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So – I just bought the new game Supreme Commander 2. This question is not about the game, but about the online software installation platform that it seems to require. I haven't bought a game in a long time, and I'm puzzled: Apparently, SC2 is a "Steam"-powered game.

When I went to install the game, it asked me to either create a new Steam account, or log in with an existing account. I clicked "Cancel" because I don't plan to play online and I don't want anything unnecessary installed on my computer, since I only plan to play single player!

However, after clicking "Cancel", the installer asked for my confirmation that I indeed wanted to cancel installation of the game! I thought I was just canceling the "online" portions!

I understand now that Steam is required by many games, as a form of DRM. But, any software claiming to be DRM and requiring connectivity makes me worried. So I really want to know:

  • Can I trust this "Steam" DRM (Digital Rights Management) software platform?

  • Has anybody done any independent verification on how this platform works? (I'm very leery of any DRM after the Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal. Thank goodness for Mark Russinovich.)

  • Does the "Steam" platform install anything particularly nasty or unwanted on my computer?

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The only problem I've had with steam is it popping up ads that tempt me during finals week. –  Mechko Jul 16 '10 at 22:57
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My only problem is that it will occasionally downgrade the games I bought without telling me. kotaku.com.au/2010/05/… –  Christian Jul 17 '10 at 0:15
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I once received half-life for free with a counter strike package, but then that package disappeared and I never found half-life again. –  Mechko Jul 17 '10 at 0:40
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Glad to see someone playing SC2! I'm on the Steam SC2 forums by the same name as here, and usually play online (most often hosting free for alls, but i can be found in a few 3v3s/4v4s and in ranked). –  RCIX Jul 17 '10 at 7:22
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Note that if Steam's servers go down (which happens several times a year, usually right around the big sales when people are buying/downloading lots of stuff :|) and you're not already in offline mode, you cannot retroactively switch into offline mode, and will therefore have no access to any of your games until the servers comes back up. So it's not quite as happy-peachy-rosy as everyone is making it out. That said, I love Steam to such an extreme that I usually won't buy a non-AAA title unless it is Steam-enabled. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jul 9 '12 at 22:58

8 Answers 8

up vote 74 down vote accepted

Yes, you can trust it. It is non-intrusive and all it does (at minimum) is manage your games and patches for you. Anything else is optional.

Steam has an offline mode, where you can play your games without a connection to Steam, granting you total freedom from Valve's servers.

It doesn't install anything but the software you need (like DirectX and drivers for example) and the games and patches. Nothing you don't want, unless you don't want the game you're installing. The only downside is that these patches are kind of forced on you, even for single-player games. If the developer decides to 'downgrade' the game or make a change you don't like, there's not much you can do about it.

I'm not aware of any 'independent verification', but the DRM Steam is itself is very harmless, you can choose to run Steam in offline mode and there would be absolutely no way for them to pull access to your game, except for the fact you wouldn't get patches. Any other DRM can be chosen to be used by the game itself of course, but that has nothing to do with Steam.

Anyway, the choice to use Steam has already been made by Square Enix. If you don't trust them, why are you installing the game itself?

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What else do you want from DRM without making the distributors go out of business? –  user56 Jul 18 '10 at 23:52
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@Cyclops - it is a certainty that those hacker d00ds will be there to comfort you with an avalanche of cracks if such an eventuality comes to pass. Not a concern, ever, in my opinion. –  Shaderach Sep 10 '10 at 7:42
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@Arda Xi - I do, but let's also not pretend that most of the games you can buy on Steam have already been cracked. And let's also not wave flags about warning of some silly doomsday scenario where Steam evaporates and suddenly all one's games are unplayable. That's frankly ridiculous. Telling people that Steam is a risk because it might not be there in the future to authenticate games that are already cracked is unhelpful at the least, and downright disingenuous at the worst. –  Shaderach Sep 12 '10 at 14:02
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@Shaderach, aside from the legality (and I do try to stay legal), there's the issue of having to download some executable that some stranger tells you, will let you play a hacked game... For some reason, I dislike being in that scenario. And as for calling it a "silly doomsday scenario" - yeah, what are the odds that a major company, say Microsoft (or Steam), would shut down their music servers, leaving legitimate owners with no future authorizations? –  Cyclops Oct 19 '10 at 17:35
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@Cyclops - odds are 100% that someday the Steam servers will be gone. I find it hard to believe that someone might think otherwise. Odds are also 100% that your Steam game will be playable after those servers die. The only question is who will make that possible. Can we get back to worrying about REAL issues now? –  Shaderach Oct 20 '10 at 1:54

I don't plan to play online and I don't want anything unnecessary installed on my computer, since I only plan to play single player!

