Free and massive online game store
Steam is a free digital gaming storefront that puts a library of thousands of titles at your fingertips. Established by famous game studio Valve, Steam has grown to become more than just an online game store. Gamers can find everything from community message boards to developer toolkits to free game downloads for certain titles on Steam.
All the latest games at your fingertips
Though most game developers now have their own online storefronts, Steam was the platform that started it all. Steam has since moved beyond a simple game store to become a one-stop hub for PC gamers. Available for free online, Steam can run in your browser window.
Though you can access many of Steam's features in-browser, you can also download and install Steam as a standalone client for your desktop if you want to get the most out of the software. At its core, Steam is a vast digital game store. Though Steam has been around since 2003, it continues to stand out in an increasingly crowded field by making offerings other digital storefronts don’t.
Download tons of the latest games
Perhaps the biggest standout feature is Steam's vast library of indie games. Sure, Steam has the latest titles from the most famous studios, but they also make a point of attracting smaller indie studios. It's easy for independent developers to list their titles on Steam, and this has given rise to hits like Hollow Knight, Cuphead, and Hotline Miami.
If you're looking for something new and unique, take the time to check out the indie library or browse the community boards to hear about upcoming releases from smaller studios.
Of course, it's impossible to talk about Steam without talking about sales. Another major factor that keeps Steam standing out from the crowd are their epic annual sale events, such as the now-infamous Steam Summer Sale. During these events, Steam puts thousands of titles on sale for steep discounts, and that also applies to new releases.
The best way to get new titles for ridiculous discounts is simply to wait for a Steam sale, and then snag them at prices that dip as low as 80% off. There are also frequent sales outside of the annual events, and you'll probably find that you can quickly fill your Steam library without emptying your wallet.
Those looking for sweet deals should also check out the free to play section, which curates any titles that can be played with no charge.
Steam has some competition
Though Steam is still a strong contender in the digital storefront arena, there are a few signs that the platform is showing its age. Major developers are increasingly moving away from Steam in favor of their own proprietary clients. The Epic Games Store has come out strong among this field of competitors, which also includes clients like EA's Origin service and Desura
Epic made headlines by nabbing exclusive release date access to Borderlands 3; though still available for sale on Steam, Epic Store users could access the title weeks earlier than any other platform. This is just one example of many; other developers are now making certain titles and deals exclusive to their own stores.
The Borderlands 3 controversy also highlighted another major flaw in Steam's system: the fact that it's fairly easy to manipulate ratings. As with many platforms, Steam users can leave reviews and ratings for games.
When the news broke that Borderlands 3 would be and Epic Games exclusive at launch, angry fans flocked to the game's Steam page to leave bad reviews and ratings in a practice that has since become known as 'review bombing.' Steam has since made it harder for determined groups of disgruntled fans to adversely affect ratings, but this scenario is emblematic of a largely hands-off approach when it comes to consumer security at Steam. Users should also be aware of sketchy indie titles and developers, as Valve doesn't usually step in to correct shady practices until a major problem occurs.
The best option for online game downloads
Steam may be starting to show its age, but no competitor has yet been able to replace Steam on the throne. Despite some flaws, nothing beats Steam's combination of a huge selection of titles, steep deals and discounts, and a unique indie community that keeps players clamoring for more.
That said, a 'buyer beware' mentality could be healthy when using Steam, as user reviews may not always be trustworthy and some titles may only be out to make a quick buck instead of providing quality content.
Steam's latest updates include cosmetic fixes to the Library, including new filters to share and sort your games.