Impressions: Steam Mobile

By Craig Pearson on January 30th, 2012 at 5:36 pm.

Steam on iOS! It's like cats and dogs living together.
I’ve been fiddling about with Valve’s first iPhone app, Steam Mobile . Normally when a developer makes a leap to the mobile world, we wouldn’t give it a second thought, but Valve’s iPhone and Android app is Steam without the games and can affect what’s on your PC, so it’s worth talking about. That and I just tapped out a chat to Alec while I was on the toilet, using Steam.

So, yes. Steam Mobile is Steam for smartphones, both Apple and Android. It has a lot of Steam’s functionality, save for accessing and playing your game library. You might think that that’s like having access to a sweet shop without possessing a tongue, but divorcing Steam from the games has made me realise just how useful it is.

I tested the iOS version. Given how flaky Steam’s friend’s and chat system used to be, I expected my attempt to chat to Alec to crap out, if you’ll pardon the pun. It did work the first time. He responded to it as soon as it arrived. And when I returned from my trip to the porcelain telephone, Mr Meer’s response had also arrived at my PC. So signing in on Mobile doesn’t affect your online status on the PC.

But a second chat request wasn’t so successful. It’s possible the Steam server themselves flaked out, but when I’d switched off Steam on the PC and turned on notifications on the phone to see how the app would handle responding solely to the phone, Alec’s response just hung there, with Steam telling me that he was typing. Forever and ever and ever. For a minute. What amazing insights had he to impart? I’ll never know. Alec was pronounced dead shortly after.

But, hey, beta software is there to be tested and prodding it like that results in a better app. And when it works, has very specific uses: telling someone you’ve arranged a game with that you’ll be late through Steam will become the new texting. Mark my words.

You can choose what to see when logging in: Friends, Groups, Activity, Catalog, Steam News and Syndicated news (featuring RPS!). I had a flick through all the options: Valve have gone pretty deep here. All the Friend and Group activity you’re used to works, with the exceptions of group chat and leaving comments. So I could view published screenshots and videos, albeit with a caveat that the pages are “under construction’”, I could see achievements, recently played games, even remove people. So, until his untimely melting, Alec could have removed me for the poo chat we had. Sorry, glorious prince of RPS.

Admittedly all this is mostly cramming Valve’s voluminous web-based Steam Community into a phone friendly format, but it works as both a Steam client while feeling like a proper iOS app.

Accessing games is limited to browsing, buying and news. Not that I expected Valve to magically make them work, but it’s fun thinking that I can prod a few buttons and my Steam account would magically, wirelessly grow. Fun and terrifying. I expect this is why Valve can afford to give time to developing a free mobile app: purchases on the move. I have found myself wailing at times during certain Steam sales when I wasn’t at my desk, and now I can. I tested it by buying Saint’s Row 3 DLC and it flawlessly sucked the money from my bank account.

For a Valve beta, it works a lot smoother than I imagined it would.

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88 Comments »

  1. darkath says:

    For a long time now, Gabe have been in the most terrifying nightmares of my wallet.

    Incidentally everytime i get my wallet out of my pocket i see the embroidered words “Bad Mother F*cker”

    • Starky says:

      I had a BMF wallet too, but it was a badly made Chinese PoS that fell apart after 2 weeks.
      And I’m really not a BMF.

      Now I have a marvel comics wallet, much more suited to my lazy nerdy self.

    • miudasgu says:

      The price is very cheap! VIA 8650 W8001 8 英寸 Google Android 2.2, Flash 10.1 support for gravity sensing RJ45 Table PC http://alturl.com/fg77k

    • P7uen says:

      So I can buy Steam sale games but not play them?

      That’s what I was doing anyway, now I can do it more efficiently. Hurrah!

  2. DarkNoghri says:

    Step one: Make mobile app with access to chat.
    Step two: Open up the API so IM programs can access it, like Digsby, Trillian, Pidgin, and the like.
    Step three: Remove the need for Steam to be open all the time to access the community/games.

    One can dream.

    • hap says:

      I’d like to see the whole client opened up – and not just Steam. Imagine a single program where Steam, D2D, GoG, Origin and whatever else is out there can live in harmony and buy launch games from one spot.

