What is Steam: The popular gaming platform explained (2023)

What is Steam: The popular gaming platform explained (1)

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Steam has been a big name in the gaming world for a while now, but what exactly is it, and how does it work? We’ll explain the details of this cloud gaming service and what you need to know.

What is Steam?

What is Steam: The popular gaming platform explained (2)

Zak Khan / Android Authority

Steam is a platform and app for distributing video games online that also has social media features and community message boards. It was developed by Valve — the same Valve that created the Half-Life, Counter Strike, and Left4Dead games. It functions like an online shop and a community portal combined and is one of the most popular gaming platforms out there.

Steam is an app and platform that lets you buy and install games, interact with other players, live-stream, and more.

(Video) What is Steam? || Beginner's Guide

You can download the Steam application on Windows, Mac, and Linux, plus a beta version for ChromeOS is also available. The app lets you purchase games and organize your collection. Much like a media player app, you’ll see your collection of games and the ability to play them, along with links to social features and forums. You need an account to use Steam, and it’s free to sign up for one. You can also download the Steam mobile app for iOS and Android, which lets you use the social features of Steam and buy games on the go — more on those below.

Beyond what it can be for gamers, Steam is also useful for developers. Both large companies and small indie creators use the platform to distribute their games. Plus, they can push out updates and new features, interact with their audience, and communicate with players all through the Steam app.

A brief history of Steam

What is Steam: The popular gaming platform explained (3)

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

While it may be big news in gaming these days, Steam started off quite small. Back in 2003, Valve introduced Steam as a way to push automatic updates out for its games. Its primary purpose back then was to make it easier to install patches and upgrades to existing games. It was optional, and the first game Valve actually distributed digitally through Steam that required the app was Half-Life 2 in 2004. However, this release was rocky, with crashes and sluggishness plaguing users. Valve resolved this issue, and the service’s reputation and performance improved afterward.

By 2005, third-party developers started taking an interest, and they began offering their games through Steam, too. Steam was the big name in digital game distribution for a while after that. However, in 2012 EA launched Mass Effect 3 exclusively through its own Origin app due to disagreements over licensing requirements. Plus, other competitors started cropping up, including the Epic Games Store, Uplay, the Microsoft Store, and more. Still, Steam remains a major player in the online gaming world.

While Steam was originally only for Windows, a macOS version of the app launched in 2010, and 2013 saw the release of a Linux app. After that, Steam also developed SteamOS in 2015. This operating system saw use on the now-discontinued Steam Machines, which were dedicated pieces of hardware that ran SteamOS. These weren’t popular, but 2022 saw the release of Steam Deck, a handheld gaming computer that uses SteamOS and is similar to the Nintendo Switch.

How does Steam work?

Upon opening Steam, you’ll see your Steam Library, where you can view your collection of games, achievements, player statistics, and what your friends are up to. If you want to play a game, simply click on it and then click the Play button. You can also use Steam to install mods and expansion packs for your games if you want. At the bottom of your list of games, you can click the Add a Game button to add games you have purchased elsewhere. You may include non-Steam-supported games, too. They won’t have all the features of Steam available, but it’ll be easier to find and play all your games if you keep them in one list.

(Video) Steam As Fast As Possible

The Steam Store section is where you can purchase games, adds-on, and expansion packs. You may browse through various categories, or if you know what title you want, you can search for it. Clicking Add to cart adds the game to your shopping cart, and in your shopping cart, you can choose to buy the game yourself or give it as a gift. Some games are even free to play, with no upfront cost. They may charge you for extras, however.

If you’re on Linux and the game you want is only available for Windows, Steam offers a compatibility layer called Steam Play which uses a technology called Proton, in turn, based on a project called Wine. This feature is officially supported for certain titles, and you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of it. However, you can enable Steam Play for every currently unavailable game on your platform. Remember that this is not guaranteed to work, and your mileage will vary. To enable this option, open Settings > Steam Play. There’s currently no support for Steam Play of any sort on macOS, though.

If you want to use Steam on a computer connected to a TV or other large display, you can enable Big Picture Mode in the upper right-hand corner. This fills the entire screen with the Steam window and makes it easier to see and click on everything from a distance.

Social features

The Community tab is where the social features of Steam come to life. There, you’ll find forums to discuss Steam itself, various games, and more. If you want, you can use the “Steam workshop” here to get mods, skins, and other forms of user-created content. You can even start making your own. The Community market lets you buy and sell content with other gamers. This is a great way of snagging things you might have missed.

