TECH
19/06/2018 15:39 BST | Updated 22/06/2018 11:02 BST

Steam Is The iTunes Of Video Games - But Why Has It Attracted Such Controversy?

Here's what you need to know.

If you know someone who plays video games on a PC, whether that’s a friend or child, the likelihood is that they’ll be using Steam.

Developed by video games publisher Valve in the early 00′s, Steam has grown to become the ‘iTunes’ of video games.

Steam is so successful that Valve makes more money per employer than both Apple and Google and with around 30 million people signed up it’s one of the largest platforms for playing video games.

Despite its size, Steam’s existence isn’t controversy free. Last month the company was forced to take down a game from its platform for simulating a school shooting.

That the game was even allowed on the platform in the first place highlights one of the biggest risks that comes with using Steam, or allowing your child to use Steam. It has almost no regulation.

This was confirmed when one of Valve’s engineers wrote a lengthy blog post during where he announced that Steam would “allow everything” on its platform short of content that’s “illegal or straight up trolling”.

If you’re curious about Steam or have a child who uses it and you want to learn more here’s everything you need to know.

What is Steam?

Steam is an online video game store. Just like iTunes and music, Steam allows you to browse the latest games or find new ones, pay for them and then download them to your PC.

It’s free to download, however the games within its platform do cost real money and there may even be real money purchases players can make within those games too.

It has around 30 million people signed up to it and has two direct rivals in the form of EA Origins and Activision/Blizzard’s Battlenet. These are two rival stores that only sell games from the publishers EA, Activision and Blizzard.

What type of games does it feature?

Everything, and I do mean everything. Steam always had a pretty loose interpretation of what it should and shouldn’t allow on its platform, so while on the surface it might look pretty mainstream, there are a lot of smaller games that you may never have heard of.

It’s these smaller games that can be problematic. Just clicking on the ‘Gore’ section will bring up a number of highly inappropriate games for children with references to violence, nudity, sexual violence and more.

Conversely, Steam does also feature every major video game available today so if you wanted to play Far Cry 5, Tomb Raider or Assassin’s Creed you’ll be able to find all of those blockbuster titles on Steam.

Finally Steam is also the largest online library of virtual reality video games. These games are designed for either the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift.

Are there age restrictions?

No, and herein lies one of Steam’s biggest problems. Unless you’ve got parental controls strictly enabled, anyone can access any of the games on Steam, regardless of their age.

Unlike a physical store where you should be asked for some proof of ID, Steam will simply show you a warning page along with the tags that it believes could be offensive or inappropriate. Once you click past this pop-up anyone can then buy that game and play it.

Are there parental controls?

Yes. Steam’s parental controls are called Family View.

Family View allows you to create a Steam account for your child and then impose certain restrictions onto that account. These can vary from blocking access to the online store altogether, or allowing them to only access games that have already been purchased.

You cannot block them from accessing certain parts of the store, it’s either an all or nothing approach.

Finally you can also set up Family Sharing which removes their control from the process entirely, instead they’ll have separate Steam account and you can then share the games you’ve bought with their account.

If you discover your child has been using Steam and you didn’t know about it you can also activate Family View on an account already set up.