Firstly, I imagine the majority of you, along with my group, are thinking what is Steam? I’ve never heard of it! Oh uneducated one, Steam is wonderful, Steam is the future, Steam is far too geeky for me to be this excited about. It started as a digital distribution platform, somewhere PC gamers can download games straight over the internet instead of normal hard copy purchases. It has then expanded into what one can argue is a social network with chat rooms, user submissions and unprecedented peer interaction and continues to evolve.
Steam currently has over 50 million users, with around 6 million concurrent at peak times. This is tiny compared to Facebook but for a gaming platform is huge. It’s estimated it holds around 70% of the digital download market, which is currently rapidly expanding as users gain faster and more reliable internet speeds.
What’s interesting about Steam when compared to other sites is it is the reverse of other social networks in the way it has been monetised. Because it was created as a store first and foremost, the revenue stream is already in place. Designed to counter the increasing piracy in the game market, Valve (its creators) combat this by adding value to games instead of restricting as the music and film industries do. While you are restricted by having to use Steam, by providing free voice chat servers, community pages and all the updates to the game in one place they increase the end product. This has been extremely successful for them as seen by its rapid expansion.
Why do I claim it’s a social network though? Firstly, community content is currently exploding. It allows users to create content for the games which can then either be downloaded (Skyrim, Civilisation 5) or in the case of Team Fortress 2 (go look it up!) selected content is sold by Valve and the profits split with the creator. Not only is this adding huge value to each game, but it has led to some immense group projects all collaborated on through Steam and associated forums.
Secondly, the actual community pages contain youtube videos, screenshots and even the occasional poem about the game. Team Fortress currently has 7 million pictures, videos and articles created and submitted by players. Furthermore, far too many clans and gaming groups all exist to play on various community owned servers from train simulators to Call of Duty.
What I think is brilliant is the level of focus. I’m not saying you should go and download Steam when you get home; it is definitely a network by gamers for gamers (there are however several amazing free games, go and look at Alien Swarm, TF2 and DOTA2). Because everyone is there for the same purpose, to buy and play games, I find myself with a combination of strangers and real life friends simply there to enjoy gaming. While you get the occasional ‘troll’, the self-run nature of the network means they are few and far between, you can choose who you want to play with and talk to.
Anyway, I set my group the daunting challenge of actually having to research (and hopefully play) Steam, let’s see how they do.