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While looking at one of my questions that was closed, I noticed that there are over 600 questions about Steam on the site.

Steam is not a game. It's not a gaming system like a PC or a Wii. If anything, it's a DRM system, or a game-purchase site not all that different from, say, Amazon. It even sells non-gaming software now.

So I'm curious: Why is it on-topic for this site?

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    Steam, since it's beginning, was primarily a gaming service. It's since branched out into selling other products, but at it's core, it's still about gaming. See my answer here; that's specific to the graphics card question, but I address Steam at the beginning. – Frank Feb 16 '13 at 16:35
  • +1 This seems to be a question which is raised in chat/comments on a regular basis. Having a canonical answer we can point to will make it easier to explain why Steam questions are permitted. We can just give users the tl;dr of the reasons, and point them here for a more in-depth explanation. – Wipqozn Feb 16 '13 at 18:03
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Steam has never been in question about whether it's on-topic or not; the forgone conclusion is that its on-topic, and there ends the logic train. We've never really articulated why that is, though. And since they now offer non-games through Steam, perhaps it's time to do so.


Small history of Steam:

Steam has been around since the end of 2003. From the beginning, it's been a digital distribution platform, first for their own games, and then branching out and allowing other games to use their platform.

Since it was launched, it has gained widespread acceptance due to Valve's non-intrusive DRM, and much more recently, the daily deals.

In October 2012, it has branched out into offering non-games on the platform.


One of the more non-concrete aspects of Arqade is our policy about consoles and game distribution platforms. They're encompassed in the "Game-specific hardware and utilities".

From my other answer:

That's why we allow questions about XBoxes, Playstations, and digital distribution platforms like Steam. It's not that the hardware has to be specifically and only used for gaming; consoles, especially, have progressed beyond being simple game cartridge interpreters. My understanding of "game-specific hardware and utilities" is that if the primary use of said hardware or utility is gaming, then chances are good it's on-topic here.

It's good to draw parallels between consoles and Steam; they are all, when you boil it down, platforms on which to play games. They may have other uses, but the main focus of an XBox, or Playstation, or Steam, is for gaming. Since the primary use of the platform is gaming, it stands to reason that gamers would have the most collective knowledge of these platforms, and we are probably experts on their usage and tweaking. It's one of the related skills we get through experience and exposure to gaming through their platform.

Lately, though, Steam has started selling non-games. "Uh-oh, Steam is no longer just for games. Is it something we want to support?". It's not really a binary yes/no answer; if we supported only those things which can be used only for games, and nothing else, we'd never be able to support consoles at all. We'd also be throwing away the accumulated expertise of nine years (give or take) of use, for no other reason than Steam's not just about games anymore.

We've started re-evaluating our unquestioning support of consoles and their accessories, and I think that we'll need to do that for Steam at some point, too. As time goes on, and if the non-games start outweighing the games, we might want to take another look at whether or not Steam is something we're truly experts in.

That doesn't mean we're automatically going to support questions about 3DMark, or ArtRage, just because they use Steam. It can't be used as a "Get out of crappy question jail for free" card. Arqade is still about gaming. If a question is about Steam itself, right now, we support it, because it's still the same program we've known and tweaked and cursed and sometimes, even tolerated, for several years.


Some other fast points:

  • Steam is not like Amazon. Amazon sells games, and lets you download them. There's no gaming platform there at all. There's a huge difference between them, and most certainly are not equal.
  • DRM is, sadly, a fact of life. The reason Steam has garnered such widespread support is due to it's unobtrusiveness and stability. It doesn't freak out and treat you like a criminal because you rooted your PC.
  • You can lump Origin into the same boat as Steam. Prejudices aside, they do the exact same thing.

TL;DR:

It's Steam! Why are you questioning it? All hail our water vapor overlords!

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    What makes Steam a "gaming platform" and Amazon not? – Kyralessa Feb 18 '13 at 5:26
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    A platform is something that allows you to launch multiple different applications through it. Since that's the only way Steam games work, Steam is a gaming platform. Amazon just allows you to buy and download your games. It has no application to launch your games. – Frank Feb 18 '13 at 5:29
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    @Kyralessa Lots of things. For example, the ability to interact with people on your friends list via joining their games. If Amazon had that feature, a question about it would probably be acceptable here. – user9983 Feb 18 '13 at 5:30
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    What makes Steam a "game-specific hardware and/or utility", and a graphics card's drivers/software used primarily in the context of gaming, not a "game-specific hardware and/or utility"? (I don't want to start a long-winded discussion, I just would like ask that this point be included in your answer.) – galacticninja Feb 19 '13 at 4:18
  • @galacticninja It's not a point that needs to be addressed. We've had our discussion there, and we'd be co-opting this question if I did include it. I'm in chat; you want to discuss it, you're welcome to join me. – Frank Feb 19 '13 at 4:26

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