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Steam

Steam is a digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform developed by Valve Corporation. It is used to distribute a wide range of games and related media entirely over the internet, stretching from one-man independent efforts to some of the world's most popular games. Steam is set apart from its peers in terms of functionality primarily by its residency in the system tray, and the desktop tasks that the client software performs to make use of that position.

As of June 19, 2009, 730 games are available on Steam, and as of February 18, 2009, there are over 20 million user accounts.

Steam allows users to purchase computer games entirely digitally. Instead of receiving a box, disc, or even CD key, purchased software is immediately attached to the user's Steam account. Content can be downloaded from Steam servers unlimited times to any number of internet-connected computers that have the Steam client installed.

The client works similarly to a feed reader: the user selects the game they want on their computer and Steam then automates the process of downloading the content and keeping it up to date. The latest version of the game is immediately downloaded, and if there are multiple versions (e.g. a 64-bit edition) the correct one will be chosen automatically based on the computer's hardware and/or software environment. This process happens every time Steam is started online or a game is launched, ensuring that as many users as possible will have the latest software.

Steam transfers content over its own protocol, as opposed to the more common web protocols HTTP and FTP. It downloads from a set of 174 dedicated 'content servers' spread out across the world, connecting to several at once to try to ensure a fast and stable connection. The servers are organized into geographic 'cells' to help clients choose intelligently which to connect to.

In addition:
* Steam can validate its downloaded content for errors, a process that gives many of the benefits of reinstalling in a fraction of the time.
* Valve Anti-Cheat, Valve's proprietary anti-cheat system, can ban those who modify their games to gain unfair advantage.
* Steam's server browser allows users to search, filter, bookmark and join internet and LAN servers for games that integrate with it. It can be accessed from the desktop and from an integrated game's menu system, and queries Friends to show a list of servers to which a user's contacts are connected.
* Steam has a Distributed File System that allows a game to launch before it has been completely downloaded. By creating lists of files and requesting them only when about to be needed, a linear game can be begun with only the executable code and a buffer of the first few areas downloaded. In the worst-case scenario, the game will stall while Steam downloads in the background. However, this feature is rarely put to use.
* Steam-integrated games are stored as single non-compressed archive files with the extension .gcf. This helps to make games more portable, to stop users from accidentally overwriting important files, and to allow for easy modification of resources, which can be disallowed by individual servers.
-- A 'No Cache File' system is provided for games that do not integrate. Here, a .ncf index file points to a folder of loose files somewhere else on the system.
* The Steam Cloud allows games to upload save-game files to the Steam servers. This gives players access to their saved single-player games and key configurations from any computer.
Posted on May 31st, 2014
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