Steam: Thanks A Million (Or Fifteen)

News has just reached us via electro-pigeon that Steam, Valve Software’s increasingly STRONG LIKE OX online game distribution system, now has 15 million users. 15 million. Where are you now, World of Warcraft and your puny 10 million subscribers? Details and all-official-like Gabe Newell statement after the jump.

Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that many of those accounts are simply for Counter-Strike (in both classic and Source flavours) and/or Half-Life 2 and/or Team Fortress 2, so it’s surely not earning anywhere near as much as 10 million monthly WoW subs do.

Also, a Steam account is free, even if the games themselves are not. Notably, anyone who’s installed a new driver for their ATI graphics card lately will have discovered that Steam wants to sneak onto their hard drives too. And bam, there’s one more user – and one more person presented with adverts for newly-released games available from the Steam store on a regular basis. More happily, with that installation comes free HL2 Deathmatch and Lost Coast, whilst NVIDIA users get an exclusive Portal demo and, bestest of all, Peggle Extreme (though GeForce drivers don’t include Steam – yet).

We don’t know how much money Steam is actually generating – Valve confirm simply “year-over-year sales growth of 158% through the holiday season.” At a guess, I’d say that means a hundred million squillion ultra-dollars.

Generally, I’m all for it, too – after a rocky first couple of years, Steam’s turned into a pretty awesome asset. I’m vaguely troubled by one firm having such a monopoly on online game distribution (though you Yanquis do also benefit from Gametap, which is a bit rubbish and understocked over here in pale Britain). Still, like Google, so far this chokehold has only been good for us. When the time eventually comes for Valve to harvest our very souls, at least we’ll have had a few years of fun and convenience out of it first.

Here’s pertinent quotes from Valve’s statement:

“Throughout 2008 more Community features will be introduced to support existing games as well as new titles such as Valve’s Left 4 Dead. Also new for Steam in 2008 is Steamworks, giving game developers access to game features and services available on Steam ranging from product key authentication and copy protection to auto-updating, social networking and matchmaking. Most importantly, the game features and services available in Steamworks are free of charge and can be used for both electronic and tangible versions of games.

“PC gaming is thriving, and has evolved into an era of constant connectivity,” said Gabe Newell, president of Valve. “That connectivity gives us the ability to have a much better relationship with customers, not just for delivering our games, but across all aspects of our business – including the design, development, and support of our games. Features like Guest Passes, Free Weekends, Gifting, and the Steam Community have been very well received both by customers and the developers who are using Steam. We are accelerating our release of new functionality in the next year as well as finding new ways to work with our partners such as the release of Steamworks, which allows them to bring the many benefits of Steam to their packaged products.”

How many folks reading this have indeed bought something off Steam, out of interest (Half-Life 2/The Orange Box aside)?


  1. cereal_killer says:

    Back when HL2 came out, I was a little wary of the new-fangled “online distribution thingy” so I bought my copy of HL2 at a brick and mortar and got me a no-cd crack asap (in case Steam went bust.) I had waited years for HL2 and I wasn’t about to let some server thousands of miles away take it away! Fast-forward to the present, I pre-ordered the Orange box the instant I could and have bought several Introversion titles on the service.

  2. Chris Evans says:

    Great to see Steam is continuing to power ahead :D

    Bought a small amount of games from Steam, though as I am fortunate enough to have a Press Account right now there is little need for me to purchase stuff.

    Long live Steam!

  3. Fleimur says:


    Bioshock, Shadowgrounds, Rockstar pack, Sin, Dark messiah and more

  4. malkav11 says:

    I have a fair amount of Steam content, mostly from retail purchases of Valve software (they’ve never had competitive prices on Steam) and “eh, might as well” purchases when things I already owned dropped into the $5 range on some sale or other. The only thing I ever bought straight off on Steam was Bioshock. Everything else has been on sale, special offer (like getting Shadowgrounds with preorder of the sequel), or just a decent price for a game that wasn’t in stores anymore, like Bloodlines.

