In my life, I have had many lovers. Some were short and fiery passions that consumed everything until there was nothing left but the smoldering embers of the mattress. Others were longer, more measured affairs that built up both our lives and left the bed sheets tousled rather than disintegrated.
But none of my past loves will ever compare to the unending devotion I feel for Steam.
Steam takes everything that is good and pure in this life and manages to distil it into a single incredible application. When I’m feeling down, Steam lifts me up to worlds I had never even dreamed of. When I’m lonely, lost and confused, Steam is there to show me the way. The way to games.
Like all lovers, Steam isn’t perfect. Steam can be fickle, finicky, and even cruel at times. On more than one occasion Steam and I have fought to the point where police were called to settle a domestic dispute. But I know with the depth of conviction known only between true lovers (or possibly those afflicted with Stockholm syndrome) that Steam will always be there for me.
Today I share with you the eight best, seven worst, and one indifferent thing about Steam. Enjoy.
15 BEST: Early Access
One of the best things about steam is its Early Access program. Early Access allows players to dive into new games before they are fully completed. As a bonus, these players get to take ownership of game's development, by sending feedback to the game’s developers, helping squash bugs and suggest improvements. Early Access lets you see, first-hand, the potentially of hot new games, and most importantly, you’ll be giving the developer’s money early on to keep them going. It’s not like pre-ordering a game, but more like taking part in beta testing (or in some cases alpha testing).
Early Access can be fantastic for games that would otherwise never be built. For small companies looking to release their first game, it’s not always possible for them to produce upfront the thousands or even millions of dollars necessary to develop their game from start to finish and then recoup those costs later when the game is released. Early Access allows those developers to get some money back before the game is finished while also getting QA support.
14 WORST: Early Access
But there’s a dark side to Early Access, one that Steam would rather you not think too hard about. The idea with Early Access is to give developers your money early to help them complete their game. The problem is, once they have your money, some unscrupulous developers may just decide it’s no longer worth their time to finish and just call it quits, leaving you with a half-baked game and no hope of it ever being done.
For the discerning gamer, there are ways of spotting these bad apples. Every game has a section on their store page that shows how often the developer updates, and more often than not what their plans are for the future. If the store shows, the game has been updated regularly since its creation then it’s safe to say they’re probably going to see it through to the end.
13 BEST: Cheaper, Faster
Every gamer knows that for a brand new, blockbuster release from an AAA studio they’ll be handing over $60 to $80 of their hard-earned cash. Every gamer also knows that if they’re willing to wait a bit, they might eventually pick up that same title for a lot less.
If you’re hell bent on owning a physical copy from a brick and mortar store, you might have to wait years for that price to drop. On Steam, prices can drop way, way sooner, usually mere months after release.
And let’s never forget the best thing about Steam: SALES! You’re never more than a few months away from the Summer Sale or the Winter Sale, and in between publishers will discount games independently so that they can be bought on the cheap. Indie publishers will often have a sale for their game’s initial release, and again for special events, in addition to weekend sales that happen regularly.
There’s a dark side to this too, but we’ll get to that later.
12 WORST: Internet Access Required
I know that nowadays being completely without the internet is like being without power or water - something increasingly rare and possibly fatal. But most also know their internet connection isn't nearly as reliable as power or water, and sometimes it goes down. Or sometimes you’re on a laptop, and you don’t have the wifi password. Or you’re in the wilds of Africa or Antarctica, and you just can't seem to get a signal. Or maybe you’re on the moon.
Not all games will require you to have an internet connection to play, and Steam does have an offline mode that will allow you to play most games, but you’ll still need an internet connection to download the game in the first place. No interwebs, no game.
I hear wifi is coming to the moon in 2025 though, so maybe this isn’t such a sore spot after all.
11 BEST: Huge Selection
Steam’s big. How big? Well, according to Steamspy as of the time of this writing, there are 14,381 games currently available on Steam.
To put that into perspective, Xbox Marketplace has a pathetic total under 5,000. Playstation Store has a similar offering. Even competitors like the Humble Store ranks in the thousands. Steam is the only core gaming platform to break ten thousand games.
