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Full Steam ahead

Old Steam

You might not think about Valve's Steam distribution method much. If the first time you came across Steam was when you installed Half-Life 2, from the DVD, then you would have good reason not to. Mental scars like those take a long time to heal.

As you sat there all day, trying hopelessly to connect to Steam for verification, or sobbing hopelessly because you didn’t read the "Requires an internet connection" disclaimer, you should have taken heart at the suffering that had already gone before you.

The initial Beta test of the delivery system was Counter-Strike 1.6. Back then everyone knew Steam was going to save PC gaming, by allowing a mass market to niche developers, obviously. More importantly, we knew it was going to save us from the cheat infused hell that was Counter-Strike 1.5. Unfortunately it didn’t; instead it introduced us – and more importantly Valve – to Steam overload.

You probably think you’re acquainted with Steam overload. You’ve seen the occasional "Um, yeah, it’s too busy" message. Maybe you had to keep trying for a good two hours on HL2 launch day. Others had it worse; so let your Schadenfreude run free as you imagine them whinging about their woes on IRC and the forums.

Full Steam ahead Old Steam Full Steam ahead Old Steam
Many people, with analogue internet connections, just couldn’t update. It would taunt them, and take half a day for the update bar to creep slothfully towards the half way mark – and then it would fail. It wouldn’t tell you it had failed, though, where’s the fun in that? No, it would just sit there, taunting, daring you to quit it as it gently stirred your hard disk.

If your patience or sanity survived that day, you’d have eventually learned the magic of .GCF files, and how you could download them from places with so-called bandwidth, the kind of bandwidth that came with two-hour queues. And then when you finally got into the game the real suffering began.

Whether your problem was with Counter-Strike and coming to terms with weekly updates or just Counter-Strike itself, everyone suffered. Ironically enough, in the early days the only thing on Steam that seemed to work properly was the friends system, and that was a short-lived gift.

New Steam

If that’s still how you think, then I’ll wager it’s a long time since you last logged on. It’s fair to say Steam still has some interesting peculiarities, for example pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and setting Steam.exe to low priority can increase your FPS by up to 50%. However, you’d be forgetting the reason Steam was worth downloading in the first place – the prospect of interesting and unusual games at reasonable prices.

Steam’s reason for existence, or so a cynic might proclaim, was to sell HL2 without having to give lots of their hard-earned cash to a third party – Vivendi Entertainment. The rest is history, but the results are still on Steam.