Steam has been a big name in the gaming world for a while now, but what exactly is it, and how does it work? Well, explain the details of this cloud gaming service and what you need to know.
Steam is a platform and app for distributing video games online that also has social media features and community message boards. It was developed by Valve — the same Valve that created the Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Left4Dead games. It functions like an online shop and a community portal combined and is one of the most popular gaming platforms out there.
You can download the Steam application on Windows, Mac, and Linux; a beta version for ChromeOS is also available. The app lets you purchase games and organize your collection. Much like a media player app, you’ll see your collection of games and the ability to play them, along with links to social features and forums. You need an account to use Steam, and it’s free to sign up for one. You can also download the Steam mobile app for iOS and Android, which lets you use the social features of Steam and buy games on the go — more on those below.
Beyond what it can be for gamers, Steam is also useful for developers. Both large companies and small indie creators use the platform to distribute their games. Plus, they can push out updates and new features, interact with their audience, and communicate with players all through the Steam app.
While gaming may be big news these days, Steam started off quite small. Back in 2003, Valve introduced Steam as a way to push automatic updates out for its games. Its primary purpose back then was to make it easier to install patches and upgrades to existing games. It was optional, and the first game Valve distributed digitally through Steam that required the app was Half-Life 2 in 2004. However, this release was rocky, with crashes and sluggishness plaguing users. Valve resolved this issue, and the service’s reputation and performance improved afterward.
By 2005, third-party developers started taking an interest, and they began offering their games through Steam, too. Steam was the big name in digital game distribution for a while after that. However, in 2012 EA launched Mass Effect 3 exclusively through its own Origin app due to disagreements over licensing requirements. Plus, other competitors started cropping up, including the Epic Games Store, Uplay, the Microsoft Store, and more. Still, Steam remains a major player in the online gaming world.
While Steam was originally only for Windows, a macOS version of the app launched in 2010, and 2013 saw the release of a Linux app. After that, Steam also developed SteamOS in 2015. This operating system saw use on the now-discontinued Steam Machines, which were dedicated pieces of hardware that ran SteamOS. These weren’t popular, but 2022 saw the release of Steam Deck, a handheld gaming computer that uses SteamOS and is similar to the Nintendo Switch. A sequel, which we refer to as the Steam Deck 2, is also poised to debut in the future.
Upon opening Steam, you’ll see your Steam Library, where you can view your collection of games, achievements, player statistics, and what your friends are up to. If you want to play a game, click on it and then click the Play button. You can also use Steam to install mods and expansion packs for your games if you want. At the bottom of your list of games, you can click the Add a Game button to add games you have purchased elsewhere. You may include non-Steam-supported games, too. They won’t have all the features of Steam available, but it’ll be easier to find and play all your games if you keep them in one list.
The Steam Store section is where you can purchase games, add-ons, and expansion packs. You may browse through various categories, or if you know what title you want, you can search for it. Clicking Add to Cart adds the game to your shopping cart, and in your shopping cart, you can choose to buy the game yourself or give it as a gift. Some games are even free to play, with no upfront cost. They may charge you for extras, however.
If you’re on Linux and the game you want is only available for Windows, Steam offers a compatibility layer called Steam Play which uses a technology called Proton, in turn, based on a project called Wine. This feature is officially supported for certain titles, and you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of it. However, you can enable Steam Play for every currently unavailable game on your platform. Remember that this is not guaranteed to work, and your mileage will vary. To enable this option, open Settings > Steam Play. There’s currently no support for Steam Play on macOS, though.
To use Steam and start gaming, you must download the app and create an account. You’ll be prompted to make an account the first time you open the app. Free Steam keys you can find here on our website, enjoy.