Steam: the evolution of UI and UX in Gaming

Today, Steam stands as the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming. The core function of Steam is to offer users a convenient means of purchasing both games and software through its online store. Upon purchasing a game, a software license is permanently associated with the user’s Steam account. This license grants them the ability to download and install the software on any compatible device an unlimited number of times.

Steam, developed by Valve, is a digital platform for video game distribution that started in 2003 to facilitate updates for Valve’s own games. In 2005, it expanded to include third-party games.

The interface here was pretty straightforward, you land on a screen with some instructions on what is steam, link for support and forums and that’s it.

Image showing the older Steam layout. It has a military green background, the Steam logo on the upper left side, followed by texts explaining about steam. It also has some links to Support and other actions. It also display a image of a Counter Strike character on the upper right.
Steam layout in 2023 (Source: )

In 2007, Steam introduced DRM and community features like forums and user-generated content through Steam Workshop. It further expanded its offerings, introducing Big Picture Mode in 2012 and plans for SteamOS, Steam Machines, and the Steam Controller in 2013.

Things got a bit confusing as they added more features. The information architecture started to feel messy, and it became hard to find what you needed, especially with all the extra images, banners, and menus. Sometimes the naming was not very clear and the user needed to recall where things were on the last time they saw it.

In 2015, Valve entered virtual reality with SteamVR and HTC Vive. Steam Direct replaced Greenlight in 2017, simplifying game submissions. In 2018, Steam Link and Remote Play enabled game streaming. Steam faced competition from the Epic Games Store.

The Steam Deck, launched in 2022, is a portable gaming device for running PC games from Steam, featuring a built-in controller and touchscreen.

It also has its own interface and maybe it was one of the turning points for Steam future. Since they had to deal with a much smaller screen, it’s very noticeable they spent some time there polishing and redoing some of the flows and information architecture.

Photo showing a Steam Deck on a table shiny beige table, the background is blurred. The device is on and the screens shows a list of game images on a carrousel mode.
Steam Deck (source: )

With the evolution and addition of new features, it seems Valve lost track of the interface and things started to be confusing, sometimes a bit messy and the performance was going down.

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