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By 2015, between Steam-based game inventories, trading cards, and other virtual goods attached to a user’s account, Valve has stated that the potential monetary value has drawn hackers to try to access user accounts for financial benefit, and continue to encourage users to secure accounts with Steam Guard; when trading was introduced in 2011. Valve reported that in December 2015, around 77,000 accounts per month are hijacked, enabling the hijackers to empty out the user’s inventory of items through the trading features. At that time, the company announced that in an effort to improve security, new restrictions would be added in March 2016 under which 15-day holds will be placed on traded items unless they activate, and authenticate with Steam Guard Mobile Authenticator.
ReVuln, a commercial vulnerability research firm, published a paper in October 2012 that said the Steam browser protocol was posing a security risk by enabling malicious exploits through a simple user click on a maliciously crafted
steam:// URL in a browser. The report was taken up by various online publications. This was the second serious vulnerability of gaming-related software following a recent problem with Ubisoft’s copy protection system “Uplay”; the German IT platform “Heise online” recommended strict separation of gaming and sensitive data, for example using a PC dedicated to gaming, gaming from a second Windows installation, or using a computer account with limited rights dedicated to gaming.
In July 2015, a bug in the software allowed anyone to reset the password to any account by using the “forgot password” function of the client. High-profile professional gamers and streamers lost access to their accounts. In December 2015, Steam’s content delivery network was misconfigured in response to a DDoS attack, causing cached store pages containing personal information to be temporarily exposed for 34,000 users.
Since November 2013, Steam allows for users to review their purchased titles and organize them into categories set by the user and add to favorite lists for quick accessPlayers can add non-Steam games to their libraries, allowing the game to be easily accessed from the Steam client and providing support where possible for Steam Overlay features. The Steam interface allows for user-defined shortcuts to be added. In this way, third-party modifications and games not purchased through the Steam Store can use Steam features. Valve sponsors and distributes some modifications free-of-charge; and modifications that use Steamworks can also use VAC, Friends, the server browser, and any Steam features supported by their parent game. For most games launched from Steam, the client provides an in-game overlay that can be accessed by a keystroke. From the overlay, the user can access his or her Steam Community lists and participate in chat, manage selected Steam settings, and access a built-in web browser without having to exit the game. Since the beginning of February 2011 as a beta version, the overlay also allows players to take screenshots of the games in process; it automatically stores these and allows the player to review, delete, or share them during or after his or her game session. As a full version on February 24, 2011, this feature was reimplemented so that users could share screenshots on websites of Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit straight from a user’s screenshot manager.
Steam’s “Big Picture” mode was announced in 2011; public betas started in September 2012 and were integrated into the software in December 2012.Big Picture mode is a 10-foot user interface, which optimizes the Steam display to work on high-definition televisions, allowing the user to control Steam with a gamepad or with a keyboard and mouse. Newell has stated that Big Picture mode is a step towards a dedicated Steam entertainment hardware unit. SteamVR, a virtual reality (VR) Big Picture interface, was introduced in beta in January 2014. The SteamVR mode enables the user to operate the Big Picture mode and play any game in their Steam library with a virtual theater displayed through the VR headset, the equivalent of looking at a 225-inch television screen, according to Valve. The mode was first introduced in beta for the Oculus Rift headset and later expanded in March 2015 to support the HTC Vive, a VR unit developed jointly with Valve, with the feature to be publicly released shortly after the Vive’s public launch in April 2016. In-Home Streaming was introduced in May 2014; this allows users to stream games installed on one computer to another—regardless of platform—on the same home network.
