Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Steam (content delivery)
Steam is a content delivery, digital rights management and multiplayer system developed by Valve Software. It is currently used to distribute and serve multiplayer games for Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Steam replaces WON, which was originally used for Half-Life multiplayer games.
The client application, Steam version 1.0, was first made available for download in spring 2002 during the beta period for Counter-Strike 1.6. At the time, it looked to be a method of streamlining the patch process common in online computer games. Installation and use of the Steam program was mandatory for CS 1.6 beta testers, but Steam remained an optional component. In late 2003, Steam was later revealed as a replacement for much of the dated framework of WON and Half-Life multiplayer and also as a distribution system for entire games.
As Steam would allow a game developer to "cut out the middleman" — namely game publishers and storefronts — and directly sell and distribute their products to users via the Internet, many have predicted Steam and future concepts like it would revolutionize the gaming industry in the same way P2P threatens the livelihood of the music and movie houses. This fact culminated into a legal battle between Valve and their publisher Vivendi Universal Games, where VUG argued that Steam was an attempt to circumvent their publishing agreement. However, on November 29, 2004, Valve announced the courts had granted their motion of summary judgement in this case.
Valve's Doug Lombardi revealed in October 2004 that Half-Life 2 required activation via Steam in order to play. When Half-Life 2 hit some store shelves earlier than its intended release date of November 16, Valve reported that Vivendi prevented them from activating the Steam authentication servers until the 16th.
The Steam client is a Windows application that allows a user to access Steam products and multiplayer servers through the Internet. When executed, it logs into the Steam system using the user's account, and resides in the Windows system tray.
Steam allows a user access to their 'Steam-powered' game collection from any internet connected computer (given enough time to download; Half-Life 2 is approximately 3 gigabytes), find multiplayer servers and create a contact list to organise multiplayer games.
Steam's greatest advantage is its ability to quickly disseminate upgrades and patches to games and the Steam client itself. Users automatically receive bugfixes and new content simply by starting up the client application. This has also allowed Valve to add incremental refinements and features to their products on a daily basis versus releasing monolithic, semi-annual upgrades.
Steam also allows Valve to "preload" content before its release date. Users can download encrypted parts of the to-be-released product at their leisure, then unlock the game on the official date of its release and begin playing immediately.
The program has the following features:
- Servers: Displays a sortable, filterable list of multiplayer servers
- Friends: An instant messaging client designed to allow groups of people communicate and join servers together
- Browse games: Online storefront where users can pay, register and/or download Steam-supported games and featured third-party modifications
- Monitor: A bandwidth chart that tracks the progress of game and Steam client upgrades
- Backup: Allows a user to backup games on CD-Rs or DVD-Rs
- News window: A pop-up window that displays promotional messages and news bulletins
There is a Linux version of Steam, but it is only used to manage accounts for dedicated game servers, and client-end games cannot be natively played through Linux.
Criticism of Steam
On November 16, Half-Life 2 was released at retail and over Steam. Both forms of installing required a user to register for a Steam account and log into the Steam network. As many critics predicted, Steam's authorization servers became overloaded with traffic as people installing the game attempted to connect to the Steam servers. Unable to cope with the number of connections, the servers appeared to be offline for many people. Europe's Steam servers did fail, with error messages saying "Your subscription to Half-Life 2 Retail Standard has not been completed, because Steam servers are currently unable to process the transaction. You won't be able to play Half-Life 2 Retail Standard until the subscription process is complete." 
Privacy concerns have also been raised, as one needs to login and validate with Steam online every time a Steam game is played, even if the game is single-player and does not need an Internet connection to function. While there is an offline mode available, critics charge that documentation on this function remains scarce. What is known is that online validation and activation must be performed at least once, and there are no alternate methods of activation such as via telephone or fax. These issues have caused those with computers with sporadic or no Internet access to often be denied from playing their purchased Steam products.
Even now, many dial-up users resent the difficulties involved in launching Steam-supported products; compulsory downloads of hour-long duration are still the norm.
Products currently available through Steam include Half-Life 2, Codename: Gordon, Counter-Strike: Source, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, Half-Life, a Source engine based version of the original Half-Life, the Source SDK, Day of Defeat and several other mods. Source-based projects available in the future include Day of Defeat: Source.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details