Valve’s PC game distribution service is one of the oldest and largest game platforms on the Internet. It was originally designed to make patching games like Counter-Strike easier and smoother, but a few years after its 2002 release the service really hit it big. Half-Life 2 and the growing number of games using Valve’s Source engine caused Steam to really pick up speed, and by 2007, Steam had become the premiere platform for purchasing and downloading PC games online. Last year, Valve released a Steam client for Mac OS X, and currently all major Valve releases and a handful of other games are playable on both Mac OS X and Windows through Valve’s SteamPlay.
Steam is very good for new releases, with both currently available and upcoming titles available for purchase or preorder. New games currently available include Dungeon Siege 3 and the Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues expansion, and upcoming games available for preorder range from Deus Ex: Human Revolution to Driver: San Francisco. If there’s a major new release for the PC, Steam will probably have it.
Steam’s library goes back several years, and includes some excellent classic games. Prominent titles include 1994’s X-Com: UFO Defense, 1998’s Half-Life, and 2005’s Psychonauts. It’s not a comprehensive library of older games (for a wider selection of older games try GOG.com), but it includes some of the best releases from the last two decades.
Newer games are priced similarly to retail releases, with most big titles costing $49.99. Older games, depending on their release date and popularity, can cost anywhere from $5 to $19.99. Steam really shines with its regular and seasonal sales. Weekend and mid-week sales reduce prices on games from 20 to 75 percent. Larger, thematic sales occur on a seasonal basis and usually include discounts on publishers’ entire libraries or bundles of their top games.