Steam is a video game digital distribution platform that’s owned and developed by Valve Corporation. Although it’s widely identified nowadays as a third-party game publisher, Steam was first developed to provide automatic updates and anti-cheat measures exclusively for Valve.
Once it improved as a game client, Steam has offered various services like game server matchmaking, social networking, game streaming, and digital rights management or DRM. Also, it has inclusive community features such as community markets, in-game chats, and messaging.
By 2022, Steam has supported over 50,000 games and has 120.4 million monthly active users worldwide. It’s by far the largest digital distribution of PC games, owning an estimated 75% market share according to a research done by IHS Screen Digest in 2013.
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First Development and Launch (2002-2003)
Steam was first announced at the Game Developers Conference event in March 2002 and was released in beta. It also featured games such as Impossible Creatures and released one of the first mods of the classic war game, Day of Defeat. Nearly 30,000 players were reportedly active in the beta testing phase.
Steam was officially released on September 12, 2003. The game client right away experienced bugs and also reported outages on the official website. At this point, Steam was used primarily as a tool that streamlined game patching, which was mostly optional for most games at that time.
Steam also replaced the World Opponent Network or WON, a game client that was created by Sierra Studios. Sierra was known to share intellectual property rights (IPR) with Valve on the release of iconic FPS games such as Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2. Eventually, Half-Life 2 was the first game to be offered digitally on Steam and required the Steam client for all players.
Steam Community (2007)
The Steam Community was first released in mid-2007 and took over the Forums section. At that time, it was a compilation of various software since separate communities did not exist up until 2012. It also had the Hub or Community Activity, where popular content from different communities was featured on the page.
In January 2015, it supported content streaming from software to a specific community via Steam Overlay.
Steamworks is a free-to-use, application programming interface (API) that offers development and publishing tools that support Steam’s client features to game and software developers. It also provides player authentication tools for both peer-to-peer and server multiplayer games, matchmaking services, game statistics and achievements, and much more.
This API also offers anti-cheating devices and digital copy management. In 2016 and onwards, Steamworks provided a generic controller library and established support for various third-party controllers such as DualShock 4, Nintendo Switch Pro controller, Xbox, and others.
Steam Workshop (2011)
The Steam Workshop is an account-based hosting service for game user-generated content. It featured art assets, game modifications, and new levels for various games that are exclusively for Steam users. Modifications and customizable items for featured games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dota 2 were also made available on Steam Workshop.