Steam is a video game digital distribution service by Valve. It was launched as a standalone software client in September 2003 as a way for Valve to provide automatic updates for their games, and expanded to include games from third-party publishers. Steam has also expanded into an online web-based and mobile digital storefront. Steam offers digital rights management (DRM), server hosting, video streaming, and social networking services. It also provides the user with installation and automatic updating of games, and community features such as friends lists and groups, cloud storage, and in-game voice and chat functionality.
The software provides a freely available application programming interface (API) called Steam works, which developers can use to integrate many of Steam's functions into their products, including in-game achievements, microtransactions, and support for user-created content through Steam Workshop. Though initially developed for use on Microsoft Windows operating systems, versions for macOS and Linux were later released. Mobile apps were also released for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone in the 2010s. The platform also offers a small selection of other content, including design software, hardware, game soundtracks, anime, and films.
The Steam platform is the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming, holding around 75% of the market share in 2013. By 2017, users purchasing games through Steam totaled roughly US$4.3 billion, representing at least 18% of global PC game sales. By 2019, the service had over 34,000 games with over 95 million monthly active users. The success of Steam has led to the development of a line of Steam Machine micro consoles, which include the SteamOS operating system and Steam Controllers, Steam Link devices for local game streaming, and the Steam Deck, a handheld personal computer system tailored for running Steam games.
Valve had entered into a publishing contract with Sierra Studios in 1997 ahead of the 1998 release of Half-Life. The contract had given some intellectual property (IP) rights to Sierra in addition to publishing control. Valve published additional games through Sierra, including expansions for Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Around 1999, as Valve started work on Half-Life 2 and the new Source engine, they became concerned about their contract with Sierra related to the IP rights, and the two companies renegotiated a new contract by 2001. The new contract eliminated Sierra's IP rights and gave Valve rights to digital distribution of its games.
Around this time, Valve had problems updating the published games. They could provide downloadable patches, but for multiplayer games, new patches would result in most of the online user base disconnecting for several days until everyone had implemented the patch. Valve decided to create a platform that would update games automatically and implement stronger anti-piracy and anti-cheat measures. Through user polls at the time of its announcement in 2002, Valve also recognized that at least 75% of their users had access to high-speed Internet connections, which would continue to grow with planned broadband expansion in the following years, and recognized that they could deliver game content faster to players than through retail channels.Valve approached several companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo!, and RealNetworks to build a client with these features, but were declined.
Steam's development began in 2002, with working names for the platform being "Grid" and "Gazelle". It was publicly announced at the Game Developers Conference event on March 22, 2002, and released for beta testing the same day. To demonstrate the ease of integrating Steam with a game, Relic Entertainment created a special version of Impossible Creatures. Valve partnered with several companies, including AT&T, Acer, and GameSpy. The first mod released on the system was Day of Defeat. In 2002, the president of Valve, Gabe Newell, said he was offering mod teams a game engine license and distribution over Steam for US$995
Prior to the announcement of Steam, Valve found that Sierra had been distributing their games in PC cafes which they claimed was against the terms of the contract, and took Sierra and their owners, Vivendi Games, to court. Sierra countersued, asserting that with the announcement of Steam, Valve had been working to undermine the contract to offer a digital storefront for their games, directly competing with Sierra. The case was initially ruled in Valve's favor, allowing them to leave the contract due to the breach and seek other publishing partners for retail copies of its games while continuing their work on Steam. One such company had been Microsoft, but Ed Fries stated that they turned down the offer due to Valve's intent to continue to sell their games over Steam.
Between 80,000 and 300,000 players participated in the beta test before Steam's official release on September 12, 2003. The client and website choked under the strain of thousands of users simultaneously attempting to play the game.At the time, Steam's primary function was streamlining the patch process common in online computer games, and was an optional component for all other games. In 2004, the World Opponent Network was shut down and replaced by Steam, with any online features of games that required it ceasing to work unless they converted over to Steam.
Half-Life 2 was the first game to require installation of the Steam client to play, even for retail copies. This decision was met with concerns about software ownership, software requirements, and problems with overloaded servers demonstrated previously by the Counter-Strike rollout. During this time users faced problems attempting to play the game.
