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If you’re a gamer, and haven’t heard about Steam, shame on you. Steam is many things; a front for the online Steam games store, a library management app, and a gaming community.

Last month, the admittedly outdated Steam application got a replacement. That’s to say, a first beta version went online. Steam has chosen for a public, opt-in beta; which means everyone can, but no one has to join.

What does the new Steam have in store for us? That’s what we’re taking a look at today. We won’t highlight the whole change log, but will focus on the three most prominent overhauls: games library, in-game overhaul and downloads.

Steam Games – The Next Generation

For those of you new to Steam, here’s a quick feature overview. Steam was developed by Valve Corporation, the same guys behind Half Life, Counterstrike and more recently, Left4Dead. There are three wholly different Steam ‘perspectives’.

Build as a content distribution system, Steam is the front-end of the Steam Games Store, and allows you to buy games online How To Buy New Video Games Online for Really Cheap How To Buy New Video Games Online for Really Cheap Read More , and download them to your computer. Because these games are purchased with your Steam account, you can just download them again by logging in on another computer, never fearing to lose your precious optical media. Since 2003, several other game publishers have jumped on the bandwagon, and now offer their catalogues as well, including EA Games, THQ, Ubisoft, and practically all the other big guys. Steam is also famous for their promotion of indie games, and regular promotions and discounts.

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As a game library, manages all your games bought from the Steam Stores, as well as any demos and trailers you downloaded in the application. For those looking for a library management application, Steam also allows you to add games that weren’t bought from the Steam Store, or even online, and link them to your account with the serial code.

From the start, Steam has tried to focus around social and multiplayer gaming. You can use the application, to connect with friends, compete in the leader boards, gain achievements, and see who’s playing what at any given moment – even join in in the very same ‘room’. While gaming, you can connect with your friends via hot keys and an in-game overlay.

As can be seen above, the look of Steam got a major upgrade. The fonts are crisper and larger, and although the new placing takes a little getting used to, it feels a lot more organized. But the user interface got several prominent improvements as well.

Steam Games Library Overhaul

The library – where you view your games – got the biggest mojo boost. It has become prettier, more relevant, and – most importantly – a lot easier to organize. Although you can view your games in list and grid views, the real interesting stuff surfaces in the details view.

After selecting your game in the left column, the rest of the screen will fill up with relevant data. Follow your achievements process, and connect with friends. You can see which of your friends own, or are playing the game at the moment, and join in. An important addition is the news feed, showing you the latest news stories about your game from a collection of games news sites.

Steam used to give you quite a sloppy library, once you collected enough games. With the new category function, you can organize your library to show only a few specific games at the time, like ‘2010 Mayhem’, ‘Online Shooters’, or ‘Currently Playing’.

In-Game Steam Overlay

By using a hot key, you can call up an in-game overlay in steam games. This used to just show you your friends and a chat window, but now includes a full-fledged gaming dashboard.

You can view your friends, what they’re playing, and initiate an in-game chat by clicking on them. Next to this, you’ve got the news feed for the game you’re playing and an achievement overview. Click the view all achievements button to see all available, and start achievement hunting.

Download Mayhem

Downloads used to be completely contained in the standard library view, nothing more than a percentage subtext. Now your game, demos and trailer downloads get the attention they deserve.

You get a detailed overview for every download, with the average download speed, progress, and estimated time remaining displayed. Once you’re game is downloaded, hit the play button to go for a test run. Some of the other features are available even when the game is still downloading, like game details and the news feed.

Opting For The New Steam Beta

Did you like what you saw? Upgrading to the new Steam beta is relatively easy, and completely priceless. Here’s what you need to do.

  • First, make sure you’ve got Steam installed. If you didn’t have it previous to this article, download it now.
  • Either navigate to the Steam Settings pane manually, or click here.
  • Under Beta participation, click on Change… and select the Beta.

Steam will now restart and start updating. The download is rather small and shouldn’t take long, you’ll be good to go in a few minutes tops. If you ever get tired of the new Beta, or are troubled by (a) bug(s), you can revert without much trouble.

What is your opinion on the beta, or on Steam? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

  1. shopping
    May 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    good design, thank for sharing.

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