What is the gaming website Steam all about?
February 12, 2017 4:41 PM   Subscribe

My question about gaming site Steam is apparently so basic that even their "About" page, and their New Members and Help community forums don't answer it (at least not in a way I can access without making a purchase). Plus, getting a straight easy answer via their customer support, such as it is, is the usual maybe impossible, labyrinthine nightmare. Anyway, the question is: What happens at Steam?

I'm potentially interested in Steam because I'd like to play the video game "The Witness". Steam has this game. And what it sounds like Steam is all about is that, if I purchase "The Witness" through it, I won't tangibly "own" the game. Instead, the game is hosted on Steam's servers, and I only play it through the Steam website. Is that understanding correct? Also, under System Requirements, for PC operating systems the site lists Windows XP, Vista, or 7. I have Windows 10. Presumably what I have works too, but could someone give me a confirmation before I actually lay some money down?
posted by Mechitar to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
* If you purchase a game on Steam, the purchase is associated with your account. You log into your account via the Steam desktop application. From there, you can download the game files. When you exit a game, your saves and other game data are backed up to Steam's servers, allowing you to maintain data across computers.

You do own the game, it just simplifies the process of finding it, installing it, modding it, and transporting it across multiple computers.

* Windows 10 works fine.
posted by Maecenas at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


You do own the game, and the game is downloaded to your machine.

I think if Steam goes down for some reason (network attack, outage, etc, etc) you can have trouble signing in and won't be able to play, but I also know that you can mark games for "Offline" use so that you can play them even if you're not connected to the internet.
posted by kbanas at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2017


If you don't want to deal with Steam, you can buy The Witness at The Humble Store. There, once you've made your purchase, you can just download the game (the "DRM free" option). It's more tangible in that the game will continue to work if Steam goes down, and you don't have to download the Steam desktop app.
posted by zsazsa at 4:58 PM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Strongly agree with zsazsa; if you are not a "regular gamer" and just want this game because it's good (it is! I have such specific memories of it even a year later): avoid Steam and buy it elsewhere.

(IMH and possibly underinformed O: Steam is another sort-of-monopolist like the modern internet tends to create. Who wants some extra Steam software loaded on your computer all the time, talking to the web, tracking how many hours you play the game etc, just to play an offline game? Not me--as a very light gamer.)
posted by sylvanshine at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2017


(IMH and possibly underinformed O: Steam is another sort-of-monopolist like the modern internet tends to create. Who wants some extra Steam software loaded on your computer all the time, talking to the web, tracking how many hours you play the game etc, just to play an offline game? Not me--as a very light gamer.)

As an offline, very light gamer, that's absolutely true. As a more avid gamer, it's invaluable - for example, over at MeFightClub.com, we would use the social component frequently to coordinate multiplayer matchups of Team Fortress 2, etc, etc.
posted by kbanas at 5:41 PM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


You absolutely can play any Steam game you own without an internet connection. My gaming computer has no internet connection at the moment, and games play just fine in offline mode.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 5:42 PM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


As a light gamer, I actually still find Steam helpful, and probably for a completely different reason than heavy gamers. I frequently forget about games for months (or years) at a time, and then I don't remember which computer they are installed on, or (earlier) where the DVDs are, and when I get an itch to play an older game it often isn't currently installed on any of my devices at all.

With Steam, I can log in and see all the games I've purchased, and download them to any computer I'm using now. You might find it handy for that reason too.
posted by lollusc at 5:57 PM on February 12, 2017 [17 favorites]


No worries about compatibility. Even if your computer can't handle The Witness* for some reason, Steam will give you a refund on any game if you've played less than two hours and request the refund within two weeks of purchase.

*One of my all time favorite games--enjoy!
posted by mama casserole at 6:00 PM on February 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Buy it from GOG. DRM free, optional social/internet platform (GOG Galaxy) that you can avoid entirely and simply download a game installer - which is yours to keep tangibly and indefinitely, no ifs ands or buts. Also offers a 30 day money back guarantee!
posted by givennamesurname at 6:02 PM on February 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think if Steam goes down for some reason (network attack, outage, etc, etc) you can have trouble signing in and won't be able to play, but I also know that you can mark games for "Offline" use so that you can play them even if you're not connected to the internet.

As far as I'm aware this isn't quite right. What you can do, is flip steam itself (rather than specific games), into offline mode. One issue I'm aware of with this (possibly they've fixed it by now), is that if you flip into offline mode, games that you have not previously run since you last installed them may require a connection to authenticate; so the workaround, if you plan on going offline, is to launch everything that you've newly downloaded/installed at least the once before doing so.