    On the whole I still prefer having a retail copy, as it keeps on being available whether or not Steam is. And it makes me happier looking at shelf after shelf full of games than looking at titles on a scrollable list on Steam. Plus it’s quicker to install from disc than download the whole game again.

    Steam doesn’t precisely have a monopoly, incidentally. They’re the only digital distribution option for some games, but there’s quite a few competing services, including, EA’s download service, IGN/Fileplanet’s Direct2Drive, GoGamer’s download thing, EB/Gamestop’s download thing, GamersGate… Gametap kinda sorta counts now that they offer direct purchase, but they’re really at heart a rental service. What I’d like is to see digital distribution become more like retail in the “everybody stocking pretty much everything” respect so that I can do my purchasing based on whose policies and prices I like best, rather than who actually has the game.

  5. J. Prevost says:

    I’ve bought… a whole bunch of stuff. Many things I wouldn’t buy in a store—combination of not wanting to deal with the physical media, and the fact that the PC software selection in game stores is utter crap these days.

  6. frank says:

    I’ve been a big fan since I bought the Silver HL2 pack. Since, I’ve activated a $5 store-bought Valve back-catalog and bought XCOM 2, Deus Ex 1 & 2 and Psychonauts. Of course, I got the OB and Episode 1 as well, along with the over-hyped Bioshock. Once Vivendi (Riddick, Starcraft 2) and Ubisoft (PoP:SoT, BGE) have signed on my modern library will be complete, though Vivendi might still be huffy about that lawsuit.

  7. Volrath says:

    I use steam mostly to purchase adventure games, and I also think more indie developers should take adventage of it.

  8. Dinger says:

    I had a steam account some five years ago, and didn’t like it. Now it’s cool.
    Don’t have any gaems on it (either they killed or deactivated my old account, which raises the question: “15 million accounts by what count? total? active? logins this year?”) beyond the Orange Box, in part because, as a jet-setting international playboy, I’m almost never in the countries that correspond to my credit card billing addresses. So buying from Steam can be a pain.

    But outside of that (a standard convention in online sales, unfortunately) the system works really well.

  9. yxxxx says:

    Half Life 2 Episode 1
    Day of Deafeat Source
    Orange Box
    Peggle Deluxe
    Sin Episodes: Emergence
    garrys mod
    rag doll kung fu
    red orchestra

    Probably some more too.

    steam is definatly the best system that i have used

  10. Dan Forever says:

    Lets see, I’ve bought [the following off steam]:
    Ghost Master
    Peggle Deluxe
    Rocket Mania Deluxe
    Sam and Max 1-3
    Sin Episodes: Emergence
    Titan Quest + Immortal Throne
    Then of course there’s HL2 Silver, Episode 1 and the Orange Box.

    I also have Prey and Race WTCC on Steam. The former I got separately and was able to register on steam, the latter came with my graphics card and is tied into steam the same as any valve game is.

  11. MrNeutron says:

    I love Steam like crazy, I’ve bought a large number of games off it. I was one of the haters, back in the Half-Life 2 days, but after Episode 1 came out and I purchased it online and found the experience to be utterly seamless, I’ve never looked back.

    I didn’t think I’d be into the Community features very much, but I was so, so wrong. They’ve made my inordinate amount of time playing TF2 even more joyful, because it’s so easy to get together with friends.

    So basically, I’m a shameless Valve fanboy who is slightly disappointed when a game I want comes out and *isn’t* available on Steam. “You mean I have to *walk* to the *shop*? What is this, the middle ages?”

  12. brog says:

    > I also have Prey and Race WTCC on Steam.

    I read that as “Race WCC”.
    Cube racers!

  13. nimble says:

    I still haven’t used Steam, but I suppose it’s just because I’m too cheap. I usually wait until games are around $30, which usually happens in sales and such within a year of their release. And for that $30 I’m getting a game that I’ll be able to lend to a friend, and one that I’ll be able to play as many times as I want, even in 10 or 15 years. Steam asks me to pay twice that price for a game I won’t be able to do either with.