Steam has more games than there are species of mammals or birds on Earth. If Steam games were miles, they would be wider than the planet. There are more Steam games than I have had failed relationships!
Not by many though. I’m catching up to you, Steam!
10 WORST: Not Every Game Is On PC
Steam does indeed have one of the largest libraries of games the world has ever seen, but it doesn’t have all of them. There are a few stalwart holdouts that are trying to turn back the new world order, and that really blows.
It’s not the worst thing about being a PC gamer (that’ll come later in this list), but it does make you feel a lot like the kid that’s left out in the rain. Staring through a dazzling window at that one, shining title you long for but can never play. I’m lookin’ at you, Horizon Zero Dawn.
I take solace in the fact that, historically, console locked titles have eventually found their way to Steam, and many more games are being made with PC in mind. Steam’s hegemony cannot and will not be stopped.
9 BEST: Steam Workshop
PC gaming has always had one giant advantage over their lesser console brethren: mods. The ability for enterprising game enthusiasts with a little programming knowledge to reach into the guts of a game, tweak a few things (or a lot of things), and then give it away for free to the wider world is something truly magical.
Some games can be made to be something so much more than what the original developers envisioned. Just look at Skyrim - without mods, it’s just regular old Skyrim. Ho-hum. With mods, the world of Skyrim comes alive with added sounds, sights, and textures. Modders get access to whole new stories and experiences.
The Steam Workshop makes it easy to not only find and install mods to your game, but also to upload mods you’ve created yourself. Many PC games are made with Steam Workshop in mind with the hope their title will become popular enough to have hundreds or even thousands of mods created for it.
8 WORST: A Mountain Of Games I Will Never Play
Steam has a huge selection, and its massive sales mean I can get tons of games for less than the price of my lunch. I’ve already told you how this is awesome, now let me tell you how this is terrible.
I have a mountain of games I have never played because I bought them on sale and then promptly forgot about them when a new game came along and caught my eye.
At the rate I am purchasing games, I will die before I ever get to complete them all. Think about that for a moment and then dwell in this cozy pit of despair with me.
It is my fervent hope that I will one day be uploaded into an immortal robot body so I can play through all the games I’ve bought on Steam but never got around to.
7 BEST: Blazing Download Speeds
I have never been able to download faster than a game I’ve purchased off Steam. From the time I click “buy” to the time I have an installed game ready to play takes less than the time it takes for me to cook dinner.
Admittedly, me cooking dinner involves a lengthy visit from the fire department, but that’s beside the point.
Steam has server farms all over the world, and regularly keeps track of which ISPs deliver their products the fastest. The next time you’re in the market for a new ISP, the very first place you should go is the Steam Download Stats page to see which provider gives the best download speeds.
Not only that, but Steam handles all updates, and everything is fully customizable. You don’t want to update until you’re asleep? You can do that. Sleep at 5:30 AM? Steam can handle that. Actually, an immortal vampire that never sleeps but is occasionally out at dusk to hunt for the blood of the living? That’s in an upcoming update; Valve is very courteous to undead users.
6 WORST: Steam Peripherals
Steam does a lot of things extremely well. With Steam, you can download nearly any game out there and be playing in minutes. Steam is so good at what it does that Valve thought they could do a few more things that were typically the realm of consoles, like the Steam Controller and Steam Link that allows you to play Steam games on your TV.
The results of Steam’s foray into your living room have been decidedly mixed. The Steam Controller has some interesting features, such as touchpads replacing the classic directional pads, but by and large, people still prefer the mouse and keyboard for most games (and something like the Xbox or PS4 controller for everything else).
The Steam Link is likewise a neat idea, but in practice, a wireless connection to play games on your TV just adds a massive headache, and if you already have a cord long enough to reach your TV you might as well just skip the Link altogether.
Maybe one-day Steam will take over your living room, but I suspect that will be due to the death of cable TV rather than Steam peripherals.
