Earlier this year, Valve announced that Steam has over 75 million active users. Although that number suggests different things, it’s baffling to know that a digital distribution service for games is so massively popular. Since it has such a gigantic player-base, Steam has grown significantly over the past few years in terms of features, but unfortunately, most people take some of those features for granted. On this list I’ll focus on those Steam features that are under-appreciated.
Do you remember what keeping track of new patches and installing them was like? If you’re old enough, you probably do. Most of the times this meant visiting an official website (or GameSpot) to download and install the patch manually and then pray that it works. Sometimes older games wouldn’t have an official website up and running anymore, so in that case you had to visit some sketchy websites to find the required files. If you have this functionality enabled, Steam will do this automatically for you even if you’re not in front of the computer. Getting home after a long day and seeing that Steam has automatically downloaded and installed a bunch of patches is one of the best features that younger or casual players take for granted.
Regular Client Updates
Some people don’t like the fact that the Steam Client updates so often, but I often find this to be a painless and fast process. Steam alerts you that there’s a new client update, the service downloads it, installs it and when you open Steam again, you find that there’s a new feature in the platform. Personally, I that the digital distribution service (the store in particular) is in need of a massive graphical overhaul and since that’s inevitable, we’ll get it through a client update.
Steam Cloud Support
I remember saving save files from my favorite games in a folder in my computer which I would copy and paste to a diskette (remember those?) Luckily, those days are over thanks to the cloud. Interestingly, some people who play games casually have no idea that this exists, but it’s great to know that if something happens to your computer or to your hard drive, your hours of progress have been saved to the cloud. No matter where you launch the game, you have access to your save files. It’s worth mentioning that this functionality isn’t available for every single game on Steam, but most of the newer releases have it.
Automatic Video Driver Updates
I absolutely detest downloading and installing drivers. Luckily, newer operating systems have become better at making this automatically (specially Windows 7 and 8.) Steam scans your hardware and detects the graphics card you’re using and then proceeds to download and install the latest driver. If this sounds simple and fast that’s because it is, since you have to click the mouse twice for your video drivers to be up to date.
Although the download speed depends on your connection, I can assure you that downloading games on Steam will be as fast as your internet connection allows. This varies from user to user and large files will always take some time to download, but it’s great to know that if you’re not using your computer for a while, you can leave Steam open to download a bunch of games.
Recognizes Standard Controller
This functionality in particular wasn’t something proper of Steam, but of specific games. Nevertheless, when Steam launched their popular Big Picture Mode, they confirmed that not only would you be able to play games using the controller, but also navigate the new interface and even chat with your friends. Think about it! If you have a computer connected to your large TV, as long as you have an Xbox 360 controller, you don’t need anything else. Welcome to the future my friend!
As of this writing, I have over 200 games on my Steam account. That may not sound like much to some people, but when you have lots of games in a platform of this kind organization is everything. Steam keeps track of every single game in your library and gives you information about them (the ones that are installed, the ones that have cloud support, the last time you played them, the number of hours you played them and so on.) You can also filter your collection according to different parameters, so finding a game in particular is remarkably fast.
I didn’t know what the Steam Workshop was until I started playing games like Portal 2. Through the Steam Workshop, players can download or upload modifications for their favorite games and naturally, this extends the lifespan of most games significantly. Sharing user-created levels used to be a complex process, but finding new levels has never been easier.
Steam Greenlight has its fair share of problems, but this idea will eventually take off. The idea with this feature was to create an open marketplace where independent developers would post their games and users would vote. Valve would then approve the most popular games and Steam users could then buy those games.
Steam Big Picture Mode
Big Picture Mode is without a doubt one of the best features on Steam. The idea is simple: people have their computers connected to their large screen TVs in their living rooms and they are using controllers instead of mouse and keyboards to play their favorite games, so to take advantage of this new environment, Steam created a TV-friendly UI called Big Picture Mode. Setting this up is remarkably easy and thousands of titles on Steam are compatible with this set-up. Apart from playing games you can watch YouTube videos, type using the “Daisywheel,” watch Dota 2’s International and on top of that, more features are coming soon.