Edge Online has an interesting feature up about Valve's Steam service - how an experiment by a small PC game development house turned into the massive digital distribution service it is today.
At a whopping 6 pages, the article is a fairly long read, but it's also pretty interesting. The history of Steam is a long one, and it's fascinating to look at how the service grew along with Valve, turning a small PC developer into a publisher with server farms in Greenland, of all places.
It's also a nifty look behind the scenes at Valve, shedding light on some of the thought processes behind the evolution of Steam and its myriad of services:
Digital distribution was inevitable, and Newell isn't surprised that it was a developer rather than a publisher that provided the most successful platform: "Take UI. That's what games are. Figuring out how to expose a media library is not that different to the challenge an MMO has about helping people figure out which armour [sic] they should wear."
For all the success stories on Steam - Darwinia and Audiosurf among others - and the great strides that the service has made in combating piracy and making games more easily updated after launch, the service isn't perfect, and Newell & Co. know it. The digital distribution platform is becoming increasingly fragmented as others want a piece of the pie, and when it comes down to it, it's understandable that many developers and publishers are wary about handing a competitor the keys to their games - and their customers.
If you've got the time and the patience, though "The Age of Steam" is a pretty fascinating read. A good way to kill 20-30 minutes on a dreary Monday morning, if nothing else.