What Steam Is; Why It’s a Good Thing
Steam is the extremely popular program created by Valve to sell and play games from a variety of developers. Its intended purpose is to facilitate the running of games and form a helpful community to support its users. For the most part, it does this admirably.
Steam is also a RAM hog, it crashes often, has a confusing interface (try adding a game you have the code for without Googling the process), and every game you play with it is DRM-locked so you can’t ever give it away or resell it. (I put DRM on my two Amazon ebooks, an act of myopic selfishness that I regret. I also regret not writing them better, but that’s another subject.) So why do internet nerds love Steam so much?
Keep in mind that gamers are—in general—a lot of lazy, arrogant, entitled fools. We demand free stuff and it must be free stuff of the highest quality or we will gripe, moan, and insist upon retribution. We’re the most spoiled, overindulged group of jerks this side of Congressmen. Yes, there is overwhelming corruption in games journalism and nothing but contempt and lies from the major game companies, but the consumers also have this unhelpful attitude that nothing’s ever good enough.
Yet every couple of months there’s a Steam sale and the whole web goes mad over being the first in line to buy Gaben some more Big Macs and brag about their new purchases. It’s even a meme to lament that you have dozens or hundreds of more Steam games than you will ever have the time to play. When we were kids imagining having that many games, you thought of a child in a rich prick family showing off all of his Super Nintendo games. Now, thanks to Steam, every pauper can build up a gigantic library of titles that he will never come close to completing. The consumers win, the developers win.
So the most obvious reason to use Steam is to save money. It’s worth putting up with its faults if you can get games for the cost of a button and a shoelace. Big-time famous games, obscure indie titles, and everything inbetween are available and they’re often cheap enough to suit us poor gamers’ tastes if you don’t insist on buying them when they’re first released, and sometimes even then they’re surprisingly inexpensive. It even has some games for free, including the highly entertaining Team Fortress 2.
Another good reason to use Steam is the community. You can have good online functionality, chat unobtrusively, share mods, and support your favorite developers/publishers all at once. It’s better than buying something from an app store like on mobile devices or just play buying games from Wal-Mart; Valve treats their customers like actual humans. They offer good products, have good tech support, and keep a tightly-run ship of patches and updates. There’s no community when you buy a game off a shelf unless you count racist ten-year-olds from Virginia on Xbox Live, but Steam has a built-in support system that wants you to enjoy yourself and will help you when your games inevitably don’t run properly.
What’s more is that Steam makes piracy almost obsolete. If you don’t feel like spending $60 plus tax USD on a game sight unseen, you might be inclined to get it illegally. This entails getting a torrent (which risks getting you sued by the copyright Nazis) or Usenet (which doesn’t), hoping it installs properly, hoping it runs properly, and hoping it doesn’t have a virus/Trojan horse. If you’re really greedy or you really hate EA (which you should, for a hefty number of reasons) I can understand this train of thought.
But how about when that expensive triple-A game is on sale on Steam for five bucks? And is practically guaranteed to work properly, and can be downloaded from their very fast servers? Theft starts looking a lot less attractive by that point.
Steam does cause some aggravations from time to time. Actually, a lot more frequently than I would like. Recently I was literally unable to play my legally purchased Steam copy of From Dust due to Ubisoft’s labyrinth of DRM attached to it. I just gave up after a certain point; that mediocre game isn’t worth the multiple accounts and checkpoints they wanted me to subject myself to. Steam can be obtrusive, like a “virtual console” for PC games, even though it’s entirely possible to play these games outside of Steam.
Ultimately, Steam is an imperfect tool that gets the job done. It has its competitors, sure—Desura, Gamersgate, Good Old Games—and many of them actually do everything Steam does better. But Steam is currently the biggest and has the most games available, and it was the trailblazer for online distribution when others scoffed at the idea. For once I foresee things getting better for this aspect of the gaming industry; for once the big shots are doing things right.