Beginning in 2005, Valve began negotiating contracts with several third-party publishers to release their products, such as Rag Doll Kung Fu and Darwinia, on Steam.Valve announced that Steam had become profitable because of some highly successful Valve games.Although digital distribution could not yet match retail volume, profit margins for Valve and developers were far larger on Steam. Larger publishers, such as id Software,Eidos Interactive, and Capcom, began distributing their games on Steam in 2007. By May of that year, 13 million accounts had been created on the service, and 150 games were for sale on the platform. By 2014, total annual game sales on Steam were estimated at around $1.5 billion. By 2018, the service had over 90 million monthly active users.
- Client features and functionality
Software delivery and maintenance
Steam's primary service is to allow its users to download games and other software that they have in their virtual software libraries to their local computers as game cache files (GCFs). Initially, Valve was required to be the publisher for these games since they had sole access to the Steam's database and engine, but with the introduction of the Steamworks software development kit (SDK) in May 2008, anyone could publish to Steam without Valve's direct involvement.
Prior to 2009, most games released on Steam had traditional anti-piracy measures, including the assignment and distribution of product keys and support for digital rights management software tools such as SecuROM or non-malicious rootkits. With an update to the Steamworks SDK in March 2009, Valve added its "Custom Executable Generation" (CEG) approach into the Steamworks SDK that removed the need for these other measures. The CEG technology creates a unique, encrypted copy of the game's executable files for the given user, which allows them to install it multiple times and on multiple devices, and make backup copies of their software. Once the software is downloaded and installed, the user must then authenticate through Steam to de-encrypt the executable files to play the game. Normally this is done while connected to the Internet following the user's credential validation, but once they have logged into Steam once, a user can instruct Steam to launch in a special offline mode to be able to play their games without a network connection.Developers are not limited to Steam's CEG and may include other forms of DRM (or none at all) and other authentication services than Steam; for example, some games from publisher Ubisoft require the use of their UPlay gaming service, and prior to its shutdown in 2014, some other games required Games for Windows – Live, though many of these games have since transitioned to using the Steamworks CEG approach.
In September 2008, Valve added support for Steam Cloud, a service that can automatically store saved game and related custom files on Valve's servers; users can access this data from any machine running the Steam client. Games must use the appropriate features of Steamworks for Steam Cloud to work. Users can disable this feature on a per-game and per-account basis. In May 2012, the service added the ability for users to manage their game libraries from remote clients, including computers and mobile devices; users can instruct Steam to download and install games they own through this service if their Steam client is currently active and running. Product keys sold through third-party retailers can also be redeemed on Steam. For games that incorporate Steamworks, users can buy redemption codes from other vendors and redeem these in the Steam client to add the title to their libraries. Steam also offers a framework for selling and distributing downloadable content (DLC) for games.
In September 2013, Steam introduced the ability to share most games with family members and close friends by authorizing machines to access one's library. Authorized players can install the game locally and play it separately from the owning account. Users can access their saved games and achievements providing the main owner is not playing. When the main player initiates a game while a shared account is using it, the shared account user is allowed a few minutes to either save their progress and close the game or purchase the game for his or her own account. Within Family View, introduced in January 2014, parents can adjust settings for their children's tied accounts, limiting the functionality and accessibility to the Steam client and purchased games.
In accordance with its acceptable use policy, Valve retains the right to block customers' access to their games and Steam services when Valve's Anti-Cheat (VAC) software determines that the user is cheating in multiplayer games, selling accounts to others, or trading games to exploit regional price differences. Blocking such users initially removed access to his or her other games, leading to some users with high-value accounts losing access because of minor infractions. Valve later changed its policy to be similar to that of Electronic Arts' Origin platform, in which blocked users can still access their games but are heavily restricted, limited to playing in offline mode and unable to participate in Steam Community features. Customers also lose access to their games and Steam account if they refuse to accept changes to Steam's end user license agreements; this last occurred in August 2012. In April 2015, Valve began allowing developers to set bans on players for their games, but enacted and enforced at the Steam level, which allowed them to police their own gaming communities in a customizable manner.