      Yes, one can dream.

    • Aemony says:

      @hap:

      Why are you describing your web browser?

    • Roritharr says:

      All i want them to do is to open an api that allows me to write programs for the game overlay… i so dream of having my irc client and a decent IM with atleast icq and gtalk support in it….

    • LionsPhil says:

      Don’t forget the SSH client/VT100 terminal emulator!

    • passingstranger says:

      This implies that I have a desire to ever close the Steam client, though. I have not encountered this.

    • DarkNoghri says:

      I’ve gone on rants about this before, so I won’t go on long, but:

      I’d really see all of the services become interoperable. Open all the APIs, and let the open source world take care of it. Suddenly you’ve got a client that can cross talk between Origin, Steam, gChat, Skype, AOL, and Facebook.

      Likewise, I would like to see true competition. Make all games available on all platforms. This means BF3 on Steam and Half-life 2 on Origin. Hoarding exclusives isn’t competition at all. They should be competing on features, not now-exclusive games that people have been playing the prequels to for years.

      On a similar note to number one, I don’t want all new download services to need a client open to run the game. Steam is open on my desktop 24/7. Why? Because that’s where my friends list is. I will be very frustrated if to have all my games available to me, I will need to have Steam, Origin, and whatever else open to do it. I don’t want this: http://i.imgur.com/rYstS.png

      I have no real hopes that this will ever happen, though.

    • Vorrin says:

      Roritharr for president!

    • Premium User Badge jrodman says:

      Maybe we can write games for the overlay, so you can play a game while you wait for your game.

      I mean while you wait for your simcity to develop a bit, you could play some OverlayBejeweled, and while you travel the AFK airlines on your Free to Play MMO, you could play an OverlayRoguelike and level up while you level up.

    • Bhazor says:

      You’re acting like clients are a good thing and deserve to exist. Gamersgate is the way I want things to go.

      There is no reason for all the client guff (community, acheievments, dogging clubs, what have you) to be tied to DRM. Which is what Steam and Impulse and Origin are. DRM with feature bloat trying to make themselve useful.

      Just give me the game and piss off. No online requirements, no phoning home, no mandatory patching, no nags to join the Swedish Klu Klux Klans Counter Strike Klan (a genuine offer I’ve had) no broken offline modes and backups that don’t need to be activated online.

  3. Tei says:

    We now live in the future.

    I am going to rewatch “2001: A Space Odyssey ” thinking the black monolith was a iOS apple computer.

    • Premium User Badge Rikard Peterson says:

      The monolith was the first top-secret iPhone prototype!

    • Premium User Badge lurkalisk says:

      Now that’s a depressing thought…

    • Red_Avatar says:

      That would be fitting with a few minor changes …

      HAL would be SIRI – albeit a crappy gimmicky version which, instead of playing chess, would tell bad jokes.
      The Monolith scene on the moon would actually be a “hipster” press release of Apple’s new MaxiPad – the humming sound the moans and drooling of Mactards all over the world (yes, even heard on the moon).
      The end sequence would actually be a corridor of lawsuits by Apple for copyright infringements.
      The baby floating about earth would be a miniature Steve Jobs.

      Frightening indeed …

    • Bhazor says:

      I’d like a remake where the apes touch the monolith and immediately turn into complete dicks who insist on talking at great length about how their trendy bone club is better than a plain cudgel.

  4. HexagonalBolts says:

    The only major piece of functionality I think steam misses is some sort of ‘status’. Sure, we don’t need a gigantic live feed window that attempts to be twitter 2.0. But it would be nice to have a little message next to your name that’s broadcast out to your friends. i.e. ‘Anyone fancy a game of Magicka?’.

    I’m surprised they haven’t added it already, what with the obvious appeal of statuses and tweets everywhere else, as well as with valve’s social focus.

    • Squishpoke says:

      You can just change your name to indicate status.

      Example:

      Squishpoke (wants to play Magicka)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Actually, something a little more semantic where you tick off a few games as “anyone up for a round of?” would be cool, in the same way as “X is now playing Y, click here to join in” is. It could do very crude matchmaking of the “you and X (and W…) both want to play Y (and Z…), click here to start a group chat and launch it” variety.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Stardock released (silently) a program linked to Impulse, years ago, which was doing this. You were checking what you are ready to play, and if you were actively looking for people to play it. You could also specify what kind of gamer you are, and hih age ranges you were looking for.
      Then you could find random persons who want to play the same game, in a matchmaking way.