As awesome as Steam may be, it really does suck to be forced to install it and sign up for it just for one game, especially if you're just going to use it for single player. You have my sympathy.

Can I trust this "Steam" DRM (Digital Rights Management) software platform?

Does the "Steam" platform install anything particularly nasty or unwanted on my computer?

You can trust Steam as much as you can trust any other installer, really. The steam installer doesn't have any kind of special privileges of access other installers don't have. The Steam client itself does not require administrator accesses, but there may be services in the background that do.

However, Steam doesn't do things other applications can't do. Exercise normal caution.

Has anybody done any independent verification on how this platform works? (I'm very leery of any DRM after the Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal. Thank goodness for Mark Russinovich.)

The platform is quite popular and widely used, so it is fair to assume its security has been assessed by researchers. I don't have sources on this, but I'm pretty sure that if something had been discovered so far, medias would have picked up on it pretty fast.

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http://store.steampowered.com/subscriber_agreement/

Steam is a distribution platform whose DRM capabilities are limited to:

  • Requiring that your computer be online and connected to the Internet, in order to validate your account as owning the game.

  • "include functionality designed to identify software or hardware processes or functionality that may give a player an unfair competitive advantage when playing multiplayer versions of any Steam Software, other Valve products, or modifications thereof" - OK, kind of scary wording, but expressly limited to when you are playing the game in multiplayer mode.

That being said, Valve does not stop Steam published games from having additional DRM like SecuROM. That is up to each publisher and should be taken in account when buying individual games.

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The functionality designed to identify software or hardware processes or functionality that may give a player an unfair competitive advantage is Valve's VAC component, which AFAIK only applies to certain Valve games. –  Caspar Aug 31 '11 at 2:59

Can I trust this "Steam" DRM (Digital Rights Management) software platform?

Having used Steam for over 2 years, I can say whole-heartedly: yes. I was initially annoyed that I needed Steam to play a single game: after I got a couple of more games, and added some buddies I game with: it's become invaluable. I enjoy the convenience of "no more CDs/CD-keys", fast downloads, integrated updates ... a lot of games I would have not bought before, I've simply bought because it's that convenient. Also, you may want to investigate the company Valve -- have a look, for example, the amount of support and patching they've done for Team Fortress 2 ... as opposed to say, multi-billion dollar companies like EA for their best-selling Battlefield series. That, alone, I think, marks Valve as a stand-up kind of company. (I think TF2 is a crap game, but give respect where it's due.)

Has anybody done any independent verification on how this platform works? (I'm very leery of any DRM after the Sony BMG CD copy protection scandal. Thank goodness for Mark Russinovich.)

I've heard of no such thing. You may want to search Google for this. Steam definitely has the potential to take your private and confidential information -- just as any other application does.

Does the "Steam" platform install anything particularly nasty or unwanted on my computer?

In my experience, Steam DRM has never surfaced as an issue. However -- do understand that the games you purchase may have additional DRM software that is required for the game to work. For example, the BF games require PunkBuster, Anno 1404 has its own (draconian) DRM software. Be sure to research the game itself, and the type of DRM it uses.


Are your fears unfounded? Largely, I think yes. I've heard of no person who has had issues with Steam DRM.