Beyond organizing and launching games, you can use Steam to interact with other players and take advantage of a wealth of social features.

You can add friends on Steam by clicking the Friends menu > Add a Friend. Here, you can also view your friends list, block users, and see your “Friend Code.” Send this code to others, and they can add you as a friend, or enter their code here to add them as a friend. Alternatively, you can send your Quick Invite link to people to become friends with them. You can only use a link once per person, so you’ll have to generate a new one each time. Or, you can search for a profile name and add them as a friend, too. Additionally, you can follow fellow gamers to keep up with their progress or entire games. Groups let you stay in touch with multiple people at once if you wish and discuss a certain topic or game. You can search for groups related to your interests and pick the ones you like.

The Broadcasts category is where you’ll go for live-streaming updates about various games. If you want to show off your gaming skills, you can even use Broadcast to live-stream your play sessions or watch other people’s streams. The Community tab also lets you look at reviews, how-tos and guides, videos, artwork, and much more, all created by fellow gamers. You may upload your own contributions, too.

You can also use the Steam Community Overlay. This feature puts the Steam interface on top of your screen when gaming and lets you buy in-game purchases, take screenshots, interact with friends and the community, trade and interact with other players with certain in-game markets, and much more. If you want in-game voice chat, this feature can do that, too. Overlay mode can be enabled in Steam > Settings > In game > Enable the Steam Overlay while in-game. Note that this feature requires additional bandwidth and system resources and may automatically disable itself if your system gets too bogged down.

How to sign up for Steam to buy and play games

What is Steam: The popular gaming platform explained (4)

Zak Khan / Android Authority

(Video) Steam Tutorial For Beginners 2022 - How To Use Steam for playing games

To use Steam and start gaming, you must download the app and create an account. You’ll be prompted to make an account the first time you open the app. You can also sign up for Steam online. Here’s how:

  1. Open steampowered.com in a web browser and click Login.
  2. Click on Join Steam.
  3. Enter your email address and country of residence, complete the captcha, then agree to the terms and conditions and privacy policy.
  4. Click Continue.
  5. You’ll be asked to verify your email. Leave this page open. In a new tab, open the email sent to your account to verify it and click on the link inside of it.
  6. After you verify your email, you can choose a Steam Account Name and password.
  7. Click on Done.

Once you have an account set up, you can start purchasing games and participating in social features. Note that you must be 13 or older to sign up for Steam and have an active high-speed internet connection.

If you want to start buying games, you’ll be prompted to add funds to your Steam Wallet. You must add a minimum of $5.00 and can add more in pre-determined amounts. You may use Visa or MasterCard, PayPal, Steam gift cards, or PaySafeCard to add funds. Afterward, you may browse the Steam Store, add games to your cart, and pay for them.

To play a game you’ve purchased, wait for the download to finish. Then click on it in your Library and click the Play button. Remember that games can be quite large, and it may take a while for downloads to finish. If you want to see your downloads, click on the Downloading option at the bottom of the Steam window. You can also pause and restart downloads here.

If you purchased a game separately and it supports Steam, you can add it to your library by clicking on the Add a Game option on the Library page. Then click on Activate a Product on Steam.If you want to add a non-Steam game, click the Add a Non-Steam Game option. Doing this adds the game to your list of available games so that you can keep track of everything in one place, but it will launch separately and won’t integrate with Steam’s features.

Frequently asked questions about Steam

No, but you will have to pay for many games, expansion packs, and other add-ons.

(Video) How Steam Transformed Gaming - Valve's Distribution Model Explained

It depends. Some games let you play without opening Steam, while others require the app to be open.

Yes, Steam requires an internet connection to work.


(Video) 10 Steam Alternatives Every PC Gamer Should Know!

Cloud GamingGamingSteam


Why is Steam the best gaming platform? ›

Its great selection, recommendation features, and deals make it one of the first applications to install on any gaming PC. On Steam Deck, it's essential. No, Steam isn't perfect, particularly in the customer support realm, but it's the best all-round PC game distribution service available.

What makes Steam popular? ›

Steam's ongoing success is ultimately driven by two factors: the games available to players, and the quality of experience players can have with those games. In general, we direct our energy towards two goals: Make sure PC games can quickly and easily ship on Steam, minimizing friction and maximizing developer control.

Is Steam the best gaming platform? ›

Bottom Line: Loaded with titles and user-friendly features, Steam continues its reign as the best PC game store on desktop, laptop, or Steam Deck.

