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I've always had an on-again, off-again love affair with Steam. I love the fact that games are so easy to purchase, but I dislike having games tied into the Steam program. Still, Steam's prices are so good its insane, making it harder and harder to resist its temptation.
There are, however, some games on Steam that stand out because having Steam helps the experience substantially. These are games which are not only usually cheapest to purchase on Steam, but would be impossible to imagine without it. In this interview with Valve's Director of Business Development, Jason Holtman, he discusses the difference between a game as a product, and a game as a service. The games below all exemplify the game as a service model. If you have Steam and are looking for a great game to purchase these should be your top picks.
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Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2
Left 4 Dead was one of the most revolutionary multi-player PC games to be released since Counter-Strike. It introduced a new style of cooperative play which, although occasionally touched upon, had never been fully realized. You and three of your friends could only survive the zombie hoards by working together.
It is this cooperative approach which makes Steam particularly important. Using Steam one can see who is online and easily invite buddies. It is also possible to make new online zombie-killing mates if you run into someone with whom you work together well. Without such a comprehensive online community to launch from, Left 4 Dead certainly would not have been as appealing.
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Team Fortress 2
Another online buffet of fun, Team Fortress 2 is an example of how Steam allows Valve to constantly evolve a game, increasing its life span far beyond what would originally be possible. When it was released in 2007 it was quickly praised for its intuitive team-placed gameplay, but in the two years since it has gained so many features that it has been essentially reinvented.
The most notable of these are the class updates. Over time, various classes have been given additional abilities and weapons which further compliment their original roles. These additions have deepened the game considerably. Other additions include new maps, game types, and achievements.
Technically, these evolutionary advancements could be patched into any game. However, patch systems tend to eventually become confused - people become unsure which patch is the latest and how to update to the current version. Steam takes care of all the dirty work, making sure that the future of Team Fortress 2 unfolds smoothly.
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It has been a decade since the original Counter-Strike was released and it today remains one of the most popular first person shooters in existence. It has long been one of Valve's most consistent games as it has evolved from the original Counter-Strike into today's Counter-Strike: Source. Along the way it has benefited greatly from the accessibility of Steam. What began as a mod has become one of the easiest games in the world to purchase and play - and one of the least expensive, as well.
While Counter-Strike might still be popular today were it not for Steam, I very much doubt its community would have been as large. Usually games which start out as mods become more archaic and less accessible as time goes on, but the ease of Steam has kept that from being the case. The value of the community features is incredible, as well. There are quite a few games in this genre, but none that are so easy to play with friends, and that is largely thanks to Steam.