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)?

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