    The ability to play a game again in the future without having to pray for the continued existence of a publisher and that publisher’s infrastructure of permission granting servers is an especially attractive one for me. I will be surprised if 10 years from now people will still be allowed to play the games they “bought” from steam. Which is why the excitement over Steamworks and the much heralded success of Bioshock’s DRM concern me, and paint a picture of a future of PC Gaming that is going to drive me away from the platform. A future in which everything either charges a monthly fee (MMOs) or requires a large upfront payment for a game that will only be playable as long as the publisher continues to see a profit in supporting the game (digital distribution or DRM), before they move on to providing the game in a new format and stop allowing access to the old format.

    So I’m holding off on purchase and trying to avoid as many spoilers about Bioshock as possible until they get around to releasing the promised patch that will allow you to use the game without activation (or until enough time has passed that they’ve stopped support of the game and the cracking community has caught up with the latest version — not to pirate it, but to be assured that I will be able to own it when I purchase it). I’m resigned to the fact that Introversion won’t ever be a part of my gaming life, and I’m hoping that someday I’ll see the Orange Box available for $5 or $10, which I’d consider a reasonable price for a few years rental. I know that even $20 isn’t a reasonable price from Valve’s point of view for what is almost their entire franchise, but if they’re only going to rent it out, more than $10 is unreasonable to me. Especially since I suspect that Half-Life 2 single-player and Portal just won’t be such an experience for me as they have been for others, both because of the passage of time removing some of the shine from them, and because of how many spoilers I have (and will) come across over the years.

    On the other hand, I do pay for GameTap, but there’s no question about the fact that it’s a rental service, and so it’s priced as such. You pay each month, and you get full access to all of the games they have available; you stop paying, and you stop getting access to the games. But they only charge $5/month if you pay by the year, and that comes out to 1/2-cent per game per month, albeit without choice as to which games you’re paying for (and many are just chaff). It’s good for the games I’m not going to want to play again but want to try, or discovering games that are worth purchasing a copy of.

  14. TychoCelchuuu says:

    <3 Steam, so very much:

    Company of Heroes, and Opposing Fronts
    Red Orchestra
    Day of Defeat: Source
    Sam and Max: Episode 4

    Plus, of course, Half-Life, HL2, CS:S, and the Orange Box.

  15. Mr.Brand says:

    Metaboli certainly lets you download the whole game, but it’s also wrapped in an encrypted chunk of data. What this meant in
    practice when I was a subscriber, was that big games like Company of Heroes had a horrible time patching.

    After one of the patches, the game blobs were two FIVE GIGABYTE chunks of encrypted data; no simple patching of the existing block which worked before the patch. Dawn of War had similar issues, and both games took 10 minutes to launch on a very healthy, modern computer.

    I used Stardock long before Steam, and still prefer it in theory, but some titles are only on Steam. Stardock is working towards making their downloader more like the Steam app, but I’d prefer them to slim it down to being JUST a storefront. No embedded browser, newsreader etc. And frickin’ let me use Opera to browse! Same goes for Steam; don’t force a browser I don’t like on me.

    Apart from Activision being cocks about prices, Steam is a cheap place for us Europeans to get games. But Stardock aren’t doing staggered releases, so when a new strategy game is out, it is available even here in the third world.

    I both love and hate Steam. Nice launcher, decent selection of games at OK prices, but offline mode never, ever worked for me. I know how it’s supposed to work, but it doesn’t. Not on my system. The DRM makes me love Stardock a notch more :)

  16. Andrew says:

    I’ve bought loads off Steam besides Valve games. Bioshock, Dreamfall, Red Orchestra, Vampire: Bloodlines, X-COM: Terror from the Deep…

    I love Steam to bits. It’s wonderful.

  17. Prospero says:

    I’ve actually stopped buying games unless they come out on Steam. The prices are decent enough, the selection is pretty solid, and being able to click to re-install on any computer is fricking civilization. It’s a life saver on holiday when everyone is asleep and you’re jonsing for some gaming.

  18. Kadayi says:

    I’ve bought quite a lot of games through Steam (more than are worth listing). I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about the CD changing or that my discs might get scratched, and can just redownload them anywhere any time I want. I wish Itunes was as flexible tbh.