- Storefront features
The Steam client includes a digital storefront called the Steam Store through which users can purchase computer games. Once the game is bought, a software license is permanently attached to the user's Steam account, allowing them to download the software on any compatible device. Game licenses can be given to other accounts under certain conditions. Content is delivered from an international network of servers using a proprietary file transfer protocol. Steam sells its products in US and Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling, Brazilian reais, Russian rubles, Indonesian rupiah and Indian rupees depending on the user's location. In December 2010, the client began supporting the WebMoney payment system, which is popular in many European, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries. From April 2016 until December 2017, Steam accepted payments in Bitcoin with transactions handled by BitPay before dropping support for it due to high fluctuation in value and costly service fees. The Steam storefront validates the user's region; the purchase of games may be restricted to specific regions because of release dates, game classification, or agreements with publishers. Since 2010, the Steam Translation Server project offers Steam users to assist with the translation of the Steam client, storefront, and a selected library of Steam games for twenty-eight languages. Steam also allows users to purchase downloadable content for games, and for some specific games such as Team Fortress 2, the ability to purchase in-game inventory items. In February 2015, Steam began to open similar options for in-game item purchases for third-party games.
Users of Steam's storefront can also purchase games and other software as gifts to be given to another Steam user. Prior to May 2017, users could purchase these gifts to be held in their profile's inventory until they opted to gift them. However, this feature enabled a gray market around some games, where a user in a country where the price of a game was substantially lower than elsewhere could stockpile giftable copies of games to sell to others, particularly in regions with much higher prices. In August 2016, Valve changed its gifting policy to require that games with VAC and Game Ban-enabled games be gifted immediately to another Steam user, which also served to combat players that worked around VAC and Game Bans, while in May 2017, Valve expanded this policy to all games. The changes also placed limitations on gifts between users of different countries if there is a large difference in pricing for the game between two different regions.
The Steam store also enables users to redeem store product keys to add software from their library. The keys are sold by third-party providers such as Humble Bundle (in which a portion of the sale is given back to the publisher or distributor), distributed as part of a physical release to redeem the game, or given to a user as part of promotions, often used to deliver Kickstarter and other crowd funding rewards. A grey market exists around Steam keys, where less reputable buyers purchase a large number of Steam keys for a game when it is offered for a low cost, and then resell these keys to users or other third-party sites at a higher price, generating profit for themselves. This caused some of these third-party sites, such as G2A, to be embroiled in this grey market. It is possible for publishers to have Valve to track down where specific keys have been used and cancel them, removing the product from the user's libraries, leaving the user to seek any recourse with the third-party they purchased from. Other legitimate storefronts, like Humble Bundle, have set a minimum price that must be spent to obtain Steam keys as to discourage mass purchases that would enter the grey market. In June 2021, Valve began limiting how frequently Steam users could change their default region to prevent them from purchasing games from outside their home region for cheaper.
In 2013, Steam began to accept player reviews of games. Other users can subsequently rate these reviews as helpful, humorous, or otherwise unhelpful, which are then used to highlight the most useful reviews on the game's Steam store page. Steam also aggregates these reviews and enables users to sort products based on this feedback while browsing the store. In May 2016, Steam further broke out these aggregations between all reviews overall and those made more recently in the last 30 days, a change Valve acknowledges to how game updates, particularly those in Early Access, can alter the impression of a game to users. To prevent observed abuse of the review system by developers or other third-party agents, Valve modified the review system in September 2016 to discount review scores for a game from users that activated the product through a product key rather than directly purchased by the Steam Store, though their reviews remain visible. Alongside this, Valve announced that it would end business relations with any developer or publisher that they have found to be abusing the review system. Separately, Valve has taken actions to minimize the effects of review bombs on Steam. In particular, Valve announced in March 2019 that it mark reviews they believe are "off-topic" as a result of a review bomb, and eliminate their contribution to summary review scores; the first such games they took action on with this was the Borderlands games after it was announced Borderlands 3 would be a timed-exclusive to the Epic Games Store.
