Steam has hit its 15th anniversary. Way, way back on September 12, 2003 following a beta, Valve formally unleashed its online game-distribution platform. It was an unassuming platform at first, and over the decade-plus it's been around it's since become a beast. Arguably it remains the home for PC-centered video games today.
Of course nowadays, Steam isn't alone in the game-selling race. There's also GOG, Origin, Battle.net, the indie-friendly itch.io and Humble Store; even Twitch has started selling games directly. Despite more options to buy games than ever before, Steam (and Valve in turn) is undeniably a juggernaut today, for better or worse. So to honor the game distributor on its 15th year thriving, we dove into our respective purchase histories to dig up the very first games we bought on Steam. The results will surprise you. (Or they won't.)
I thought my first Steam game might have been Sins of a Solar Empire, but nope, Sins of a Solar Empire was on Stardock's own platform, back when that was a thing. According to my purchase history, my first two purchases were two first-person shooters: BioShock and Far Cry 2. And I was pretty late to the party on both of them.
Living in Japan from 2006 to 2008, and with a crummy Dell laptop to boot, I actually missed the first wave of Steam popularity. It wasn't until I got a solid gaming laptop and moved back home that I dipped a toe in the waters of digital distribution. I forget where I first saw BioShock, but I remember how much the opening scene blew my mind: the plane crash, the murky waters, the lighthouse in the distance. The graphics were beyond anything I had seen to that point. I had to play it.
Steam ended up being my first true foray into the "HD generation." It was where I discovered Call of Duty 4, BioShock, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and others. It was the last time that I can remember truly having my mind blown by a graphical revolution.
Nowadays my Steam intake tends to be limited to indies and strategy games: basically anything that I can't easily play on a console. But at the time, it was the most reliable way to play the big games that I had missed, often at a solid discount. I will always think of it, to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, as my first step into a larger world.
Half-Life 2, 2004
Funny story: My personal Steam account became the property of the company that bought my old company, so every game I purchased (and the Steam Press Account privilege added later) is now lost to me. While I can't definitively say what the first Steam game I bought was, I'm pretty sure it is Half-Life 2, by way of the Half-Life 2 Collector's Edition Tin. For reasons unknown to me now, I bought numerous versions of this set, which now sit high on a shelf in my mother's house, a permanent reminder of the precious account I'll never see again.
Half-Life 2 was pretty great, wasn't it? Those barrels that moved around with actual physics, the headcrabs, not being able to move more than a few feet in Ravenholm before saving due to a near paralysing fear. If my first Steam game was in fact something completely different, I apologize and give you permission to completely disregard everything I've just said.
Dragon Age: Origins, 2009
Ah, those were the days, back when games published by Electronic Arts were readily available on Steam, as opposed to Origin. My first purchase on Steam was actually a pre-order of the Digital Deluxe edition of BioWare's fantasy series. I went from not playing many of their games to being a big fan over the releases of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. I believe the real impetus behind my purchase was actually armor for the upcoming Mass Effect 2, but you also got the Stone Prisoner downloadable content, giving you access to Shale as a party member.
My next purchases all look to be tiny titles from my first Steam sale in December of that same year. I picked up Evil Genius, Time Gentleman, Please!, Ghost Master, Audiosurf, and Indigo Prophecy up for a song. Five days later, I followed that up with Bioshock and Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box. So, my early purchases on Steam were spread out a bit.
At this point, I'm probably the person on USgamer's staff with the biggest Steam collection, as most of the others don't have a gaming PC and don't play PC games all that often.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, 2011
Judging from Amnesia's release date, I was still a year late to the hype. But I remember the hype being so real for Amnesia. I don't remember where I played it, because this was when I just had my old Macbook Pro and I assume it was able to run on that. I never finished Amnesia though. It was too scary, and very novel for its time. I remember getting it after watching a bunch of videos of people screaming while playing it—sort of the dawn of Let's Plays and streaming—and it looked funny, so I thought I'd give it a shot. It's not funny.
Before Steam, I was almost exclusively a console player, minus downloading freeware games for my family's shared PC while growing up. Steam opened up my eyes to a whole new world of games. In the years that followed my purchase of Amnesia, other games I bought were Hotline Miami, Gone Home, and Papers, Please. The early 2010s sure were a good time for indie games. In 2015, I started buying games very frequently on Steam because I finally had a gaming PC. (This was also around when I started out in the industry, so codes galore.) The rest is history, I guess.
Final Fantasy VII, 2013
I can't remember which E3 saw the unveiling of Final Fantasy VII for Steam. It might've been 2011, 2012. All I remember for certain is we all thought Square Enix was about to announce a Final Fantasy VII remake, and boy, did we get psyched out. Good times, good times. Anyway, I went ahead and bought Final Fantasy VII for Steam sometime later. I also downloaded the patch that replaces its spotty music with the PSOne soundtrack (I've since been informed the quality of Final Fantasy VII Steam's soundtrack is dependent on your soundcard. This is why I'm a console scrub. I'm lazy and easily intimidated).
While Final Fantasy VII was the first game I bought for Steam (according to my purchase history, anyway), one of my earlier writing jobs involved reviewing casual hidden object games and adventure games. Steam was a major font for these titles back before mobile phones became powerful enough to handle them. So while my personal Steam account pegs my first purchase as 2013, the company account I used back in the day probably has my first Steam download at 2009 or so.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, 2011
The first game I ever purchased on Steam was Amnesia: The Dark Descent back in my first year of college. My dorm-mates and I all chipped in for a digital copy so we could play together in the dorm living room and find out what all the hype was about, of which there was a lot.
I was never much of a PC gamer until recently, so my Steam catalogue only really started blowing up these past two years. Funny enough, my first gaming memory is on the PC. My first family PC in Korea came with the Fifth Element video game pre-installed, and I remember playing the hell out of it. I wonder if that's on Steam?
I have never purchased a game on Steam. I’m sorry.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, 2017
I picked up my first gaming PC early last year when I started to focus on games writing, so I’m pretty new to the scene. I remember being pretty broke at the time, especially after buying the PC, so I mostly subsisted on any free codes that publishers were willing to throw at me, mostly obscure indie games and visual novels. The first game I bought on Steam for real though was PUBG. What first struck me wasn’t the quiet tension that the game excels at, or the allure of a win. Instead, I found myself completely baffled by the controls.
I’d never used a mouse and keyboard in shooter before. It was like learning a new language, though I remember being impressed by the extra tactical advantage that being able to move the camera separately from my character was (and after years of being firmly on the console side of the PC master race debate, it was painful to admit just how much better aiming with a mouse is). There were moments when I wanted to throw in the towel and get an Xbox Controller instead, but I stuck with it. My first Steam game will always remind me of getting my WASD training wheels, and never again will I ridicule someone for picking up a controller for the first time and not immediately being able to use it.