But as some others have said, for just the one game, I'm not sure I'd bother with steam when there are drm free options available.
posted by juv3nal at 6:13 PM on February 12, 2017


Steam is groovy, and the oft mentioned MeFightClub has many people playing many games on Steam. They do more than just sell games, they do all sorts of nifty stuff.
posted by vrakatar at 6:19 PM on February 12, 2017


Aside from the various benefits that people have talked about, as an infrequent game player, my main benefits from Steam comes from a) recommendations for new games and b) game sales.

There is an option to find similar games to the one you're playing, or look for curated lists. If you see games that you like, you can add them to your "favourites" lists. When Steam has a big sale (and they do have sales! quite often!) they will e-mail you to let you know! It's great!
posted by Paper rabies at 6:25 PM on February 12, 2017


One important distinction I haven't seen people make here is the difference between "The Steam Website" (ie: http://steampowered.com) and The Steam Client (a thing you download and run on your computer). OP writes:
the game is hosted on Steam's servers, and I only play it through the Steam website.
This not quite correct. Once you install the Steam client and purchase the game, Steam downloads a local copy to your machine (it'll live in \wherever_you_put_steam\steam\steamapps\common\[gamenamehere] unless you set up an alternate library location). That install will be very similar to what you'd get if you purchased something with a CD and installed it, except it maybe has some hooks into Steam's DRM. When you run the game, it checks with the Steam client to make sure it's OK to run, which is the process juv3nal discussed above.

That said, given that you only want to buy one game and don't care about the social stuff, and are actively opposed to having to sign in at least once to play (which I am 100% sympathetic to, even if I gave up resisting it years ago), yea, GoG.com is a good alternative.
posted by Alterscape at 7:05 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Steam also polices chat content between individual users and in the past has censored chat content. I don't know if they still do because I quit using it when that came to light.
posted by glonous keming at 7:17 PM on February 12, 2017


Another plus with steam is you can share your games with family for a very broad definition of family. This means you could probably just borrow the game from someone who has finished playing it.
posted by Iteki at 10:03 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


In our family, we share one Steam account between five adults, so we each have access to every game we've purchased on all of our devices.

Only one person can have the Steam account online at a time, so games with a social component (Team Fortress 2, for example) can only be enjoyed by one person at a time. For all other games, though, as long as most/all of us are using the client in offline mode, we can all game for the price of one player! If even two people are interested in the big titles, it's an easy way to save money.

Additionally, that your game ownership is "in the cloud" means that a hard drive failure doesn't keep you from playing again (and if you go online periodically, the cloud can even hold a save file for you!). Yes, it's one more corporate overlord, but Steam's a pretty benevolent one for the most part-- at least in my experience.

My two cents: if you're interested in one game, ever, that means you could be interested in a few more eventually, at which point getting a Steam account is super convenient.
posted by xannifer at 10:52 PM on February 12, 2017


I resisted Steam for a long time, but it's just so convenient. The portability of games and saves is a glorious thing.
posted by booooooze at 7:15 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I would say the easiest analogy would be something like Steam : video games :: iTunes : music or Kindle : ebooks, in that it is a storefront that makes purchasing, organizing and discovering content in a given category simple. In exchange for that simplicity, you do give up some degree of control over the content you own. I don't specifically know the details around how much ownership/control these services have over my content, but personally I am willing to sacrifice that control for the simplicity. If you have reservations about giving up any control, and/or are only ever going to purchase the one video game (negating the organizational and discovery benefits), Steam is probably not a good choice.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:26 AM on February 13, 2017


The Witness is part of a Humble Freedom Bundle right now. For a $30 minimum donation, you get over $600 worth of games and ebooks. 100% goes to support ACLU, the IRC, and MSF (Doctors Without Borders).
posted by soelo at 1:34 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Steam is good and bad. Yes it is convenient, especially when you have a large games library, but it is painfully slow and seems to want to download a massive update for itself every few days. They are notoriously unhelpful and their fine print allows them to revoke access to any given game, or even your entire account (therefore your entire games library) for any given reason. Their forums are as bad as any other internet forum and their support is non-existent. Refund policy has changed somewhat recently, I understand, but I'd still steer well clear of their "Greenlight" section, as it is smouldering with hot garbage.

On the other hand: their sales are second to none. It's very easy to build up a backlog of dozens and dozens of games, simply because they were so cheap. They're not quite as good as GOG for the classics but have a decent catalogue.

The Humble Freedom Bundle soelo mentions above seems to be pretty good value - there are a half dozen excellent games in there (Stardew Valley ftw!) as well as a bunch of other stuff. As an added bonus, all of the keys you get sent via Humble Bundle will work in Steam, or you can download the games independently. And also: you get to support a charity with your purchase!
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:07 PM on February 13, 2017


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