During mid-2011, Valve began to offer free-to-play games, such as Global Agenda, Spiral Knights and Champions Online; this offer was linked to the company's move to make Team Fortress 2 a free-to-play title. Valve included support via Steamworks for microtransactions for in-game items in these games through Steam's purchasing channels, in a similar manner to the in-game store for Team Fortress 2. Later that year, Valve added the ability to trade in-game items and "unopened" game gifts between users. Steam Coupons, which was introduced in December 2011, provides single-use coupons that provide a discount to the cost of items. Steam Coupons can be provided to users by developers and publishers; users can trade these coupons between friends in a similar fashion to gifts and in-game items. Steam Market, a feature introduced in beta in December 2012 that would allow users to sell virtual items to others via Steam Wallet funds, further extended the idea. Valve levies a transaction fee of 15% on such sales and game publishers that use Steam Market pay a transaction fee. For example, Team Fortress 2—the first game supported at the beta phase—incurred both fees. Full support for other games was expected to be available in early 2013. In April 2013, Valve added subscription-based game support to Steam; the first game to use this service was Darkfall Unholy Wars.
In October 2012, Steam introduced non-gaming applications, which are sold through the service in the same manner as games. Creativity and productivity applications can access the core functions of the Steamworks API, allowing them to use Steam's simplified installation and updating process, and incorporate features including cloud saving and Steam Workshop. Steam also allows game soundtracks to be purchased to be played via Steam Music or integrated with the user's other media players. Valve adjusted its approach to soundtracks in 2020, no longer requiring them to be offered as DLC, meaning that users can buy soundtracks to games they do not own, and publishers can offer soundtracks to games not on Steam.
Valve have also added the ability for publishers to rent and sell digital movies via the service, with initially most being video game documentaries. Following Warner Bros. Entertainment offering the Mad Max films alongside the September 2015 release of the game based on the series, Lionsgate entered into agreement with Valve to rent over one hundred feature films from its catalog through Steam starting in April 2016, with more films following later. In March 2017, Crunchyroll started offering various anime for purchase or rent through Steam. However, by February 2019, Valve shuttered video from its storefront save for videos directly related to gaming content. While available, users could also purchase Steam Machine related hardware.
In conjunction with developers and publishers, Valve frequently provides discounted sales on games on a daily and weekly basis, sometimes oriented around a publisher, genre, or holiday theme, and sometimes allow games to be tried for free during the days of these sales. The site normally offers a large selection of games at discount during its annual Summer and Holiday sales, including gamification of these sales to incentive users to purchase more games. While Steam allows developers to offer demo versions of their games at any time, Valve worked with Geoff Keighley in 2019 in conjunction with The Game Awards to hold a week-long Steam Game Festival to feature a large selection of game demos of current and upcoming games, alongside sales for games already released. This event has since been repeated two or three times a year, typically in conjunction with game expositions or award events, and since has been renamed as the Steam Next Fest.
- Privacy and security
The popularity of Steam has led to the service's being attacked by hackers. An attempt occurred in November 2011, when Valve temporarily closed the community forums, citing potential hacking threats to the service. Days later, Valve reported that the hack had compromised one of its customer databases, potentially allowing the perpetrators to access customer information; including encrypted password and credit card details. At that time, Valve was not aware whether the intruders actually accessed this information or discovered the encryption method, but nevertheless warned users to be alert for fraudulent activity.
Valve added Steam Guard functionality to the Steam client in March 2011 to protect against the hijacking of accounts via phishing schemes, one of the largest support problems Valve had at the time. Steam Guard was advertised to take advantage of the identity protection provided by Intel's second-generation Core processors and compatible motherboard hardware, which allows users to lock their account to a specific computer. Once locked, activity by that account on other computers must first be approved by the user on the locked computer. Support APIs for Steam Guard are available to third-party developers through Steamworks. Steam Guard also offers two-factor, risk-based authentication that uses a one-time verification code sent to a verified email address associated with the Steam account; this was later expanded to include two-factor authentication through the Steam mobile application, known as Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator. If Steam Guard is enabled, the verification code is sent each time the account is used from an unknown machine.