      It remained nothing else than a beta, unfortunately. You can read about it there (original site died, though, so it’s from archive): http://web.archive.org/web/20091125135045/http://www.stardock.com/products/readytoplay/

      Edit, steamunpowered had a post about it, too, if you want to see how it looked like: http ://steamunpowered.eu/impulse-ready-to-play-beta-available

    • LionsPhil says:

      Edit: Oh. That’s weird. There was a post about Stardock doing something like this in beta once above this when I wrote it.

      Steam has a huge advantage in game library and friend associations actually being widely populated, though.

      Actually the way to make this happen is probably to point out to Gabe that it could also do “X, Y, and Z are looking for a fourth to play W, which is on your wishlist/similar to things you own, click here to buy”. Then he could afford more sandwiches.

    • Spacecraft says:

      You’d like the Evolve program. Which handily has a RPS group.

    • geoffreyk says:

      This is one of the new features of the most recent XBOX 360 Dashboard Update.

      Ips-o fact-o…

      RPS commentors jealous of console gamers!

      News story at 5!

    • Gnoupi says:

      LionsPhil, there was this comment, but adding two links made it go to “awaiting moderation”:

      “Stardock released (silently) a program linked to Impulse, years ago, which was doing this. You were checking what you are ready to play, and if you were actively looking for people to play it. You could also specify what kind of gamer you are, and which age ranges you were looking for.
      Then you could find random persons who want to play the same game, in a matchmaking way.

      It remained nothing else than a beta, unfortunately. You can read about it there (original site died, though, so it’s from archive): http://web.archive.org/web/20091125135045/http://www.stardock.com/products/readytoplay/

      Edit, steamunpowered had a post about it, too, if you want to see how it looked like: http ://steamunpowered.eu/impulse-ready-to-play-beta-available”

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It’s pretty critically missing group chat right now, which is the only real feature I wanted out of it. :(

  5. deadly.by.design says:

    So far, so good. I’ll definitely find a use for it during the Christmas & Summer sales.

    • polyester says:

      Better than trying to use your phone’s browser to make the purchases, as I did during the last winter sale.

      The exhilaration of being in the car staring at brush-land was replaced with the adrenaline filled frustration of trying to make my purchases with a finicky browser and spotty 3g connection.

      Don’t think this app will help much on the connection front, but at least make my impulse buys easier with a smoother browser

  6. nubbuka says:

    Wait, can a steam phone app person chat with a PC used steam man?

    • deadly.by.design says:

      @nubba
      Yes. Their response will go to both your mobile device and your PC (if it’s logged in at home). Also, logging in via mobile will not kick you off at home, like it would if you were logging in on another machine.

  7. wisnoskij says:

    Obviously needed feature, that can also be added to the web experience.

    Out of house download.
    I want to be able to buy a game and then tell my computer at home to start downloading it right away.

    • Squishpoke says:

      “out of house download” sounds so cool that I’ll probably end up shouting at anyone who bothers to listen that I’m downloading x game at home via iPod.

    • Archonsod says:

      You can always install one of the many remote desktop apps for Android (I presume the same exist for the funny coloured boxes) and start the download from there. Of course, given you then have access to your desktop from the phone it renders the whole Steam app somewhat redundant in the first place.

  8. skyturnedred says:

    If only I had friends on Steam or was taking part on any of its community aspects, this would be quite nice. But alas, it art not so.

    • Bureaucrat says:

      Same here, although I’m not doing much “alas”ing about it.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      What is the point of using Steam to chat anyway? There’s a gazillion programs out there that let you send files, go on webcam, trade pics, etc. and even the non-gamers use them. Why would you split up your friends? Just ask Steam friends to give you their IM address or nickname and be done with it. Heck, I hate the constant “friend X is playing game Y” remarks – I turned them off only for them to turn themselves on again.

