Steam is a video game distribution platform from Valve Software, the company that brought you titles such as Portal and Counter-Strike. Although at first it was imagined as a portal for distributing the games that the company itself made, it has now evolved to distribute games made by 3rd-party developers, as well as adding social and community functions. If you’re into gaming on a PC and like to have lots of choice when it comes to what’s available, Steam might be the app for you.
Essential software for anyone who likes PC gaming
A wonderland of games available at your fingertips
Steam is a videogame library and distribution platform that is essential software for anyone who likes to play video games, especially those who enjoy gaming on a PC. The platform allows you to browse, download, and buy thousands of games across multiple genres, storing them on their servers, so you don’t clog up your own computer with space-hogging games. The Steam interface leaves quite a lot to be desired - it’s clunky and old-fashioned, and if you’re new to the platform, it will probably take you a while to get to grips with it. If you’re using your PC with a game controller/TV, however, you’ll be able to use Big Picture mode - a stripped-down control method that makes the whole platform a lot more accessible. If you can use it, we recommend that you do. No matter how you’re controlling the program, however, you’ll find that it’s roughly broken up into Library (your titles), Store (where you can buy new titles), and Community where you can add friends and talk to other users. There’s also a traditional settings area where you can change the defaults, add parental controls, and more. To get new games, you can buy them in the store with a regular credit card, or use Steam Wallet, a pre-paid system. It’s also worth noting that some games are free and that you should keep an eye out for specials, where games are available at serious discounts. Since developers add their games to Steam directly, they don’t have to deal with a middleman, which makes it very accessible for smaller studios and makes the path to sale much more agile.
The social aspect is another nice feature, allowing you to find friends you already know and make new friends you can play with. There’s a chat feature, so you can set up matches, and more general social features, where fans can upload fan art, etc. to share with the community. If you like to game alone (or there are children playing games on it) you can completely bypass this social aspect.
In all Steam works very well, but when you’ve amassed a certain number of games, it can be hard to easily navigate your library and it’s always a bit of a pain to navigate the Store. You’ll also find occasional weirdness and lag in the interface, but that rarely transfers across to games. Gamers are sociable people and there’s loads of help and support (as well as buying advice and informal reviews) available online. Steam support is also good and, apart from occasional service outages, you’re unlikely to have serious problems.
Where can you run this program?
In this case, Steam is for Windows. It’s also available for Mac, Linux, and mobile platforms.
Is there a better alternative?
There are quite a few alternatives to Steam, but the final decision about which to use probably comes down to where your games are now, and where you want to buy them in the future. Epic Games Store, Itch.io, and Origins are all alternatives, but if they don’t have the games you want, you’re unlikely to be persuaded. If they do, you might just end up with more than one game platform.
Using Steam to download and buy your games offers the best of both worlds. As it is the platform chosen by so many game developers, there’s always an awesome selection of games, both big-name and more indy. In its original format, the interface leaves a little to be desired, but if you’re lucky enough to be using the platform on a bigger screen or with TV controls, the Big Picture viewing mode bypasses a lot of the issues. Steam can be occasionally glitchy or plain weird, but when dealing with such a high number of games, users, and data, it’s not surprising. A quick restart, and you’ll be on your way.
Should you download it?
If you love to game and a quick look around the store throws up titles you like the look of, then Steam is an awesome platform for your games. If you’re looking for something edgier and more independent, perhaps, or love to share your games, you might want to look elsewhere.