In 2015, between Steam-based game inventories, trading cards, and other virtual goods attached to a user's account, Valve stated that the potential monetary value had drawn hackers to try to access user accounts for financial benefit, and continue to encourage users to secure accounts with Steam Guard, when trading was introduced in 2011. Valve reported that in December 2015, around 77,000 accounts per month were hijacked, enabling the hijackers to empty out the user's inventory of items through the trading features. To improve security, the company announced that new restrictions would be added in March 2016, under which 15-day holds are placed on traded items unless they activate, and authenticate with Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator.
ReVuln, a commercial vulnerability research firm, published a paper in October 2012 that said the Steam browser protocol was posing a security risk by enabling malicious exploits through a simple user click on a maliciously crafted steam:// URL in a browser. This was the second serious vulnerability of gaming-related software following a recent problem with Ubisoft's own game distribution platform Uplay. German IT platform Heise online recommended strict separation of gaming and sensitive data, for example using a PC dedicated to gaming, gaming from a second Windows installation, or using a computer account with limited rights dedicated to gaming.
In July 2015, a bug in the software allowed anyone to reset the password to any account by using the "forgot password" function of the client. High-profile professional gamers and streamers lost access to their accounts. In December 2015, Steam's content delivery network was misconfigured in response to a DDoS attack, causing cached store pages containing personal information to be temporarily exposed for 34,000 users.
In April 2018, Valve added new privacy settings for Steam users, who are able to set if their current activity status is private, visible to friends only, or public; in addition to being able to hide their game lists, inventory, and other profile elements in a similar manner. While these changes brought Steam's privacy settings inline with approaches used by game console services, it also impacted third-party services such as Steam Spy, which relied on the public data to estimate Steam sales count.
Valve established a HackerOne bug bounty program in May 2018, a crowdsourced method to test and improve security features of the Steam client. In August 2019, a security researcher exposed a zero-day vulnerability in the Windows client of Steam, which allowed for any user to run arbitrary code with LocalSystem privileges using just a few simple commands. The vulnerability was then reported to Valve via the program, but it was initially rejected for being "out-of-scope". Following a second vulnerability found by the same user, Valve apologised and patched them both, and expanded the program's rules to accept any other similar problems in the future.
- User interface
Since November 2013, Steam has allowed for users to review their purchased games and organize them into categories set by the user and add to favorite lists for quick access. Players can add non-Steam games to their libraries, allowing the game to be easily accessed from the Steam client and providing support where possible for Steam Overlay features. The Steam interface allows for user-defined shortcuts to be added. In this way, third-party modifications and games not purchased through the Steam Store can use Steam features. Valve sponsors and distributes some modifications free of charge; and modifications that use Steamworks can also use VAC, Friends, the server browser, and any Steam features supported by their parent game. For most games launched from Steam, the client provides an in-game overlay that can be accessed by a keystroke. From the overlay, the user can access his or her Steam Community lists and participate in chat, manage selected Steam settings, and access a built-in web browser without having to exit the game. Since the beginning of February 2011 as a beta version, the overlay also allows players to take screenshots of the games in process; it automatically stores these and allows the player to review, delete, or share them during or after his or her game session. As a full version on February 24, 2011, this feature was reimplemented so that users could share screenshots on websites of Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit straight from a user's screenshot manager.
In-Home Streaming was introduced in May 2014; it allows users to stream games installed on one computer to another—regardless of platform—on the same home network with low latency. By June 2019, Valve renamed this feature to Remote Play, allowing users to stream games across devices that may be outside of their home network. Steam's "Remote Play Together", added in November 2019 after a month of beta testing, gives the ability for local multiplayer games to be played by people in disparate locations, though will not necessary resolve latency problems typical of these types of games. Remote Play Together was expanded in February 2021 to give the ability to invite non-Steam players to play though a Steam Link app approach.