5 BEST: Steam Community Guides
Much like the sun rising in the East or leaves turning red in Autumn, I know that within 24 hours of a game’s release a Steam a user will have created a playthrough guide. And that is a Good Thingtm.
Not only is Steam the largest gaming store in the world, but it’s also the largest gamer network. On the Steam community page, fans of any game can come together to discuss, share tips, and help each other out if they get stuck. Often those tips and tricks will coalesce into a FAQ that anyone can access to get help whenever they need it.
If you’re still stuck, there’s always the community message boards to help you out with helpful hints. Just remember that it can be a bit of spoiler zone for the unwary.
4 WORST: Steam Direct
Currently, if you want to submit your game to be sold on Steam, you go through a program called Steam Greenlight. For the low price of $100.00, you can submit your game, Valve posts it in the Greenlight section of Steam, and users can then vote on what games they want to buy. Once your game reaches a critical number of votes, Valve will reach out to get a release date, and then you release your game on Steam to millions of clamoring gamers.
That’s nice in theory, but in practice, Greenlight was easily gamed (pun intended), allowing joke or fake submissions to pass the review process and actually start to be sold.
Valve’s solution? Get rid of the user voting, and instead just staple a giant price tag to getting listed on Steam to the tune of $5000.00.
For big developers, five grand is nothing. To small startups with only one or two employees, $5000 just to be listed can be a huge investment with no guarantee they’ll recoup that loss. It shuts out students and small developers hoping to get a foothold in the industry, stifling innovation. That’s bad all around.
Steam Direct hasn’t hit yet, but here’s hoping that the price tag comes down a bit before its eventual release.
3 BEST: User Reviews
Steam is all about transparency in gaming. When you go to the store page and check out a game, right there on the right is an aggregated user review score, telling you exactly how many people recommend the game.
User reviews aren’t perfect, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve loved games that only received an aggregate score of 50% on Steam (and sometimes embarrassingly less than that). But by and large, the best way to tell if a game is any good is to see what everyone else thought about it, and Steam makes that simple - the score is right there in front of you.
The only pitfall here is if there aren’t enough reviews to really base a game on. If that’s the case, you can always scroll down a bit to see what the Metacritic review score is and base your decision that way.
Personally, I don’t trust the “professionals” who write about games all day. What do they know, am I right?
2 WORST: No Demos
Back in the dark ages of PC gaming, developers would release demo discs in paper magazines to let people try out their games before they buy. The demo disc would usually be a stripped down, or massively truncated, version of the real game to allow the player to see how the game plays, just like a test driving a car before you buy.
The internet grew up, print started going out of fashion, and seemingly overnight demo discs just up and vanished. Nowadays the only way you can physically test drive a game before you buy is if you fly out to massive conventions like E3 or the Game Developer’s Conference.
You’d think it’d be a simple thing to start releasing demo versions on an entirely online platform, but mention demo downloads to developers and they look at you like you’ve grown a third head.
1 BEST: Easy Refunds
You’ve checked out the screenshots and the video gameplay footage, and it looks good. You’ve looked at the user reviews, and they all seem positive. You’ve finally reached into your pocket and taken out your credit card, and you’re ready to take the plunge and actually do this thing.
Then you step foot in the game, and everything is like Ogre’s rectum - literally the worst thing that has ever existed, or ever will exist.
Lucky for you, Steam makes refunds easy. You can refund any game for any reason so long as you do so within two weeks of purchase and you’ve played the game for less than 2 hours. No questions asked.
INDIFFERENT: Steam Big Picture
Much like Kodi, or Live TV, or any other TV overlay for your PC, Steam Big Picture is just that: an overlay that simplifies the normal Steam app into something that looks a little better on TV. That’s it. That’s all it does.
This may make things a little better if you’re hellbent on having a PC in your living room, but for most users who still sit 2 feet away from a screen burning their retinas white, it’s completely useless.
But it doesn’t make anything worse, so Steam Big Picture gets a review of 2 horizontally oriented thumbs in opposite directions, followed by a shrug.