I have been debating whether to write about Steam, as I find it hard to believe there still are people in this (gaming) world that do not know what Steam is. But then I decided to stick with my original intention behind this blog, which was to write about gaming in a way that is inclusive even to oldies and noobs without necessarily scaring the hardcore gamers away. So, here we are. About Steam…
Imagine, if you can, a meeting where Amazon, eBay, facebook and Microsoft sat down to brainstorm a new online platform specifically for gamers. Can you see it? I am pretty sure the brainchild of such a venture would be Steam; the company behind an estimated 70% of the digital distribution market for video games. Which means all of these corporate giants must be kicking themselves as such a meeting never took place. Simply put Steam is an online gaming platform, also referred to as a video game digital distribution software, where you can buy, trade and play games and game related content. You can also interact with other players in a number of ways from trading games and other items in your inventory to discussing your game experience in the forums.
Listen up (grand)parents
Steam was created and released in 2003 by Valve Corporation and by now they are an established and highly trusted entity in the gaming industry. Which leads me to this little rant I need to get off my chest before I can continue: I see and hear a lot of parents who are concerned about their kids’ safety on Steam, but it seems to me these are mainly people who don’t understand how gaming or the Internet works and people who are overly cautious and prone to fear mongering. Having said that, my own policy was to never let my kids have online accounts that I did not have control of and I would never have let them have accounts which required payment and/or address details. Of course you should let your (grand)kids play games on Steam, but create the account in your name and make sure you monitor their activity on there. Then make sure to browse the store for a game or two that you could play together and something that looks like it could suit yourself. Trust me, you are going to have so much fun with the little (and the not so little) ones if you join the gaming universe together. Rant over.
Now, back to Steam. Not only did Valve make it possible for people to play other game developers’ games; they are themselves responsible for well-known titles Half-Life, Team Fortress, Portal, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead and Day of Defeat. In other words, I think we can safely say that Valve knows a thing or two about games and gamers. Indeed, I read somewhere that the reason they created Steam in the first place was to enable their Counterstrike players easy access to patches and other DLCs. Presumably, it only took them so long to realise they had developed a vehicle with unparalleled possibilities. And so it was that Steam evolved into what today is a bona fide entertainment platform with an extensive video game catalog, clever player communication tools, a recommendation system, movies, and much more.
Five good reasons to use Steam
I can think of a number of good reasons to play games on PC over consoles where that is possible, and I can also think of a number of reasons to do this on Steam instead of buying the physical copies on the high street and sit on an ever-growing library at home:
1) First and foremost the fact that a game you have bought on Steam is yours and there is no way you can lose it. There is no disc that can get scratched, disappear when you move or never return after you lend it to one of your mates. On Steam, the games you have bought are yours to play and you can download them again and again and again. Steam even keeps track of your achievements, so not even that is likely to be lost.
2) The price is very attractive. It is free to join Steam, so the only money you spend is for the games and game-related content you buy. Normally, the price is a little cheaper than in the shops (the benefit of buying a digital copy) and on top of that Steam has two annual sales and frequent flash sales where you can get you hands on loads of games at a fraction of the normal price. Which is why we love to joke about how the Steam sales tend to be hard on our wallets.
3) The environmentalist in me likes the fact that PC-gaming via Steam means you throw a lot less rubbish into the world. No packaging materials, no discs or cassettes or cartridges, no old consoles or need for constantly buying newer consoles, etc.
4) As the oldie I am, I am not very fond of pirating. To me, it makes perfect sense that people should be able to get paid for the work they do. Sure, there are people who make indie games for free and some of them are actually rather decent. But I don’t think we would see too many epic game titles if there was no way for game developers to make money. Using Steam, I am paying for my games thus contributing to my favourite developers and giving them incentives to keep making content both for my favourite games and for future titles I have yet to play.
5) Steam was one of the first platforms to build in systems to stop hackers and cheaters from having an unfair advantage in-game. When you’re playing on Steam you can feel safe knowing that hackers are constantly being chased off the playing field and locked out of the system. Steam are super strict when it comes to banning players who don’t stick to the rules which makes the gaming experience so much better for those of us who are there for our love of the game(s). It is also safe from another perspective which many (grand)parents seem to miss. Steam requires you to provide them with personal details such as your name, address and banking information. If they have any reason to suspect something about your account is not kosher, they will ask for proof of ID and other pieces of information. This too helps making the gaming experience safer. Steam knows who their players are and are not afraid to take action if some rotten apple is messing with the other apples in the basket. Anyone who takes issue with that is a major douche in my books.
