Valve has unleashed a big fat update for Steam, their online gaming platform, and any beta tester willing to subject themselves to the cause may do so. The update is Valve's largest since Steam's release in 2004, and it brings with it a slew of social networking tools as well as online multiplayer enhancements that aim to help connect users to one another to create groups, coordinate tournaments and matches and whatever else you kids get up to with you Half-Life and your Pong.
The whole community push begins with and hinges upon Steam ID, which allows Steamers to create a traditional profile complete with avatars, favorites, friend and game tracking, groups and access to statistics (Yay statistics!) as well as IM, voice chat, and a gaming calendar.
On a slightly different tack, what do you think about these mega-launchers? From Steam to NCSoft's PlayNC (which is, admittedly, a very well-designed mega-launcher, but it still boots up and runs in the background while I play) to Sony Online's Station...I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting at the moment, but my question is this: do these portals/launchers/hoops-to-jump-through enhance our gaming experience by giving us news, updates, shopping and access to back-catalogs, or are they cumbersome bloatware that unnecessarily complicates what should be a very simple process?
I'm not sure how I feel. They're great when I need to access my account or tweak some non-game settings, but overall I think I'd rather just play than interact with some corporate software. If I want a great back catalog I'd pick up a GameTap subscription, although the new Steam back catalog does look pretty nifty...
You tell me: what should I think?
Valve Launches Steam Community Beta [Gamasutra]