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The Steam store also enables users to redeem store product keys to add software from their library. The keys are sold by third-party providers such as Humble Bundle (in which a portion of the sale is given back to the publisher or distributor), distributed as part of a physical release to redeem the game, or given to a user as part of promotions, often used to deliver Kickstarter and other crowd funding rewards. There has been a grey market around Steam keys, where less reputable buyers purchase a large number of Steam keys for a game when it is offered for a low cost, and then resell these keys to users or other third-party sites at a higher price, generating profit for themselves.This has caused some of these third-party sites, like G2A, to be embroiled in this grey market. It is possible for publishers to have Valve to track down where specific keys have been used and cancel them, removing the product from the user’s libraries, leaving the user to seek any recourse with the third-party they purchased from. Other legitimate storefronts, like Humble Bundle, have set a minimum price that must be spent to obtain Steam keys as to discourage mass purchases that would enter the grey market.
In 2013, Steam began to accept player reviews of games. Other users can subsequently rate these reviews as helpful, humorous, or otherwise unhelpful, which are then used to highlight the most useful reviews on the game’s Steam store page. Steam will also aggregate these reviews and enable users to sort products based on this feedback while browsing the store. In May 2016, Steam further broke out these aggregations between all reviews overall and those made more recently in the last 30 days, a change Valve acknowledges to how game updates, particularly those in Early Access, can alter the impression of a game to users. To prevent observed abuse of the review system by developers or other third-party agents, Valve modified the review system in September 2016 to discount review scores for a game from users that activated the product through a product key rather than directly purchased by the Steam score, though their reviews remain visible. Alongside this, Valve announced that it will end business relations with any developer or publisher that they have found to be abusing the review system.
During mid-2011, Valve began to offer free-to-play games, such as Global Agenda, Spiral Knights and Champions Online; this offer was linked to the company’s move to makeTeam Fortress 2 a free-to-play title. Valve included support via Steamworks for microtransactions for in-game items in these titles through Steam’s purchasing channels, in a similar manner to the in-game store for Team Fortress 2. Later that year, Valve added the ability to trade in-game items and “unopened” game gifts between users. Steam Coupons, which was introduced in December 2011, provides single-use coupons that provide a discount to the cost of items. Steam Coupons can be provided to users by developers and publishers; users can trade these coupons between friends in a similar fashion to gifts and in-game items. Steam Market, a feature introduced in beta in December 2012 that would allow users to sell virtual items to others via Steam Wallet funds, further extended the idea. Valve levies a transaction fee of 15% on such sales and game publishers that use Steam Market pay a transaction fee. For example, Team Fortress 2—the first game supported at the beta phase—incurred both fees. Full support for other games was expected to be available in early 2013. In April 2013, Valve added subscription-based game support to Steam; the first game to use this service was Darkfall Unholy Wars.
In October 2012, Steam introduced non-gaming applications, which will be sold through the service. Creativity and productivity applications can access the core functions of the Steamworks API, allowing them to use Steam’s simplified installation and updating process, and incorporate features including cloud saving and Steam Workshop. Developers of non-gaming software may submit their applications to the Steam Greenlight service to judge interest for later inclusion on the Steam storefront. The Steam store allows game soundtracks to be purchased to be played via Steam Music or integrated with the user’s other media players. Valve has also added the ability for publishers to rent and sell digital movies via the service, with initially most being video game documentaries. Following Warner Bros. Entertainment offering the Mad Max films alongside the September 2015 release of the 2015 video game based on the series, Lionsgate entered into agreement with Valve to rent over one hundred feature films from its catalog through Steam starting in April 2016, with more films to follow later. With the onset of Steam Machines as announced in March 2015, the Steam storefront also includes the ability to purchase Steam Machine-related hardware via the Steam store.
In conjunction with developers and publishers, Valve frequently provides discounted sales on games on a daily and weekly basis, sometimes oriented around a publisher or genre theme, and may allow games to be played for free during the days of these sales. The site had offered a large selection of games at discount during its annual Summer and Holiday sales, including gamification of these sales to incentive users to purchase more games.
In June 2015, Valve created a formal process to allow purchasers to request full refunds on games they had purchased on Steam for any reason, with refunds guaranteed within the first two weeks and if the player had not spent more than two hours in the game. Prior to June 2015, Valve has had a no-refunds policy but in some circumstances it has offered refunds if third-party content fails to work or improperly reports on certain features. For example, the Steam version of From Dust was originally stated to have a single, post-installation online DRM check with its publisher Ubisoft, but the released version of the game required a DRM check with Ubisoft’s servers each time it was used. At the request of Ubisoft, Valve offered refunds to customers who bought the game while Ubisoft worked to release a patch that would remove the DRM check altogether. On The War Z‘s release, players found that the game was still in an alpha-build state and lacked many of the features advertised on its Steam store page. Though the developers Hammerpoint Interactive altered the description after launch to reflect the current state of the game software, Valve removed the title from sale and offered refunds to those who had bought it.Valve also removed Earth: Year 2066 from the Early Access program and offered refunds after discovering that the game’s developers had reused assets from other games and used developer tools to erase negative complaints about the title.
Valve will remove games if they no longer meet Valve’s business terms for developers. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was removed from Steam because of a claim from theRecording Industry Association of America over an expired license for one of the songs on the soundtrack. Near the launch of Electronic Arts’ (EA) own digital storefront Origin, Valve removed Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II from Steam because the terms of service prevented games from having their own in-game storefront for downloadable content. In the case of Crysis 2, a “Maximum Edition” that contained all the available downloadable content for the game and removed the in-game storefront was re-added to Steam.Valve will also remove games that are formally stated to be violating copyright or other intellectual property when given such complaints. In June 2016, Valve removed Orion by Trek Industries when Activision filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint about the game after it was discovered that one of the game’s artists had taken, among other assets, gun models directly from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.Other actions will prompt Valve to remove games. In one example, the developer Digital Homicide Studios had issued a lawsuit against 100 unnamed Steam users for leaving poor reviews of it games; Valve subsequently removed their games from the storefront “for being hostile to Steam customers”, according to a response written by Valve’s Doug Lombardi. Digital Homicide later dropped the lawsuit, in part due to the removal of the games from Steam affecting their financial ability to proceed with the lawsuit. Games that are removed can still be downloaded and played by those that have already purchased these titles.
The popularity of Steam has led to the service’s being attacked by hackers in the past. A notable attempt occurred on November 6, 2011, when Valve temporarily closed the community forums, citing potential hacking threats to the service. On November 10, Valve reported that the hack had compromised one of its customer databases, potentially allowing the perpetrators to access customer information—including encrypted password and credit card details. At that time, Valve was not aware whether the intruders actually accessed this information or discovered the encryption method, but nevertheless warned users to be alert for fraudulent activity.
Valve added Steam Guard functionality to the Steam client in March 2011 to protect against the hijacking of accounts via phishing schemes, one of the largest support issues Valve had at the time. Steam Guard was advertised to take advantage of the identity protection provided by Intel’s second-generation Core processors and compatible motherboard hardware, which allows users to lock their account to a specific computer. Once locked, activity by that account on other computers must first be approved by the user on the locked computer. Support APIs for Steam Guard are available to third-party developers through Steamworks. Steam Guard also offers two-factor, risk-based authentication that uses a one-time verification code sent to a verified email address associated with the Steam account; this was later expanded to include two-factor authentication through the Steam mobile application, known as Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator. If Steam Guard is enabled, the verification code is sent each time the account is used from an unknown machine.