it was only a matter of time that the sequel, Half-Life 2, would be announced.
In December 2004 I acquired the Half-Life 2 DVD and at that time I was living in an isolated farmhouse in Spain with no mains electricity (or water) and we relied on solar panels and a wind generator. Our Internet, such as it was, came via 3G (or it could even have been GPRS) on my Nokia 6310 and so we only used it sporadically due to the cost. Anyway, I was in a hurry to get Half-Life 2 installed on my Pentium 4, so I popped the DVD into the drive, hit install, and after a minute or so was greeted with the now-familiar, green Steam message:
I’m sure there were other messages advising me that a Steam account would be required in order to complete the Half-Life 2 installation, but I remember that at the time, I was dismayed to find that the DVD only contained part of the game with the remainder being held in a locked safe, somewhere at Gabe Newell’s Valve office in Seattle. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement and it was most definitely one of my most memorable what the f**k? moments. Having figured out how to connect my Nokia 6310 to my PC and use it as a modem, I managed to create an account with Steam and began the painful process of downloading the remainder of the game.
At least that was the plan until I realised that it would take anything between 27 and 250 hours to download the remaining 3GB and my mobile phone bill would require a substantial mortgage just to pay it off.
Fortunately, a friend of mine kindly allowed me to hook into his 1 Mbit/s ADSL service and I eventually managed to get Half-Life 2 running back at home, on solar power, I hasten to add.
I even have a badge for long service which reminds me that December 2004 was a very long time ago in the gaming world and looking through my purchase history, the first game I bought on Steam (Tomb Raider Underworld) wasn’t until May 2010. So I can only assume that I was still buying physical DVDs up until that point, perhaps not quite trusting this new-fangled way of buying games. Since then, my Steam library has grown to around 130 games and other software, many of which I haven’t even completed. Today, Steam is practically unrecognisable to its launch interface of September 2003, but it still retains that unmistakable Steam feel in a battleship grey kind of way. The client itself has received the biggest changes, with the most recent overhaul taking everyone by surprise and not without the usual objections, because change is scary isn’t it?
There are other game platforms of course, but none come anywhere near Steam in terms of available options, such as in-game FPS, screenshots, overlay, and a mine of information/metrics for time played and achievements. Steam has become the yardstick against which others are measured and it has spawned numerous other Steam-related sites such as the excellent SteamDB, a site that aggregates every scrap of steam information such as game prices, individual Steam account libraries, and much, much more.
It’s also become much easier to move games between hard drives and different PCs, with Steam’s discovery tool doing all the hard work in what used to be a devilish black art. In most of the other game platforms such as Uplay, Origin, and Epic, moving games still need to be done manually, a task which often involves deleting folders, backing up games, and then restoring them. Not difficult if you’re comfortable playing with files and folders, but certainly an aspect of any game platform that should be a walk in the park. Microsoft on the other hand prefers to treat you like a hideous, cutthroat pirate right from the start and encrypts game folders, denying you permission to even look at them, which is pathetically archaic in this day and age.
The Steam Store
There’s always something on sale in the Steam store and the numerous seasonal sales are definitely worth marking in your calendar. The myriad category options are mind-boggling, which makes drilling down to a particular game or software a very accurate exercise and yes, Steam sells software too at excellent prices. In fact, I have several programs on Steam that are mainly focused on screen recording and other tools.
There’s also the benefit of geographical pricing, depending of course on your point of view. Certain countries benefit from much lower prices than the base price — usually calculated from the US dollar base price — and I think it’s calculated on average household income. For example, Deathloop, a new game released this week, has a base price of $60 and in many countries is priced at $30, including Argentina.
But the flip side of this is that countries such as New Zealand will pay $75, so not everyone is winning and it doesn’t seem fair that many countries now pay way over the base price for their games.
This isn’t a fanboy chant for Steam because nothing is perfect. However, as a game platform and storefront, it’s hard to beat and I’m only surprised that all the other emulations of Steam appear to be half-hearted at best, with the possible exception of GOG.
If you’re a Steam user, what are your thoughts and how long have you been with Steam?