What is Steam and why do I need it? ›

The whole point of STEAM is to inspire inquiry and curiosity; to empower students to ask thought-provoking questions that promote creativity and exploration, and to connect their problem-solving to real-world solutions. With STEAM, no subject, or student, is excluded.

What is the number 1 played game on Steam? ›

MMO Lost Ark topped the 2022 list for peak number of concurrent players on the online gaming platform Steam with 1.3 million peak concurrent players. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was ranked second.

How much does Steam cost a month? ›

Signing up for a Steam account is free, and there are no ongoing costs to use the service.

Is Steam really free? ›

Free to play games are available to download for free and can be played without a subscription or a credit card. Your Steam wallet allows you to purchase items and content in-game to customize your gameplay if supported by the specific game. Will I need a credit card to play?

Is Steam losing popularity? ›

Steam had approximately 132 million monthly active players in 2021, a significant increase from 95 million monthly active users in 2019. However, it seems that all is not rosy with the gaming platform as its user retention rate has steadily fallen in recent years.

Can you trust Steam? ›

Steam Uses HTTPS to Secure Purchases

The information that you sent to Steam for your purchase, including your credit card info, is encrypted. This means that anything sent to Steam's servers is unreadable to anyone who might intercept it. Only you and Steam can see the data.

What are the disadvantages of taking steam? ›

Steam can cause swelling of the eye, redness of the eye, dry eye, continuous watering of the eye, etc. Skin: Due to steam, face and neck skin become dry and causes many fungal or bacterial skin infections. Face and neck skin exposed to continuous steam inhalation can cause burn injury.

How much does steam cost? ›

Free To Play - Just Updated!

What is steam in simple words? ›

noun. ˈstēm. : a vapor arising from a heated substance. : the invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point. : the mist formed by the condensation on cooling of water vapor.

What is the highest selling game on Steam? ›

Best selling games
  • Rocket League (Psyonix) - 6.34 million *
  • Rust (Facepunch Studios) - 6.16 million.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition (Bethesda) - 5.96 million*
  • ARK: Survival Evolved (Studio Wildcard) - 5.26 million*
  • Fallout: New Vegas (Bethesda) - 4.84 million.

What is the most downloaded game on Steam of all time? ›

Counter-Strike: 6.7 million players, 9.8 million owners on Steam. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: 5.7 million players, 6 million owners on Steam. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: 5.4 million players, 5.9 million owners on Steam. Sid Meier's Civilization V: 5.4 million players, 5.9 million owners on Steam.

Which Steam game makes the most money? ›

  • Rainbow Six Siege.
  • God of War.
  • GTA 5.
  • Cyberpunk 2077.
  • Forza Horizon 5.
  • Dead By Daylight.
  • Red Dead Redemption 2.
  • Total Warhammer 3.
Dec 30, 2022

How does Steam make money? ›

Steam makes most of its money via the commissions it charges on all game sales, with the exact commission based on total net sales volume. Steam charges a small “deposit fee” for new game developers who wish to list on the platform for distribution.

Why does Steam have a $5 minimum? ›

Valve battles spamming and phishing. Steam users must now spend at least $5 to access some of the platform's most popular features. Valve hopes its new system will combat spamming and phishing on Steam.

Is there an annual fee for Steam? ›

Yearly fees – A $50 yearly membership fee is required for all membership types. Early Cancellation – In the event that a membership is cancelled before the 6 month commitment is met, the members are responsible for paying off the remaining balance for the 6 months at the date of cancellation.

Do you have to pay to put a game on Steam? ›

Cost. As long as your game complies with the Steam Terms of Service, you will only need to create an account and pay a one-time fee of US$100 to publish your game on Steam. They will, however, give you the money back if your game makes $1,000 in gross revenue from sales on the Steam store.

What happens when Steam play for free ends? ›

At the end of the Free Weekend period, users have the license removed from their account and can no longer play.

Do you keep your Steam games forever? ›

Save this answer. Show activity on this post. The games you buy are yours forever (or rather a very long time) and can be installed on as many computers as you want (unless the game has a limit on its own, but the same limitation would likely be on the physical edition too).

What company owns Steam? ›

Valve Corporation is an American video game developer, publisher, and digital distribution company headquartered in Bellevue, Washington.

What is the most negative reviews on Steam? ›

The current list looks like this:
  • eFootball.
  • Flatout 3: Chaos And Destruction.
  • Uriel's Chasm.
  • Kinetic Void.
  • Spacebase DF-9.
  • Identity.
  • GASP.
  • Battlefield 2042.
Nov 21, 2021

Who uses Steam? ›

The Valve-owned game store Steam has been around since 2003 as a staple in the PC gaming community. Over the years, Steam has grown its userbase of loyal AAA gamers and indie fans alike with well over 50,000 games on its marketplace.

