- Editor's Rating
By Charles P. Jefferies
Steam is the most popular online game download service for PCs. Today we take a look at this market leader and see how it stacks up against competitors.
The My games tab neatly displays all a player’s installed games as well as games purchased from Steam that are not installed; simply double-click them to begin the download or double-click to play already-installed games. Non-Steam games can be added to the My Games list; certain games can also be activated using Steam. Activision’s recent hit Modern Warfare 2 was sold in retail stores but users were required to activate it on Steam to play the game.
The status indicator next to a game will show whether a game is downloading, updating, or ready to play. Games purchased and activated on Steam will automatically update.
The Tools tab is related to the My Games tab; it allows users to download developer kits and dedicated servers. The My Media tab is less useful; users can download game demo videos and other media for viewing later from the Steam Store.
At the bottom of the interface are navigation buttons to additional sections. The News button will launch a web browser to a section on the company’s website; the Friends section will be explored later in this article; Servers brings up exactly that — a list of servers for a user’s online games; lastly, Settings and Support are self-explanatory.
A mini-version of Steam’s interface is toggled by clicking the arrow in the top right.
Steam’s interface overall is cohesive and clearly labeled. Nearly all of the program’s functionality can be accessed with a couple of clicks. We like the organized games list and mini-mode. A new version of Steam’s interface is currently in beta testing and looks similar but will add more functionality.
Steam has a fully-integrated online store component. Customers can browse for and purchase games directly from the integrated store without leaving the program; this is very well done and hassle-free. It is almost too easy to buy games.
Each game has its own page displaying a description of the game, system requirements, and links to media such as screenshots and trailers, the game manual, and the official game website.
The purchase process is simple — just add the game to your shopping cart and checkout. Customers can also purchase games as gifts and send them to others via email; the recipient clicks a link to accept and starts downloading. Games purchased on Steam are permanently tied to a customer’s account; they can log into Steam on any computer and access their games. Games cannot be transferred to other accounts unless they are purchased as gifts.
Game Download and Installation
Games automatically show up in My Games tab once purchased; double-click to begin the download. There is no restriction on the number of times a game can be downloaded. The download rates we received were very good, about as high as we could expect based on our Internet connection speed (1.2 — 1.5MB/s).
Steam automatically installs the game as it downloads meaning the game is ready to play when the download completes; we like this feature a lot.
Social Networking Features
The extent of social networking features is not as comprehensive as a dedicated social network like Facebook but enough relevant information is displayed including: recent in-game achievements, profile comments, which games the user played and how many hours, and what groups the user belongs to.
The Steam Friends list naturally displays all a user’s friends and their status (note usernames have been edited out in the screenshots); if they are in an online multiplayer game, clicking the down arrow next to their name allows users to join them.
Adding friends is simple; click the Add Friend button and type in their account or username.
Double-click a user in the Friends list to start a chat with them; it is easy to invite others to a chatroom and voice chat functionality is also available. Our only nitpick here is that a tabbed chat interface is not offered; all chat windows are separate.
Pressing [Shift] + [Tab] in a game will toggle the Steam Overlay, which allows users to access Steam’s user community and other Steam features without exiting a game session. The overlay allows access to the Friends list, chat, Steam’s web browser/store, and other features, which makes it easy to invite friends to an online game and stay connected. No more pressing [Alt] + [Tab] to minimize a game and talk to friends. Needless to say, this is a great feature and works well.
Steam has an offline mode. Online features such as Friends and Community are naturally not available; however, nearly any game that does not require Internet access can be played. This is an important feature for notebook users who do not have Internet everywhere they go.
Steam is a top-notch game download service. The Steam application offers a fully integrated store, organized game management, and social networking features. Purchasing a game is seamless thanks to the slick store integration. Other features we like about Steam are how games are automatically installed as they are downloaded, the in-game overlay allowing access to the community, and fast download speeds. We highly recommend the Steam service to any PC gamer.
- Seamless game purchase, download, and installation process
- Well-designed program interface
- In-game overlay feature
- Offline mode
- Good social networking features
- Fast download speeds
- Interface could look more modern
- Games permanently tied to user’s account