  19. Morte says:

    I bought the Orange Box, in an actual orange box, from for about 60% of what Steam were charging. Then I had to make a Steam account to play it.

    All things considered, waiting for the post beat several GB of downloading in that particular case. But maybe sometimes I’d prefer the download.

    Why does Steam take so long to launch? Before I stopped it launching with Windows, it was doubling my boot time. I’m used to getting no CD cracks for my (legitimate) games so I won’t have to swap discs, now I’m tempted to find something similar so I won’t have to wait for Steam when I launch a (legitimate) game.

    I guess the auto-patching is decent enough, but it’s nothing revolutionary.

    The Steam client seems to be a whole new channel for unsolicited commercial advertising.

    If I played multiplayer and needed the matchmaking stuff, I expect I’d like it a lot more.

  20. Fumarole says:

    My Steam directory is 56 GBs and growing. Yes, Valve loves me very much.

  21. James says:

    I’m very happy to see Steam juggernautin’ ahead, but I’m afraid it’s just not the tool for me.

    I’m a hoarder too- though I’d prefer to dodge the box fetishist title – and never being able to see the physical object I’m paying for makes me nervous. I like being able to point at a big old bookshelf and say ‘that’s my games collection’. I get a feeling that the days of a physical games collection are quickly drawing to a close, but I think I’ll hang onto them while I can.

    So yeah, I haven’t bought a thing from Steam, but it’s possible that it might change at some stage. The way that it’s growing, that stage might come sooner than later.

    EDIT: And of course, the other two major factors of me avoiding it are rubbish Aussie internet connections and rubbish Aussie games availabilities. All together, it makes downloading a game more trouble than it’s worth. A two day game download? I think I’ll pop down to the shops instead, thanks.

  22. Fedora.Pirate says:

    I agree 100% with what James said edit and all, and to add more to the edit downloading a game’s going to eat up my precious monthly bandwidth allocation so fast it’s not funny.

  23. Bidermaier says:

    I am trying metaboli since the last month. It is better than i expected. There are a lot of vivendi, atari and ubisoft games, so there is a lot of stuff that is not available on steam atm.

    My problem with metaboli is that i keep playing games i really dont care since i am “paying for them”.

    But in general the service worth a try. The software is not as sleek and fully featured as steam, but it is ok.

  24. malkav11 says:

    Oh, that’s one thing I don’t like about Steam: it piles all of its games under its directory. Some of us have multiple hard drives and need to spread the pain out according to what drive’s least full at the moment…

  25. Alec Meer says:

    Yeah, that infuriates me too. Let’s hope there’s a Customise Install option in a future update.

  26. Shanucore says:

    Mmm, I like Steam. Have mostly only bought Valve games from it, though. I would buy add-ons for games I bought elsewhere but I’ve heard they don’t play so nicely together.

  27. Tim says:

    It’s a pity windows xp doesn’t support symbolic links, you could trick it into using a different drive transparently.

    I’ve bought the orange box, bioshock, peggle, puzzle quest, and culpata innata (which I don’t really recommend, I felt like risking $20 at the time).

    It was the orange box that got me hooked into it, so their retail release definitely worked for them, they were my first valve games believe it or not. I convinced two other people to buy it over steam too.

    I would have bought COD4 from steam, but I’m boycotting the game completely since the publisher raised the Australian steam price to near double that of what Americans pay (presumably to appease Australian retails being undercut in price).

  28. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    I’ve just subscribed to Metaboli in order to play Neverwinter Nights 2 & STALKER. Instead I seem to be playing DIRT and Tomb Raider: Legend – games I never would have conventionally bought in a million years.

    I’ve found it excellent as I have a 22mg connection with BE* and no download cap (for £18 a month!). If I was on pay-as-you-go bandwidth or a slow connection it would really suck.

    There are some annoyances – e.g. Neverwinter Nights 2 is not patched up to date which makes multiplayer virtually impossible, plus occasionally there are problems starting programmes up.

