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Steam offers digital rights management (DRM), matchmaking servers, video streaming, and social networking services.
It also provides the user with installation and automatic updating of games, and community features such as friends lists and groups, cloud saving, and in-game voice and chat functionality.
Valve's Half-Life 2 was the first game to require installation of the Steam client to play, even for retail copies.
This decision was met with concerns about software ownership, software requirements, and issues with overloaded servers demonstrated previously by the Counter-Strike rollout.
In accordance with its Acceptable Use Policy, Valve retains the right to block and unblock customers' access to their games and Steam services when Valve's Anti-Cheat (VAC) software determines that the user is cheating in multiplayer games, selling accounts to others or trading games to exploit regional price differences.
Valve later changed its policy to be similar to that of Electronic Arts' Origin platform, in which blocked users can still access their games but are heavily restricted, limited to playing in offline mode and unable to participate in Steam Community features.
Through user polls at the time of its announcement in 2002, Valve also recognized that at least 75% of their users had access to high-speed Internet connections, which would grow only with planned Internet expansion in the following years, and recognized that they could deliver game content faster to players than through retail channels.Once the software is downloaded and installed, the user must then authenticate through Steam to de-encrypt the executable files to play the game.