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Valve decided to create a platform that would update games automatically and implement stronger anti-piracy and anti-cheat measures.Through user polls at the time of its announcement in 2002, Valve also recognized that at least 75% of their users had access to high-speed Internet connections, which would grow only with planned Internet expansion in the following years, and recognized that they could deliver game content faster to players than through retail channels.The software provides a freely available application programming interface (API) called Steamworks, which developers can use to integrate many of Steam's functions into their products, including matchmaking, in-game achievements, microtransactions, and support for user-created content through Steam Workshop.Though initially developed for use on Microsoft Windows operating systems, versions for mac OS and Linux were later released.Valve's Half-Life 2 was the first game to require installation of the Steam client to play, even for retail copies.This decision was met with concerns about software ownership, software requirements, and issues with overloaded servers demonstrated previously by the Counter-Strike rollout.
Authorized players can install the game locally and play it separately from the owning account.
In accordance with its Acceptable Use Policy, Valve retains the right to block and unblock customers' access to their games and Steam services when Valve's Anti-Cheat (VAC) software determines that the user is cheating in multiplayer games, selling accounts to others or trading games to exploit regional price differences.
Valve later changed its policy to be similar to that of Electronic Arts' Origin platform, in which blocked users can still access their games but are heavily restricted, limited to playing in offline mode and unable to participate in Steam Community features.
The Steam platform is the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming, estimated in 2013 to have 75% of the market space.
By 2019, the service had over a billion registered accounts with 90 million monthly active users.
Developers are not limited to Steam's CEG and may include other forms of DRM and other authentication services than Steam; for example, some games from publisher Ubisoft require the use of their UPlay gaming service, In September 2008, Valve added support for Steam Cloud, a service that can automatically store saved game and related custom files on Valve's servers; users can access this data from any machine running the Steam client.