    220 odd games for £13 a month is pretty good value I think, with World in Conflict due to come ‘on stream’ soon.

  29. Leelad says:

    @Rich Powers
    The only thing your account can get banned for is VAC bans, this only prevents playing Valve games online on protected servers.

    Never heard of an account being closed.

  30. Fumarole says:


    So far my Steam version of Opposing Fronts works perfectly with my retail version of Company of Heroes. And when Soulstorm arrives I’ll be purchasing that via Steam to go along with my retail versions of Dawn of War and its two existing expansions.

    Come on in, the water’s fine!

  31. Colin says:

    I have one fundamental problem with these download services – if you cancel your account,you can’t play what you have paid for. Does a game shop stop you playing a game you bought if you don’t go to it any more?

  32. Jim Rossignol says:

    Colin: isn’t it more like game rental, like video rental?

    These are quite different services, of course, Steam allows you to buy and since there’s no sub you’d never need to cancel.

  33. Benjamin Barker says:

    I got it to play Vampire: Bloodlines, which I don’t think anyone mentioned above. It’s a game you’d have a tough time even finding anywhere else any more. I was delighted to find that you can patch and modify games off Steam just fine– Bloodlines is a game where you definitely need the unoffical patch. Then I had to get the Orange Box (and then Peggle, hooked by the demo) and I’m planning to get S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and maybe X3 ($20 games, like Bloodlines– good deal!).

    It’s also great when you upgrade to a new system. Just log on and start installing– no need to find and fiddle with disks.

  34. EMPty=IRL= says:

    Valve Games:
    HL2 (HL2, CS:S, DOD:S,…)
    HL2 Episode 1
    Orange box(EP2, Portal, TF2)

    Sin Episode: Emergence (Sadly not EpisodeS)
    Rockstar Collection (10 games, LOVE this!)

    Plus 4 or more free mods…
    TOTAL: 39 Games…
    Damm… I might be addicted to steam…

  35. Kadayi says:

    nimble says:

    “I still haven’t used Steam, but I suppose it’s just because I’m too cheap. I usually wait until games are around $30, which usually happens in sales and such within a year of their release. And for that $30 I’m getting a game that I’ll be able to lend to a friend, and one that I’ll be able to play as many times as I want, even in 10 or 15 years. Steam asks me to pay twice that price for a game I won’t be able to do either with.”

    Seems to me that you haven’t even looked at Steam at all, because your wildly off with your comments. Firstly the prices of the games do go down over time from their original retail price and are fairly competitive, secondly unless the actual Steam service went completely belly up (v.unlikely) then you’ll always be able to redownload the games (there are no limitations on reinstalls).

  36. Bob says:

    My god $70 is cheap for cod4 hear in australia its like $120 off shelf!

  37. Al3xand3r says:

    Well, since this popped up again, here’s a reply:
    link to
    Some games from the last couple of panels were cropped :(

    Bob, I thought US dollar has different value to Canadian, just using the same name, but as different as say, the Euro or the English pound in practice. So I imagine the price difference isn’t as bad as that makes it sound. Unless you mean they offer it for $70 Canadian on Steam as opposed to the local insane prices? In which case, ignore me.

  38. Eamo says:

    Whoa, I just checked and I have 72 games on Steam. I have bought games on steam that I never played and even bought games that I already own (mostly because they were part of some sort of package deal).

    I don’t mind saying that I simply refuse to buy any PC game until it appears on Steam now. It just isn’t worth the hassle. Once their method for storing save games online goes through it will be perfect.

  39. cptgone says:

    EDIT: sorry, didn’t notice this is a necro’d thread…

    i “own” over 300 games on Steam, despite my fears regarding monopolies and all that.
    why? cause of Steam Sales.

    in the current sale, however, i only bought 2 games, for a total of €4.98
    at the current prices, and with gamification gone, Steam Sales are no longer the major events they used to be.

    Steam is in bad need of some real competition.

    “Still, like Google, so far this chokehold has only been good for us.”
    i find it hard to believe all the tracking and data mining hasn’t made any victims yet.