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Impressions: Steam Mobile

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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Craig Pearson

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