Steam to relaunch on Wednesday

CD-key required, changes afoot.

The public beta test of broadband games-on-demand service Steam will end on Tuesday evening PDT (Pacific Daylight Time), and the first full version installer will be made available on Wednesday morning at 11am PDT via www.steampowered.com, Valve Software has announced.

With the new release on Wednesday, Valve plans to reset the account database. Any future registrations will have to be allied to a genuine CD-key, drawing to a close the honeymoon period of free Half-Life, CS and mod access - not to mention Half-Life 2 movie releases - for the two or three people still without a copy of the original game.

Steam already has some 300,000 users, but according to Valve's Erik Johnson, "The next major release of Steam will be the first step towards converting the entire Half-Life user base to Steam," heralding "significant changes" in the way the service will be run.

Indeed, this weekend Johnson clarified Valve's position, confirming that in future "you'll have to have Steam installed to play the most current version of Half-Life [online]." To facilitate this, Valve will release an update to Half-Life that requires you to convert your old WonID CD-key into a SteamID.

But the good news for those who will be continuing with the service is that the Friends database will remain intact, making it possible for gamers to recreate their accounts and retain their Friends lists.

It's not yet clear how exactly Valve will charge users for Steam if they do not have an existing CD-key, but gamers will likely be able to buy into the service with the release of Half-Life 2, which looks set to be made available over the content delivery service both as a standalone product and via a monthly subscription of $9.99 (allowing free access to Team Fortress 2 and "anything we make" according to Valve's Gabe Newell) when it eventually arrives.

Steam will obviously see its profile lifted by the release of Half-Life 2, but Valve will be hoping to avoid a repeat of scenes in January when it underestimated the popularity of Counter-Strike 1.6 and had to pull the newly released 2.0 beta version in order to strengthen its fleet of servers.

Upon its relaunch this summer, which brought with it the first direct feed footage of Half-Life 2, one tactic the developer used to combat potential saturation of its bandwidth was to have Steam download the next movie in the background - ready for release a few days later. However, that nearly backfired when a bit of thoughtful hex editing allowed gamers access to the movies ahead of time until Valve added a new layer of security.

According to Erik Johnson, after the release of the first full version of Steam, "The next step will be to release the remaining three Half-Life 2 movies, fix the remaining issues with the Riot Shield in Counter-Strike, and any remaining issues with Steam."

Subscribers can then look forward to a new version of popular Counter-Strike map Cobble, reworked by David Johnston, full skin support in Steam (ala Winamp and other skinnable programs), more detailed upfront information about the (currently massive) cache file stored on the hard disk, more efficient handling of the file, and a new conversion wizard to make better use of existing downloaded content.

The next big event in Steam's life after that will likely be the release of Half-Life 2 itself, which retailers report has slipped until November, despite Valve's protestations to the contrary at this year's ECTS - November 14th is currently being bandied around the industry as the most likely date. Publisher Vivendi, meanwhile, lists the game as "TBC", smugly decrying anything printed by men on the Internet as if it has any better idea when the game is coming out.

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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