Steam PC Gaming Client Gets Surprise Facelift

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Steam Beta

The main 'store' screen now displays a rotating advertisement, a 'spotlight' game, and a community activity graph, with the option to scroll down for additional portal views. You can sort by featured items, genres, demos, and videos, search the store courtesy a much larger and obvious input field, and monitor online friends in the lower right-hand corner.

The 'library' screen now includes full graphics for each game, the consequence being that you can only see half as many at a time without scrolling. Viewing which ones you've installed is now a drop-down menu option, along with other views like 'recently played' or 'favorites'. If you're downloading a game, it shows up in a separate 'downloads' sub-area and indicates your 'peak download rate' alongside your current speed and total pulled.

The completely overhauled 'news' area could prove the most intriguing, since it now includes dedicated channels for each game as well as "articles written directly by each game's developer or publisher, and even syndicated feeds from top computer gaming sources." It should prove intriguing indeed to see who among the latter Valve signs on to track, as opposed to those it doesn't.

Steam Beta

Other enhancements include better achievement tracking (they appear right in your game library and on your in-game overlay now), more diverse friend tracking options (including which games your friends have bought or played recently--go viral marketing!), a new graphically enhanced 'grid view' in the games library, improved video and screenshot viewing, better organized game detail pages, and a slew of bug fixes, which you can read about here.

"We made hundreds of changes to the Steam client as a result of customer feedback on the interface, performance, and functionality," said Valve director of Steam development John Cook in the press release. "For example, we swapped out the Internet Explorer rendering engine with WebKit, which gives us a bunch of size, stability and performance benefits."

Speaking of 'performance benefits', did I mention just navigating around feels faster, too?

General impressions after tinkering for an hour or so? Impressed with the changes all around, including the new look and feel. The old Steam client was arguably utilitarian to a fault, a flat collection of functional text and drab color. The new client still deals mostly in grays (no alternate skins in the beta--yet) but adds some pizzazz in the form of slantwise line texturing and color fading to make it seem less like you've summoned up an army duffel bag and more like you're interacting with a proper interface to an online digi-verse bustling with some 25 million users and over 1,000 games.

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