This Surprising Feature Wasn't A Part Of Steam's Launch In 2003

Steam is one of the most well-known platforms for buying and playing video games, but at the beginning of its run, many of these core features weren't available. Steam was originally created by Valve, its parent company, as a place to distribute digital content and as a client to run and easily update its games. When new game patches were released before the arrival of Steam, many players would find that their older versions of the game didn't match up to the new versions running on the servers, meaning they'd need to go download the patch themselves. Steam solved this problem by providing automatic updates.

Steam was announced in 2002 at the Game Developer's Conference; it was touted as an easier way to install and launch games over broadband internet. As it had said in a press release published at the time, Valve had polled its players before Steam's launch and found that 75% of them had access to high-speed internet. This influenced the company's decision to provide its games through the Steam client, as well as providing an avenue for other software developers to sell games — the plan would allow the companies to reach more customers at a lower cost. However, a defining feature of Steam that many users likely can't imagine the video game client without actually wasn't available at launch.

The birth of Steam's storefront

When Steam launched in 2003, there was no way to buy Valve games — or any other games — through it, which is one of the biggest pulls for using the software today. The platform was geared only toward enhancing Valve's own games. However, the company did want to have titles available for download through Steam eventually, and it worked with software developers during its initial days to get to that point, though it took a while to reach that goal.

Eventually, Valve required gamers to have an internet connection and install Steam to play its games, "Half-Life 2" having gotten the honor as the first of these — even the retail version of the title. However, the first days of Steam were extremely buggy. Too much demand on the servers caused players to be unable to play their games, and download speeds were slow. Still, Steam kept on, if only because it was needed to play Valve's games. Starting substantially in 2006, titles from third-party developers were added, finally taking shape into the familiar storefront we know today.

It took many years for the Steam storefront to evolve into what it is now, including something of a rocky start at the beginning, with initial bugs and some players unhappy with the switch to the Steam client, as immortalized in forum posts from nearly two decades ago. However, it was well worth the effort as Steam is the most popular PC game download client to date and is still going strong. In 2021, Steam reported 132 million active monthly players, and there are tens of thousands of games currently available for download.