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Steam is an online Windows, Mac, and Linux game store run by Valve Software, the makers of the Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Dota 2, and Left 4 Dead games. This store exclusively uses a free app also called Steam to download, install, and manage your games. With the decline of physical PC game sales, Steam has become the biggest online PC game store in the world.
Huge library of games: Steam now has over 10,000 games in its catalog, with a whopping 80% published between 2014 and 2016, according to Sergey Galyonkin, the founder of Steam Spy, an unaffiliated website that gathers statistics on Valve’s store. Electronic Arts is the only major PC game publisher that has not put its games on Steam, instead favoring its Origin (Windows, Mac) online store.
Frequent aggressive discounts: Steam and its partners employ frequent sales and steep discounts to help generate revenue. A cut of 50% or more is the new normal and the effective street price of a product that’s been out for a few months. A permanent price reduction is increasingly rare, as steep temporary discounts are known to make shoppers feel savvy and empowered.
Easy and universal refunds: Every game on Steam can be refunded with a few clicks, if you’ve played for less than two hours and bought it within the last couple weeks. This gives you freedom to try games you’re not sure about or aren’t sure will run well on your computer.
Helpful at-a-glance information: Customer reviews can be thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and Steam provides a percentage for the total number and for the last 30 days. So you’ll know right away that, say, 81% of 5,013 customers gave it a thumbs up, and 88% of 307 people did so recently. However, Steam does not require a minimum time played, so some of these reviews lack justified verdicts. And users tend to vote on these reviews in a way that promotes low-effort jokes over informative analysis. But it’s still a better system than Steam’s competitors provide.
Glut of low-budget indie games: It would be very difficult to keep up with Steam’s explosive rate of growth while maintaining quality, and Valve’s track record has been mixed. Curation standards have noticeably loosened in recent years, while rudimentary game design tools have become increasingly accessible. The company’s desire to democratize its platform, and the steady trend of ironically retro games, combine to drown the better games that don’t have marketing budgets big enough to overcome the tide.
No release enforcement on Early Access titles: In March 2013, Valve debuted Early Access, a system where game developers could publish games that were still under development. In theory, this revenue stream could be used to fund the completion of the game. In practice, many titles have remained in Early Access for years, while others are abruptly converted to “finished” status despite development-grade bugs and missing features that were originally promised. Valve has taken a very light approach to dealing with these developers, and it apparently does not mandate chronological milestones in these contracts. Valve is effectively acting as publisher for most of these titles, but it does not set firm ground rules and stick to them like a publisher normally does. Despite the unpredictability that this structure creates, Steam doesn’t distinguish regular games from Early Access games until you actually reach the product page, making navigation and discovery more difficult for customers who don’t want to roll the dice.
Although Valve has struggled to widen its content funnel in a way that benefits customers and developers to an equal degree, it’s still a solid platform to get your digital Windows, Mac, and Linux games.