When Half-Life 2 was first released, many people saw the game's Steam registration process - which barred gamers with no internet access from being able to play it - as developer Valve's greatest mistake.
Nearly two years on, however, and Steam is instead beginning to look like the harbinger of a wave of innovative, exciting and brilliant games. New and interesting titles, not just modifications of Half-Life 2, are being added to the online service on an impressively frequent basis.
If you're unfamiliar with Steam, check our recent feature on how it all works. But, to get an insider's take on the evolving system, we quizzed the man behind Half-Life, Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell.
What's the benefit of a direct-to-gamers system like Steam?
We can see how our decisions actually affect real people's experiences, and base our decisions on real data about our customers, and that's so useful. It's pretty funny that Microsoft came to us to ask for more details from our hardware survey, because it's the largest scale, most accurate real-world survey of what gamers really have.
So, if someone asks if they should spend time optimizing a game's performance, we can look at the survey and say "yes!" - because 20 percent of our customers have hardware that will be positively impacted by doing that. It's nice to continue to involve our customers.