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+1 For Value added by Valve to games you've already purchased. This won me over big time. –  Chris Nava Jul 17 '10 at 4:44
    
About collecting people information, Steam asks people about taking part to Hardware/Software survey (yearly). And of course it collects gameplay time. –  Denilson Sá Feb 22 '11 at 14:48
    
About the additional DRM software, look at this list: steamdrm.flibitijibibo.com –  Denilson Sá Feb 22 '11 at 14:48
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@DenilsonSá That survey is optional, and is only used to improve their service. –  user56 Aug 17 '11 at 13:14
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Small correction - PunkBuster is an anti-cheat/anti-hacking software/tool similar to Valve's VAC, and has nothing to do with protecting games from being copied or played illegally. –  Caspar Aug 31 '11 at 2:57

Up to the point i got Supreme Commander 2, didn't use Steam at all, and now it's my preferred choice for buying games. Not to sound like a shill for Valve, but it has a minimal footprint on your system, it allows you to find new games easily, it patches and keeps track of your games for you, and (if you're into that thing) allows you to meet friends that play games that you do.

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I got steam "hitching a ride" with the Orange Box. I bought the orange box just to get portal. I think I must have played Portal, Half Life 2 and episodes, and team fortress enough to be worth about $300 worth of games, and I paid, I think, $30 canadian for the orange box.

So, once I started downloading games from the Steam store, it did become my favorite place to buy games. However, I also like GOG.com because some of their games are DRM free. I like old RPGs and lots of older games are on GOG with NO drm.

There is only one MAJOR inconvenience I have experienced; I like to play on a laptop, and Steam DRM offline mode must be entered, which requires offline credentials. If you don't have offline credentials stored on your computer BEFORE you go away from internet connectivity you can't play, even a non online game.

I have forgotten to "go to steam offline mode" before unplugging my laptop from its home network, and taking it to the airport, where I can either pay for airport wifi (argh!) or not play my steam games while waiting in the airport. Update

Steam is made by Valve, who also make some pretty darn awesome games. I believe they intend to shake up the Gaming market. Game developers deserve to get paid. So I support the platforms that let them do that, without any unecessary publisher evil in the middle. If steam+valve turns into something worse than Activision or EA are right now, I would change my mind. But right now, Steam does a lot of GOOD for a lot of smaller and medium size game software studios, and even the BIG boys are putting their stuff up there.

I have purchased some games on there for $5 that cost $50 when they were new. The DRM is not optional. Without it, very few studios would allow their games to be distributed this way. I say "thank you to DRM" for giving me legal copies of some of the greatest RPGs ever made, for under $10 each.

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That's actually not true. You can, when starting the client without connectivity, choose to start the client in offline mode. I've done it often enough. –  user56 Jul 19 '10 at 22:26
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I'm with Warren on this. I have purchased several games for under $10 just to check them out and it beats the heck out of buying them in the store or via eBay. I never have to hunt around for Disc 1 for any game that I purchased there. Also, I can uninstall and re-install (especially helpful when retiring machines -- I was able to reinstall Day of Defeat years and two machines after I purchased it, with no clutter in my house!) –  Dave Navarre Jul 20 '10 at 20:08
    
I've tried that and it's never worked for me. –  Warren P Jul 30 '10 at 20:01
    
P: You must have your account credentials saved to the client for it to start offline - maybe that's the case with your failed attempts? With saved account credentials, Steam client asks to switch to offline mode if it has no connectivity. Your answer contains false information, please fix it. –  Ilari Kajaste Dec 28 '10 at 14:05
    
Is it better now? I fixed up the caveat. –  Warren P May 5 '11 at 19:16

I'm using Steam for quite a while now and I've had no problems yet. So I guess you can trust it.
All Steam does is organize your games and sell games, and sometimes with huge sales.

  • Yes, you can trust it
  • I didn't find out how it works exactly, and I didn't do any independent research
  • Aside of a client it doesn't install anything else
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You can trust Steam, but you cannot trust Steam-powered games. Call of Duty 4 installed PunkBuster on my PC which remained after I uninstalled CoD4 via Steam, and required an external tool to remove.

I don't hold a grudge against Steam; Steam is great. But you shouldn't think that just because it's on Steam, it won't do this kind of thing.

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But this does not comes from steam. If you had CoD4 from another source, you would also have punkbuster installed. It is the decision of the publisher/developers, not Steams, in this case, it is just a distribution platform. –  Jupotter Jul 9 '12 at 21:24
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Though it is interesting that Steam allows the other DRM to come with the game, even with Steam's DRM in place. As if Steam making the whole process easy weren't enough incentive to just buy the game. –  Crowbeak Oct 29 '12 at 9:32

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