Is Steam vulnerable to hackers? ›

Steam accounts are hijacked when a hacker manages to break into an account without the owner's permission. Often this is done by stealing passwords with keylogging malware, or through phishing for login credentials on fake sites.

How much do games cost on Steam? ›

Most games on Steam can be picked up for $60 or less, but there are a growing number of titles costing well over $100. These are the most expensive.

Does Steam slow down your computer? ›

Steam uses RAM that takes up around 400MB. If your computer has plenty of RAM, Steam and Steam games won't really lag your PC. If not, Steam can make your PC run slower. Since your PC delicates more push to games, other programs can be slower if Steam or Steam gamesare running in the background.

Does steam help with wrinkles? ›

Heat can encourage blood flow, which provides the skin with more oxygen and makes it look healthier. Increased circulation can also stimulate collagen and elastin production. Elastin fibers maintain your skin's resiliency and elasticity, which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Is steam good for asthma? ›

If you suffer from severe asthma symptoms, you can use steam therapy. It can be effective in easing your nasal congestion and loosen up your airways. Indeed, steam rooms may do much more than make you feel revived and refreshed. However, you should always exercise caution when using steam therapy.

What are the pros and cons of using a steam room? ›

Steam rooms are good for your skin because they promote detoxification through sweating.
  • Steam rooms can quickly cause dehydration.
  • If you're pregnant, entering a steam room can harm your baby.
  • Because steam rooms are so hot and moist, they are fertile grounds for fungi and bacteria to grow.
Jul 31, 2013

Can you play Steam games on any computer? ›

Yes. You may authorize Family Library Sharing on up to 10 devices at a given time, and for up to 5 accounts that may then use your game library on any of your authorized computers.

Is joining Steam free? ›

In some cases, Valve may offer a free Subscription to certain Content and Services. As with all Subscriptions, you are always responsible for any Internet service provider, telephone, and other connection fees that you may incur when using Steam, even when Valve offers a free Subscription.

What are the 5 components of steam? ›

Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math comprise STEAM learning.

What are the 2 types of steam? ›

Steam can exist in two forms: saturated or superheated.

What are the 3 properties of steam? ›

Qualities of Steam
  • Produced from water.
  • Clean, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Easily distributed and controlled.
  • Heat can be used over and over.
  • High usable heat content.
  • Gives up its heat at constant temperature.
  • Well-known characteristics. Pressure, temperature, volume.

Why is Steam more popular than epic? ›

This is because any developer, from indie to AAA, and everything in between, can upload their game to Steam. With that, the sheer number of people on the Steam platform results in increased exposure for the game. As a result, virtually every game is released on Steam.

Why is Steam better than Epic Games? ›

Steam is a much better gaming platform than Epic Games. Steam has a larger selection of games than Epic does, and is supported on many more Operating Systems. Epic has a few popular exclusive games, but for the most part Steam has it beat and has a much larger community of players making it better.

Which platform is most used for gaming? ›

So it's no surprise that no matter what, the PC remains the most popular gaming platform.

Who is Steam's biggest competitor? ›

Steam's competitors and similar companies include Epic Games, Frost Giant Studios, ControlZee and Gamezop.

Is Steam free to download? ›

Steam itself is free to use, and free to download. Here's how to get Steam, and start finding your own favorite games.

Does Steam give free games like Epic Games? ›

Free Steam Games for January 2023

Steam has many free games you can download at any time, but there are occasionally some limited-time free titles.

Does Steam give away games like Epic? ›

However, with the Epic Games Store, fans can expect a new free title every week, whereas Steam has no such offer, meaning Valve's platform doesn't have as much of a focus on its free games.

What is the biggest gaming platform 2022? ›

Sony's PlayStation 5 is ZDNet's top choice. With a futuristic look, it truly brings in next-gen style along with its next-gen internal components. But it's not the only console worth considering. We analyzed design, pricing, functionality and more to come up with the four best gaming consoles.

What is the best gaming platform 2022? ›

Here is a list of the most popular consoles of 2022.
  • PlayStation 5. Topping the list, the PS5 garnered 5.4 million average monthly searches last year. ...
  • Nintendo Switch. With an average of 3.2 million monthly searches on Google, the Nintendo Switch is very popular. ...
  • Xbox Series X. ...
  • PlayStation 4. ...
  • Xbox Series S.
Jan 8, 2023


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