The Steam client, as part of a social network service, allows users to identify friends and join groups using the Steam Community feature. Users can use text chat and peer-to-peer VoIP with other users, identify which games their friends and other group members are playing, and join and invite friends to Steamworks-based multiplayer games that support this feature. Users can participate in forums hosted by Valve to discuss Steam games. Each user has a unique page that shows his or her groups and friends, game library including earned achievements, game wishlists, and other social features; users can choose to keep this information private. In January 2010, Valve reported that 10 million of the 25 million active Steam accounts had signed up to Steam Community. In conjunction with the 2012 Steam Summer Sale, user profiles were updated with Badges reflecting the user’s participation in the Steam community and past events. Steam Trading Cards were introduced in beta in May 2013 and were fully supported by June 2013. By playing specific games, players would earn virtual trading cards, which they could trade with friends and use towards gaining rewards on the service such as game discounts, downloadable content, or in-game items, and customize their user profile page. The Steam client has become an OpenID provider, allowing third-party websites to use a Steam user’s identity without requiring the user to expose his or her Steam credentials. In order to prevent abuse, access to most community features is restricted until a one-time payment of at least US$5 is made to Valve. This requirement can be fulfilled by making any purchase of US$5 or more on Steam, or by adding at least US$5 to the wallet.
Through Steamworks, Steam provides a means of server browsing for multiplayer games that use the Steam Community features, allowing users to create lobbies with friends or members of common groups. Steamworks also provides Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC), Valve’s proprietary anti-cheat system; game servers automatically detect and report users who are using cheats in online, multiplayer games. In August 2012, Valve added new features—including dedicated hub pages for games that highlight the best user-created content, top forum posts, and screenshots—to the Community area. In December 2012, a feature called Game Guides, where users can upload text and images detailing games and game strategies in the same manner as GameFAQs was added. Starting in beta in December 2014 and publicly released in January 2015, the Steam client allows players to broadcast video streams to the public or Steam friends while playing video games.
In September 2014, Steam Music, a built-in music player, was added to the Steam client, allowing users to play through music stored on their computer or to stream from a locally networked computer.
Valve offers Steamworks, an application programming interface (API) that provides development and publishing tools to take advantage of Steam client’s features, free-of-charge to game and software developers. Steamworks provides networking and player authentication tools for both server and peer-to-peer multiplayer games, matchmaking services, support for Steam community friends and groups, Steam statistics and achievements, integrated voice communications, and Steam Cloud support, allowing games to integrate with the Steam client. The API also provides anti-cheating devices and digital copy management. Developers of software available on Steam are able to track sales of their titles through the Steam store. In February 2014, Valve announced that it will allow developers to set up their own sales for their titles independent of any sales that Valve may set for titles.
Steam Greenlight, announced in July 2012 and released the following month, is a way for Steam users to help choose which games are added to the service. Developers are able to submit information about their games, as well as early builds or beta versions, for consideration by users. Users can pledge support for these games, and Valve will help to make top-pledged games available on the Steam service. In response to complaints during its first week that finding games to support was made difficult by a flood of inappropriate or false submissions, Valve required developers to pay US$100 to list a game on the service to reduce illegitimate submissions. The fee will be donated to the charity Child’s Play. A later modification allowed developers to put conceptual ideas on the Greenlight service to garner interest in potential projects free-of-charge; votes from such projects are only visible to the developer. Valve also allowed non-gaming software to be voted onto the service through Greenlight.
The first game to be released via Steam Greenlight was McPixel. The initial process offered by Steam Greenlight was panned because while developers favored the concept, the rate of games that are eventually approved by Valve is very small. Valve has acknowledged that this is a problem and believes it can improve upon it; Valve’s Tom Bui said, “we aren’t where we want to be yet”. In January 2013, Newell stated that Valve recognized that its role in Greenlight has been perceived as a bottleneck, something it plans to eliminate in the future through an open marketplace infrastructure. On the eve of Greenlight’s first anniversary, Valve simultaneously approved 100 titles through the Greenlight process to demonstrate this change of direction. Valve stated in January 2014 that it plans to phase out the Greenlight process in favor of providing developers with easier means to put their games onto the Steam service. The September 2014 “Discovery Update” added tools that would allow existing Steam users to be curators for game recommendations, and sorting functions that presented more popular titles and recommended titles specific to the user, as to allow more games to be introduced on Steam without the need of Steam Greenlight, while providing some means to highlight user-recommended games.
Valve added the ability for developers to sell games under an early access model with a special “Early Access” section of the Steam store, starting in March 2013. This program allows developers to release functional but yet-incomplete products such as beta versions to the service to allow users to buy the titles and help provide testing and feedback towards the final production. Early access also helps to provide funding to the developers to help complete their titles