Oh me oh my, Valve are wading into the livestreaming waters. You know, that livestreaming thing, where you can watch other people play video games or have other folks watch you play video games? Valve today launched a public beta of Steam Broadcasting, building livestreaming into the Steam client. It's trying to make livestreaming more casual and coincidental rather than a big fuss we consciously go through. But look, click this link and you can watch games through the Steam Community right now.
As well as an option to broadcast all games to the world at large, Steam Broadcasting supports more passive, more private forms of streaming. You can set it to automatically start streaming to people on your Friends list if they want to watch what you're playing, or let friends send requests that you start streaming. (Or just set streams invitation-only.)
Removing the barriers between streaming and not streaming - making a conscious decision to load up your streaming software and start streaming, even if no one will be watching at first - is pretty clever all right. It makes streaming a casual thing, "Sure, go on" rather than "Right! Time to broadcast myself to the world!"
Anyone logged-in can watch streams through the Steam site, and they'll appear on game pages and Community hubs too if streamers set them public. For now, you'll need to opt into a beta client if you want to stream yourself. Pop open Steam's settings, head to the Account tab, click the "CHANGE" button under beta participation, and select Steam Beta Update from that menu. Then you can right-click on names in your client's Friends list to find an option to start watching them play, if they're in the beta too and allow it.
Hit the FAQ for more on how it all works.
Valve have worked with Twitch before, letting Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fans tie their Steam accounts to Twitch to earn in-game item 'drops' while watching tournaments on Twitch. They stayed away from building in Twitch livestreaming like the Origin and Uplay clients did, though.
Dedicated livestreaming sites like Twitch do a lot that Steam Broadcasting doesn't, mind. You can't subscribe to particular streamers to watch them in future, for one. It doesn't save videos. It won't be very useful for streaming tournaments or other big productions. Professional streamers can't sell subscriptions or receive ad revenue either. So far, anyway.
Valve have been expanding the social side of Steam for yonks, introducing new features in basic form then expanding and improving them for years, tying them into other features. I'd be surprised if we don't see Broadcasting change a lot over time. It's ultimately all in the service of getting people to use Steam more and like Steam more and buying more Steam games, of course, but offering a great service is a pretty good way to go about that.