    • Psychopomp says:

      It’d be nice if those other IM programs worked in the steam overlay, allowing me to continue talking whilst playing a game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      It works with the overlay, so you can see conversation in-game, and it works with your Steam friends list, who are probably who you’re gaming with. Also it can do VOIP should the game not have native support and unlike Teamspeak etc. everyone will have it installed (I can’t remember if it actually shows who’s speaking on-screen, though, which is the main advantage of game-native VOIP).

    • sneetch says:

      @Red_Avatar

      Surely using a “gazillion programs” does split up your friends? All my gaming friends already use Steam so we communicate on Steam even when we’re not playing games outside Steam, we’re already on there, we’ve already befriended one another (how lame does that sound?) so why complicate matters by introducing other chat programs.

  9. LukaD says:

    Worth the weight.

    • apocraphyn says:

      Indeed. To many, the death of Alec Meer will be a truly crushing experience, as it was for him; alternatively, I liken this moment to a new age of enlightenment. The demon has been cast back into the abyss and all those who are righteous shall rejoice!

  10. MythArcana says:

    This is almost as useful as the Yoko Ono Singing Lessons application. No, thanks.

  11. Hypnotoad says:

    Well that’s a bit strange, just saw my own avatar (Longcat Iwo Jima) and did a double take.

    Forgot I was on Craig’s list.

  12. Doomsayer says:

    ……but where’s Half Life 3?

  13. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    This all seems like a balloon of steam(o) bile.

    what a terrible attempt to start a pun thread!

    • Premium User Badge bear912 says:

      That was a pretty terrible start, but now that you’ve opened the valve, perhaps better puns shall emerge.

  14. CaspianRoach says:

    Syndicated news feed should be customizable to become truly successful. If it’s the same as on PC, it’s not worth using.

  15. Soon says:

    I don’t understand PC gaming any more.

  16. Nova says:

    Now we combine this with what we learned in the cloud gaming discussion earlier today.
    I guess Valve is not sleeping either.

    • Premium User Badge AmateurScience says:

      I could definitely see this as a precursor to some kind of multi-platform cloud delivery service.

    • Bhazor says:

      Combine cloud gaming with touch screens and create games that are both laggy and unresponsive. Genius.

  17. Premium User Badge AmateurScience says:

    Alas my clunky old iPhone 3G says ‘no’. Can’t think of any reason why though. This hardly sounds like a resource intensive app.

    It’s probably a good thing for my ongoing finances though.

    • kirkbjerk says:

      Same, our archaic 3G phones must lie well outside the bell curve.

    • sneetch says:

      That kinda stuff happens a lot on my girlfriends iPhone too, you can’t install this app for no real reason and is one of the main reasons I’ll stick with Android. Apple trying to force a hardware update without good reason doesn’t appeal to me.

      Mind you in this case it’s probably because Valve made a mistake in targetting a later version of iOS rather than ye olde versione that the 3G has.

  18. bookwormat says:

    Unfortunately, the Android version is not very good. It ignores most of the UI-Patterns common on Android today, it interrupts the user with modal dialogs after almost every click, and the UI does not adapt to different screen sizes and device types very well. Scrolling through the list is incredible slow and laggy on modern devices, like the apps that we had in 2010.

    Designing a good Android app is very different to making a iPhone or iPad or a WP app: It has much more in common with responsive web design than with iOS development. But this one feels like they hired an iOS designer with an iPhone in his pocket, and told him “oh, and then you have to make something for Android too”.

  19. Sleepymatt says:

    But… I’ve been gradually emptying my wallet in to Valve’s capacious pockets via my iPhone for ages.. what’s new?

  20. Kaira- says:

    It’ll be interesting to see what kind of response the Origin Android client will bring when/if it’s released.

    • Premium User Badge Thermal Ions says:

      I for one will ignore it in the same way as I’ve ignored the Origin PC client.

  21. Premium User Badge Big Murray says:

    Great. Now I really can’t escape Steam sales.

  22. LionsPhil says:

    So signing in on Mobile doesn’t affect your online status on the PC.

    So, next up: multiple sign-ons on PC, as long as we don’t break the “one in-game at a time” anti-piracy rule? (And also to keep sync simple enough that they don’t bungle it any harder than they already do.)

