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Steam is a digital distribution platform for video games that also offers digital rights management, matchmaking services, video streaming, and social networking services.

When purchased for Steam distribution, the service installs the game, automatically updates it, and facilitates community features like friends lists, user groups, cloud saving, and in-game voice and chat capabilities. Steam also includes game design software, anime, films, and game soundtracks.

Steam was developed by Valve Corporation and, when it was launched in 2003, it was as a means for Valve to provide automatic updates to its own games, but it was quickly widened to accept games from third-party publishers as well.

The Steam system provides an application programming interface, known as Steamworks, that developers can freely use to integrate several of Steam's functions into their games, including matchmaking features, in-game achievements, micro-transactions, and support for content created by users through Steam Workshop.

Currently, versions are available for Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.

The Steam platform has become the largest platform for PC gaming, and the strength of the platform has led to the development of Steam Machine micro-consoles, the SteamOS operating system, Steam Controllers, and Steam Virtual Reality (VR) systems.

The chief purpose of Steam is to allow registered users to download games and other software from their Steam virtual software libraries to their local computers as game cache files. While the system was first used only for games published by Valve Corporation, the Steamworks software development kit (SDK), introduced in 2008, allows any game publisher to become a Steam publisher, with Valve's only involvement being to curate games on the service.

The SDK uses a custom executable generation (CEG) technique that creates a unique, encrypted copy of each game's executable files for any given user, allowing them to install the game on multiple devices, as well as to make backup copies of the software. Once the software is downloaded and installed, it must be authenticated through Steam in order to unencrypt the executable files in order to play the game. This initially has to be done over the Internet, but an option is available that will allow the user to launch the game in offline mode for subsequent play. Third-party developers may include other forms of digital rights management, as well.

Steam Cloud allows users to automatically store saved game files to Valve's servers for online play, and to access this data from any machine running the Steam client. Users can also disable this feature, either for their entire account or for a specific game.

Product keys sold through third-party retailers may also be redeemed on Steam, and Steam also includes support for the selling and distribution of downloadable content for games.

Valve retains the right to block a customer's access to their games and services when its proprietary anti-cheat software determines that the user has employed a cheat in a multiplayer game, or that they have engaged in selling accounts to others or trading games to take advantage of regional price differences. Valve may also opt to allow users to retain access to their games, but to restrict them to playing in offline mode.

Steam operates an online store known as the Steam Store, from which Steam users can purchase computer games. When a game is purchased from the Steam Store, a software license is attached to the user's Steam account, allowing them to download the software on any compatible device. The Steam Store validates a customer's region and may restrict the purchase of games to users from specific regions, generally for reasons having to do with release dates, game classifications, and publisher agreements. Users may also buy games and software as gifts to other Steam users.

Steam also offers and accepts free-to-play games, as well as games that include in-game purchases, although a transaction fee may apply to third-party publishers using the system.

Steam users may review games, and other users may rate these reviews as being helpful, humorous, or unhelpful, and these user reviews of reviews are used to highlight the most useful reviews on the Steam Store site.

Steam has grown tremendously in the few years that it has been in existence. Competing services have also emerged, including the Origin service from Electronic Arts, Uplay by Ubisoft, Battle.net by Blizzard Entertainment, and GOG.com from CD Projekt.

Games that are marketed primarily through Steam, as well as websites closely associated with Steam publishing, are the focus of topics in this category.

 

 

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