Steam Turns 18 Years Old Today

Steam Turns 18 Years Old Today
Screenshot: Valve / Kotaku

Steam, the digital PC storefront, officially launched to the public 18 years ago today, on September 12, 2003. I didn’t realise just how old Steam was and by extension how old I’ve gotten. I guess time flies when your buying, downloading, and installing a bunch of games that you’ll end up never playing.

When Valve first launched Steam, people — including a few of my friends at the time — weren’t super happy about it. The idea of having to register a game via the internet, even a game you bought at a store on a disc, didn’t sit well with folks. But over time, as Valve improved the service, offered third-party games, and began doing seasonal sales, people warmed up to it. In May of 2007, it had nearly 13 million users. As of January 2021, it has over 120 million active users every month.

When it launched in 2003, it was a bit a of disaster. Servers collapsed. Players couldn’t log in and there wasn’t much to be found when you did make it in besides a few Valve titles and a terrible-looking UI. Things have gotten better since then.

The first game to require Steam was Valve’s own mega-sequel, Half-Life 2. It was released in 2004. The following year, Valve began cutting deals with third-party publishers to bring the first non-Valve games to the service. The first third-party game released on Steam was Rag Doll Kung Fu. It’s still available in 2021. It’s an odd fighting game that was made by some Lionhead (Fable) devs. You can buy it today for the low price of $US1 ($1.50).

In May of 2007, there were around 150 digital games available to purchase on Steam. Earlier this year, Steam hit 50,ooo games. It’s estimated that every year since 2018 between 8,000 to 10,000 new games are uploaded to the storefront.

I went digging through my Steam library and as far as I can tell, based on my memories and release dates, the very first games I bought on Steam were Day of Defeat Source and Half-Life 2. That seems about right.

Today, Steam might face competition from Epic and other publisher stores, but it’s still easily the biggest and most popular way for most PC gamers to get new games. But back in 2003, Steam seemed like a weird experiment from those Counter-Strike and Half-Life devs.


  • It’s remarkable how Steam has persisted all these years and continues to be the leader in the space.

    I do find myself wondering how long they can keep it going. Will Steam eventually be bought out by Microsoft, Amazon or Google I wonder? Gabe won’t be around forever.

  • Ah Rag Doll Kung Fu… and people seem to think abandoned half-finished games despite getting a retail release are a more recent concern.

  • Ah, of course when you’re the Evil Empire and the only semi-unified storefront in a long time there’ll be a bunch of gamers with Stockholm Syndrome that are convinced you’re the good guys out of them all.

  • December 2004 for me. I only ended up signing up for it because I purchased Half Life 2. Just a quick check and that checks out as it was released Nov 2004.

    My steam account has 700 titles on it, with something like 60% unplayed. There would’ve been a time when I would’ve creamed myself over so many unplayed titles (regardless of quality) to sit around and play. Now we live in an age of almost unlimited choice, that it’s a bit sad that I will never have enough time to play all these games.

  • 6 Aug 2004, and only then because working in an internet arena and buying the valve collection to play counter-strike. First Steam purchase was in Dec 2009, and apart from the very limited physical collectors editions available, most purchases are now digital only, and only when products are decently discounted. (and the quanlity is decent)

    • I don’t remember competitions about winning Steam’s entire library, but I do remember winning my entire wishlist. It was funny because I had a few AAA pre-orders on there as well, complete collector editions. Saints Row 3 alone came at something close to $300 in value at the time.

      I remember the forums were ablaze at the time, because despite there only being like… ten winners, I think, a lot of people obviously felt like they should have won and were making crazy demands like to know the steam IDs/user names of all the prize winners to prove that games actually went out. Which of course was a recipe for abuse. I remember replying back to the notification email asking if my ID was going to be published and I got a direct, quick, human-typed reply where they reassured me it would not.

  • Huh. Feb 2004. I could’ve sworn I only signed up for a Steam account under duress, because it was required to unlock Half-Life 2.

    Heh. I went to the trouble of buying the collector’s edition, which included a poster and a baseball cap that my Dad still has. I definitely remember being furious at being one of the earliest orders, with a premium edition, and STILL having to ‘verify’ through Steam… which, naturally, was down at that point.

    I had the CD, the game was installed, sitting on my hard drive – I OWNED IT – and I couldn’t play the game because of their DRM bullshit. Yeah, I was mad… I can’t imagine even being surprised these days. What a fucking horrible development in consumer rights, that was.

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