    ‘Cause that’d be handy when shifting between laptop and art desktop and gaming desktop.

    • jonfitt says:

      So, next up: multiple sign-ons on PC, as long as we don’t break the “one in-game at a time” anti-piracy rule?

      Oh please this. My wife shares my account but we’re never playing the same game. It would help to not have to juggle offline mode on her laptop.

    • Premium User Badge The Sombrero Kid says:

      Steam cloud needs this, when i want to continue gaming on my laptop i have to switch it from offline mode, but then I need to remember to switch it back, which I never do.

  23. Teovald says:

    a rapid review of the android version for those that could be interested :
    here

    In summary, it is really disappointing. It’s not that the app is bad in itself, but it is just not an android app.

  24. jonfitt says:

    When I saw “Impressions: Steam Mobile”, I thought you were about to give your views on these new traction engines I keep hearing so much about.

  25. DemonicFerret says:

    “Alec’s response just hung there, with Steam telling me that he was typing. Forever and ever and ever.”

    To be fair, this is a common issue in standard PC Steam chat as well. Probably not related to anything in the mobile app.

  26. David Midgley says:

    Hey, I enjoyed your impressions. Check out my own, on my review of Steam Mobile posted on my blog yesterday — http://www.davidmidgley.net/2012/01/review-of-steam-mobile-app-for-iphone/

  27. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I only just got granted beta access, and I’m kind of surprised that i can’t see my library. I just want to be able to look and flick through my library, and brag about it a bit. I heard talk about such an app after one of the RPS *physical* social club events, if I’m not mistaken…

    • tigershuffle says:

      cos im not patient….and never ever read more than my ickle brain can cope with……I ploughed on and installed the app ……..

      got message “Account not in Beta …..
      ….
      Weve made a note of your account and will be sending out more invites shortly”

      hohum :s

  28. King Toko says:

    I been using this app quite a bit and its pretty good for what it aims to do. Sure you can’t check your games libuary and play games but anything else Steam can do on PC you can now do on your mobile. It is still in beta so some of the features don’t fully work let.

    By the way I like how you got the Rift app advertised all over your site. That reminds me of the WoW Armory app.

  29. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Ok. Now it just needs to be able to be moved to my SD card. Otherwise I will have to delete it.

  30. Flukie says:

    This is pretty fantastic, enjoying the beta on my Android atm.

    I use imo.im to stay signed into the steam chat on a pinned app tab on Firefox at work if anyone needs me since we all use Steam as our primary messenger, it seems strange that imo are the only ones that seem to have access the the chat API.

  31. Starayo says:

    Steam Mobile is great. Works perfectly on my end.

    I only have a few gripes with it. You can’t set a game to download on the PC while buying it on the mobile app, group chats don’t work, I don’t think voice is available (slightly more forgivable), and the UI.

    The UI on android is the same as the iOS one. It’s not good. It clashes with the established Android interface style and usability. It’s understandable as the app has likely been in development for a long time, long before the new ICS style guide, but I hope in future they redo the UI to fit established Android guidelines. Someone on reddit did a mockup of what it could look like, using the ICS style guide, and it looked so much better.

  32. Premium User Badge Jackablade says:

    So are we thinking that this’ll evolve into a service for selling mobile games? Seems like it might be the next logical step.

    • iGark says:

      Doesn’t Apple not allow you to sell your own games through your own app?

    • Furtled says:

      Not sure, Apple’s in app. purchasing restrictions are something I try to avoid thinking about, not aware of any restrictions on Android though and that’s a sizeable chunk of the smartphone market by its self.

  33. Milky1985 says:

    If they are letting you buy from teh iOS app then did it go through the iOS buying method?

    Otherwise i give it 2 weeks before its pulled from the app store due to apples policy on that sort of thing. Theres a reason why the onLive iOS app doesn’t let you buy in app :/

  34. Bhazor says:

    Reply fail.

  35. Furtled says:

    Like Jackablade I’m wondering if this taking off successfully will also see Steam move into selling mobile games through it – or would that be too much of a risk with the ‘real gamers’ crowd?

  36. Trippin says:

    SO how long is it gonna take for Steam to sell mobile games? I think i for one would be pleased :P