picking up a head of steam

Posted under: Digital Natives 7th of December, 2012

When you hear the tales of book chains filing for bankruptcy, due to the increasing amount of eBook readers, it’s not unreasonable to predict the digitizing of much of our consumer products. Even if you’re not much of an electronic book reader, there’s no denying the massive amounts of savings and the convenience that accompanies the choice of online purchasing whether you’re into books, fashion, or gaming. I’d like to focus specifically on gaming.

Steam is a game client, released by the Valve Corporation in 2003, and is a platform for game purchasing, launching, multiplayer, and community networking. Similar to consoles such as Xbox 360s or PS3s, you create an account on Steam and can be linked to a huge amount of people interested in the same games as you. Steam also makes us of cloud networks, saving games in external sources so that if you have a Steam client on multiple computers, you can pick up on the same game right where you left off. But this isn’t Steam’s main selling point. Oh no, the reason there are over 54 million active users is due to the incredible savings Steam offers you.

Steam is only available on Mac and PC, and therefore only sells games available to those platforms. However, this certainly doesn’t limit Steam, as over 1800 games are available through it. Steam acts as a medium between consumers and developers, allowing indie game creators to have their creations distributed worldwide, as well as providing easy-access to games from your own computer. Not only are you allowed the ability to find new products from the comfort of your home, but the prices are undeniable cheaper than anything at a local game shop. Particularly as an Australian, it’s incredible value for money as the prices on Steam are the same as US retailers. This isn’t even inclusive of the massive sales they go through; games that are $70 reduced to $15 for only a few days. Summer sales, Christmas sales, Thanksgiving sales, weekend sales: Steam is practically famous based on sales alone. But it’s not content with just dominating the sale of PC games, oh no, Steam is slowly venturing out into console territory.

With the release of Steam’s “Big Picture” mode this month, Steam has given players the ability to play console games using Steam technology. Let me try and break this down. Steam offers games on the PC. You can connect your PC to your TV, then start Big Picture. Using a controller, you can then access all of the games in your Steam library (games purchased on Steam) as if you were putting a game disc into a console. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to communicate how incredible this is, but Steam is basically giving you the ability to play console games without the $300 price tag associated with buying a current-generation console (Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, take your pick). They are practically eliminating the need to purchase a console at all. The only thing that Steam hasn’t tried yet is motion-sensing technology or the use of a camera, like with Xbox 360’s Kinect. It remains true that Steam hasn’t made all games controller-enabled, but they’re slowly but surely doing so.

Generally I’d be afraid of a corporation having an entire monopoly on the gaming industry, but Steam is, so far, executing it all brilliantly. Not only are they making things easier for PC users such as myself, but they’re giving console players an affordable and easier option, as well as a wider community of fellow gamers. I don’t think I’d mind if game stores disappeared completely, and all games were purchased online. We’ve got the technology, and we’re getting the same thing for less money. What’s to lose?

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