The Steam client, as part of a social network service, allows users to identify friends and join groups using the Steam Community feature. Through the Steam Chat feature, users can use text chat and peer-to-peer VoIP with other users, identify which games their friends and other group members are playing, and join and invite friends to Steamworks-based multiplayer games that support this feature. Users can participate in forums hosted by Valve to discuss Steam games. Each user has a unique page that shows his or her groups and friends, game library including earned achievements, game wishlists, and other social features; users can choose to keep this information private. In January 2010, Valve reported that 10 million of the 25 million active Steam accounts had signed up to Steam Community. In conjunction with the 2012 Steam Summer Sale, user profiles were updated with Badges reflecting the user's participation in the Steam community and past events. Steam Trading Cards, a system where players earn virtual trading cards based on games they own, were introduced in May 2013. Using them, players can trade with other Steam users on the Steam Marketplace and use them to craft "Badges", which grant rewards such as game discount coupons, emoticons, and the ability to customize their user profile page. In 2010, the Steam client became an OpenID provider, allowing third-party websites to use a Steam user's identity without requiring the user to expose his or her Steam credentials. In order to prevent abuse, access to most community features is restricted until a one-time payment of at least US$5 is made to Valve. This requirement can be fulfilled by making any purchase of five dollars or more on Steam, or by adding at the same amount to their wallet.
Through Steamworks, Steam provides a means of server browsing for multiplayer games that use the Steam Community features, allowing users to create lobbies with friends or members of common groups. Steamworks also provides Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC), Valve's proprietary anti-cheat system; game servers automatically detect and report users who are using cheats in online, multiplayer games. In August 2012, Valve added new features—including dedicated hub pages for games that highlight the best user-created content, top forum posts, and screenshots—to the Community area. In December 2012, a feature where users can upload walkthroughs and guides detailing game strategy was added. Starting in January 2015, the Steam client allowed players to livestream to Steam friends or the public while playing games on the platform. For the main event of The International 2018 Dota 2 tournament, Valve launched Steam.tv as a major update to Steam Broadcasting, adding Steam chat and Steamworks integration for spectating matches played at the event. It has also been used for other events, such as a pre-release tournament for the digital card game Artifact and for The Game Awards 2018 and Steam Awards award shows.
In September 2014, Steam Music was added to the Steam client, allowing users to play through music stored on their computer or to stream from a locally networked computer directly in Steam. An update to the friends and chat system was released in July 2018, allowing for non-peer-to-peer chats integrated with voice chat and other features that were compared to Discord. A standalone mobile app based on this for Android and iOS was released in May 2019.
A major visual overhaul of the Library and game profile pages were released in October 2019. These redesigns are aimed to aid users to organize their games, help showcase what shared games a user's friends are playing, games that are being live-streamed, and new content that may be available, along with more customization options for sorting games. Associated with that, Valve gave developers means of communicating when special in-game events are approaching through Steam Events, which appear to players on the revamped Library and game profile pages.
A Steam Points system and storefront was added in June 2020, which mirrored similar temporary points systems that had been used in prior sales on the storefront. Users earn points through purchases on Steam or by receiving community recognition for helpful reviews or discussion comments. These points do not expire as they had in the prior sales, and can be redeemed in the separate storefront for cosmetics that apply to the user's profile and chat interface.
- Developer features
Valve provides developers the ability to create storefront pages for games ahead of time to help generate interest in their game ahead of release. This is also necessary to fix a release date that functions into Valve's "build review", a free service performed by Valve about a week before this release date to make sure the game can be installed and run, and other checks to make sure the game's launch is otherwise trouble-free. Recent updates related to Discovery queues have given developers more options for customizing their storefront page and how these pages integration with users' experiences with the Steam client.
Valve offers Steamworks, an application programming interface (API) that provides development and publishing tools to take advantage of Steam client's features, free-of-charge to game and software developers. Steamworks provides networking and player authentication tools for both server and peer-to-peer multiplayer games, matchmaking services, support for Steam community friends and groups, Steam statistics and achievements, integrated voice communications, and Steam Cloud support, allowing games to integrate with the Steam client. The API also provides anti-cheating devices and digital copy management. After introducing the Steam Controller and improvements to the Steam interface to support numerous customization options, the Steamworks API was also updated to provide a generic controller library for developers and these customization features for other third-party controllers, starting with the DualShock 4. Steam's API has since been updated to include official support for other console controllers such as the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, the Xbox Wireless Controller for the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles, and the PlayStation 5's DualSense, as well as compatible controllers from third-party manufacturers.
