Over the 13 years it has existed, Steam has grown from a small gaming platform with a cult following to a mainstream gaming system used all over the world. The digital distribution software is the brainchild of Valve Corporation, who has also branched out into virtual reality delivery through the HTC Vive headset. Through Steam, users can subscribe to content and access thousands of game titles, including AAA rated games and indie releases.
In November 2015, Steam reached its peak concurrent user rate at 13.48 million people. At this time, there were an estimated 125 million active accounts. It looked like Steam was going to give traditional PC gaming a run for its money, and that it might even unseat the consoles at the top of the market. One year later, is Steam living up to the hype and will it continue to perform into next year and beyond? We take a look at the figures and facts.
Is Steam better than a console for gaming?
At last count, gamers could play over 6500 Windows titles and around 2500 OS X games through the Steam system. An additional 1500 Linux games are also available, although Linux users represent only around 1% of all Steam game players. As well as having so many titles available, tech experts tend to agree that the specifications of the Steam platform outshine both of the leading consoles by some distance. Despite this, consoles are still selling better than gaming computers and there are more console owners than daily Steam users. Sony shipped out over 30 million consoles in 2015, and Xbox added a further 10 million to the total. But with 125 million registered Steam users already on the database and more signing up each day, potentially it is a significantly larger gaming medium than any other.
Game penetration for Steam outstrips console title reach
Steam games are similar to mobile downloads in that a user can install many from the database, even if they only actually play a few. A recent study by Frugaa.com found that console owners have an average of 12 physical disk games and 22 downloaded titles in their collection at any one time. However, Steam players have an average of 63 games in their Cloud or downloaded to their machine. Games like Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 are so popular, they total more installs each than the entire Xbox and PlayStation user base put together. An incredible 58 million players have installed a copy of the former title.
One key feature of Steam games that is building popularity is how quickly the platform has embraced virtual reality. A savvy partnership with HTC has given use the Vive VR headset, which is already available and has a ton of compatible games for immersive PC gaming. SteamVR also supports the new Oculus Rift from Facebook, which is about to take the world of gaming by storm when it reaches the mainstream. In contrast, consoles have been slow to adapt to VR technology. Despite a promising launch for PlayStation’s virtual reality efforts in 2015 and plenty of hype for the Rift, neither has broken through to the average player’s living room so far. Steam players seem far more ready for VR right now.
What is the future of Steam gaming?
Steam knows how to collaborate with other games systems. As a unique platform interface, it has no direct competition and instead it works with developers, playing systems and tech companies to produce a range of partnership gaming products. This could be the key to its future success, opening a huge range of markets. For example, Microsoft has announced plans to allow cross-platform play for those on Xbox and on Windows 10 – and this will extend to Steam players. Many Windows titles are already available for Steam, and Microsoft has confirmed more games will be released for the platform in the future.
Linux gaming is another key development bringing more players over to the Steam machine. Better access to Linux machines and software gives developers a bigger audience, allowing them to focus on this key area of gaming for the first time. With Linux compatibility across thousands of incredible games already, the future looks bright for Steam. Throw in the fact that gaming PCs are now dropping in price and becoming far more affordable, and perhaps we could see the end of the traditional games console over the next decade. Whether Steam overtakes them for market space or takes its place alongside these console giants at the top remains to be seen, but players ready for the next upgrade should consider whether a Steam computer system would be a better investment than a next-gen games console, given how games are changing and evolving.