Things people seem to worry about
I have seen that some people believe Steam only sell very old, or completely unknown, games but this is not true. They sell pretty much all sorts of games from the family friendly to the mature or violent. Whenever a new big title is being released, you can be pretty confident Steam will have it. Unless the publisher is selling it exclusive from its own store (like EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront on Origin) or for its own console (like Nintendo). You can literally find anything from the LEGO games and SIMS to Grand Theft Auto, The Witcher, Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls. With over 4,000 titles on their virtual shelves, Steam truly have games for pretty much any taste or age. All games are rated for games which means (grand)parents can check if a game their kids want to play is suitable for their age.
There is also a content restriction setting in Steam called Family View. If you browse the Steam store and put “family view” in the search bar it will only list games that are suitable for kids under 16. Furthermore, family view allows you to set a pin code that must be entered before you can purchase a game. This means you can make sure the kids cannot buy a game you have not approved.
As for the fear of sharing your personal details such as home address etc that is a problem you need to get over if you are going to buy anything online. Steam has a secure payment system and you are not at greater risk of being scammed there than on any other site online. By the same token, the fact that Steam has your address does not put you at any greater risk of someone grooming your (grand)child as long as you take responsibility for and safeguard their online presence. The biggest risk they are likely to be exposed to is someone offering them an unfair deal if they get involved with the trading of games, game content or trading cards; but then again this is a risk they run every day in real life too. There will always be some kid somewhere who will try to get them to hand over something they like in exchange for something else that may or may not be of equal value. That is of course a horrible thought, but we can’t necessarily protect them from every conceivable disappointment in life or they may grow up to be rather unbearable adults.
No online presence without anti-virus protection
The risk of catching a virus through Steam is pretty much microscopic. Steam games are authenticated and have been monitored and tested in minute detail to ensure they won’t create problems on the system or for individual players. Of course there is no such thing as a no virus guarantee which is why you should never go online without a decent anti-virus software. But you can be pretty confident that Steam will never be the cause of a virus in your system, especially if all you do is play the games without downloading any mods.
Mods, or modifications, are downloadable game content that has been developed by individual players in the community. There is a huge modding community on Steam and pretty much all games for the 16+ audience are likely to have a selection of mods to choose between. If you have no to little experience of games or knowledge of computers I would advise you to stay away from the mods for now. But once you know more and have learned a little more than the basic ins and outs of a computer mods can add a lot of extra fun to your gaming experience. Just remember to check the feedback from other users and have your system secured with a good anti-virus software and you should be (relatively) safe.
How to get started using Steam
If you have yet to dip your feet into the Steam fountain, I’d suggest you do so now. Provided you own a PC that could run video games of course. The first thing you need to do is to download the Steam software and create a user account. They will ask you to put your payment details in and do not use a false address here as that will most certainly come back to bite you later. Steam is, as I have said before, safe. They accept a number of payment options, including PayPal, and there is no need to be that paranoid. If the account is for your (grand)child, please set the account up in your name. I cannot stress the importance of this enough! All serious gamers want the gaming universe to be safe and accessible and welcoming to all. Setting kids up with fake accounts leads to two things: a) If you ever need help from Steam recovering your account (or anything else) not being able to verify your identity will lead to suspension and loss of all the titles you have bought. b) Providing a minor with an account that has fake details gives them free reins to become little cyber trolls. For a while. They can still be traced through the IP address your computer has, but you are legally responsible for their actions and anything you have bought on this account will be lost when you get banned for breaking the rules. Neither of these options are particularly pleasant, so don’t be a douche. Play by the rules and teach your (grand)kids to become responsible gamers.
Last but not least a look at the negatives
Having spent this much blog space singing the praises of Steam, is there nothing that I don’t like about it you might ask. But don’t worry, I haven’t gone all soft on you! Of course there are things that could be better and things and services that could be added. But the one big issue I have with Steam to date is their poor customer service. It is nigh on impossible to get a personal response if you have a question or a problem. Now, I get that to provide great games at a highly competitive price you might need to keep your costs to a minimum. And I get that you can design pretty fool-proof self-help algorithms these days. But as anyone who has ever worked with customer relations will know, there will always be a certain number of issues that fall outside the pre-determined problem areas.
Getting in touch with Steam is hard work and before they will even consider helping you, they will need to verify that you are the legal account holder and that your account details are correct. They may ask for proof of ID, and they might want to know details about the latest transactions on your account. So let me tell you this one more time before I sign off for today: Please, make sure that the account is registered in your actual name, using your actual address and your actual payment details. And just to make sure you won’t get in trouble at some point, make a Steam folder somewhere in your computer and save a copy of each transaction receipt. That way you will always be able to answer what your previous transactions have been and give accurate reference numbers for any purchase.