Steam maker Valve has announced that it is expanding beyond games, to sell software titles that “range from creativity to productivity”.
The Steam software is more than just a store. The platform handles updates, digital rights management, and supports multiplayer gaming. It also forms a chat network. The Steam overlay lets users access Steam features while playing a full-screen game.
Users can install a Steam title on multiple computers but can only play while logged in, and can only log in on one device.
Steam launched first on Windows, but also has clients for Mac and, via Wine compatibility, on Linux. There are also mobile clients for Android and iOS, and some support for PlayStation 3, though these have limited features. The mobile clients do not let you buy and run games for the mobile device itself.
With Apple, Google and now Microsoft backing their own app stores for their respective platforms, Valve has some tricky manoeuvring ahead if it is to avoid being squeezed out. Valve founder Gabe Newell made headlines recently by calling Windows 8 a “catastrophe”, though he is hardly a disinterested party. Note that he should not worry too much about Windows 8 in the short term, since Microsoft’s store does not support desktop titles other than by links to third-party sites, including Steam. However the general trend towards locked-down platforms with software installed only through an official store must be a concern to Newell.
Valve is turning towards Linux as a possible solution. It is talking at the Siggraph conference this week in Los Angeles about its work on OpenGL and Linux, and it seems that a native Linux Steam client is in prospect.
Could Windows gamers, or others disillusioned with Windows 8, turn to Linux in significant numbers as an alternative? While this is possible, it seems more likely that the Mac would benefit. You would also imagine that skilled gamers will be smart enough to operate the Windows 8 Start menu and discover that most of their stuff still runs fine on the new desktop.
The Steam platform is a strong one though, and with Microsoft not supporting desktop apps through its own Store, Valve has a good opportunity to extend its reach.
According to its own stats, Steam has peaked at over 4 million concurrent users this month.