Steam is Valve's community and game distribution service. I was introduced to Steam some years ago when I started playing Half Life 2. The ability to download complete games was pretty neat, and I did that. The idea of having Steam running all the time bugged me however. I thought "why on Earth should I keep this running just for Half Life?"

Also, digital download services bother me, because I don't physically have a copy of the product. When I want to install a game, I really don't want to wait hours to download it.

I recently started playing Left 4 Dead 2, which requires Steam as well. This time around, however, my impression of it has completely changed. The reason behind the change is Left 4 Dead 2 makes excellent use of Steam and the community features. It is easily compared to Xbox Live, but less awful. Here's a few cool features:

  1. Steam will automatically download updates for Steam-powered games.
  2. Steam Cloud keeps my settings synced between computers.
  3. I can make physical backups of the games I download.
  4. Steam sells a lot more than just Valve games. In fact, most new games are available on Steam.
  5. Valve Anti-Cheat is better than PunkBuster.
  6. By pressing shift-tab, I can bring up an overlay which includes friend information, and even a web browser. I can do this in any game, even non-steam games. The ability to bring up a browser in-game is very handy, especially in games such as Borderlands.

I could keep going. Overall, I think Steam is pretty cool.