Developers of software available on Steam are able to track sales of their games through the Steam store. In February 2014, Valve announced that it would begin to allow developers to set up their own sales for their games independent of any sales that Valve may set. Valve may also work with developers to suggest their participation in sales on themed days.
Valve added the ability for developers to sell games under an early access model with a special section of the Steam store, starting in March 2013. This program allows for developers to release functional, but not finished, products such as beta versions to the service to allow users to buy the games and help provide testing and feedback towards the final production. Early access also helps to provide funding to the developers to help complete their games. The early access approach allowed more developers to publish games onto the Steam service without the need for Valve's direct curation of games, significantly increasing the number of available games on the service.
Developers are able to request Steam keys of their products to use as they see fit, such as to give away in promotions, to provide to selected users for review, or to give to key resellers for different profitization. Valve generally honors all such requests, but clarified that they would evaluate some requests to avoid giving keys to games or other offerings that are designed to manipulate the Steam storefront and other features. For example, Valve said that a request for 500,000 keys for a game that has significantly negative reviews and 1,000 sales on Steam is unlikely to be granted.
Valve enabled the ability for multiple developers to create bundles of games from their offerings without the need for Valve's staff to create these on their behalf in June 2021.
- Steam Workshop
The Steam Workshop is a Steam account-based hosting service for videogame user-created content. Depending on the title, new levels, art assets, gameplay modifications, or other content may be published to or installed from the Steam Workshop through an automated, online account-based process. The Workshop was originally used for distribution of new items for Team Fortress 2; it was redesigned to extend support for any game in early 2012, including modifications for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. A May 2012 patch for Portal 2, enabled by a new map-making tool through the Steam Workshop, introduced the ability to share user-created levels. Independently developed games, including Dungeons of Dredmor, are able to provide Steam Workshop support for user-generated content. Dota 2 became Valve's third published title available for the Steam Workshop in June 2012; its features include customizable accessories, character skins, and announcer packs. Workshop content may be monetized; Newell said that the Workshop was inspired by gold farming from World of Warcraft to find a way to incentive both players and content creators in video games, and which had informed them of their approach to Team Fortress 2 and their later multiplayer games.
By January 2015, Valve themselves had provided some user-developed Workshop content as paid-for features in Valve-developed games, including Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2; with over $57 million being paid to content creators using the Workshop. Valve began allowing developers to use these advanced features in January 2015; both the developer and content generator share the profits of the sale of these items; the feature went live in April 2015, starting with various mods for Skyrim. This feature was pulled a few days afterward following negative user feedback and reports of pricing and copyright misuse. Six months later, Valve stated they were still interested in offering this type of functionality in the future, but would review the implementation to avoid these previous mistakes. In November 2015, the Steam client was updated with the ability for game developers to offer in-game items for direct sale via the store interface, with Rust being the first game to use the feature.
- Steam for Schools
Steam for Schools (discontinued) was function-limited version of the Steam client that was available free of charge for use in schools. It was part of Valve's initiative to support gamification of learning for classroom instruction. It was released alongside free versions of Portal 2 and a standalone program called "Puzzle Maker" that allowed teachers and students to create and manipulate levels. It featured additional authentication security that allowed teachers to share and distribute content via a Steam Workshop-type interface, but blocks access from students.
SteamVR is a virtual reality hardware and software platform developed by Valve, with a focus on allowing "room-scale" experiences using positional tracking base stations, as opposed to those requiring the player to stay in a singular location. SteamVR was first introduced for the Oculus Rift headset in 2014, and later expanded to support other virtual reality headsets, such as the HTC Vive and Valve Index. Though released for support on Windows, macOS, and Linux, Valve dropped macOS support for SteamVR in May 2020.