Review of Steam Mobile App for iPhone

Steam mobile iOS app icon

I’ve been posting a bunch recently, and I’d kind of like my bold statements about the uniqueness of story design within game development to stay near the top of the blog a little while longer.

But Valve, damn their tardy-but-impeccably-engineered brilliance, have gone and unleashed a closed beta of a brand new Steam Mobile app for iPhone, and probably iPod and iPad. In fact, hell, I just checked the press release and it says ‘iOS and Android devices’, so even Google gets some love.

Being an acclaimed Steamophile myself, I pounced on the free download and subsequently received my invite to the Beta. If you want to get into the Beta: try to log in via the app first; type in the Steam Guard code it just sent to your email; it’ll tell you you’re not in the Beta, but you’re added to the waiting Beta list; wait a day then log into Steam on your desktop and look for a new item in your Steam Inventory. If it’s a Beta invite, you’re set.

For some reason, I seem to think that the best way to show how cool I am is by geeking out over the latest and greatest from Steam. This is manifestly a dumb life policy. That said, here’s my pocket review and first impressions!

Steam mobile app's facebooky menu system

Like FaceBook

If you like the new layout of the FaceBook iPhone app, you’ll dig the Steam one. Personally, I don’t, but I’m not holding it against them. They have that whole menu-pops-out-from-the-side thing going on. It does make lots of areas quickly accessible, at least… Or DOES IT?

Navigation

Getting out of a page deep in the app — for instance, the item basket — and all the way back to the main menu is a bitch. It is only possible by tabbing through however many nested pages you’ve gone through to get there, with no obvious shortcut. * [see the comments]

Another slight irritation is that if you go out to the menu and then want to return to your Friends list (the default main page), you can’t just tap anywhere on the Friends list screen, which is mostly panned off to one side but still visible… You have to tap precisely on the top-left button that you tapped on to pull up the menu. Valve should take a lesson from FaceBook’s UI, and fix that.
 
 
Steam mobile iOS app chat screenshot

Chat

Your friends list is there, complete with chat ability, their in-game status, link to their Steam profile page, which itself contains recently played, wishlist, screenshots, videos — basically an overload of info. You can even delete friends from the App…

Permissions

… which brings me to permissions. Although you need to log into Steam using your credentials when you first load the app up, there’s no login check or anything when you tab in and out of the Steam app once it’s running, and the ‘Permissions’ menu screen is currently an unavailable feature. Which means if you don’t want people impersonating you, deleting friends, potentially buying games or other shenanigans, you’ll need to secure your phone’s lock screen itself, cos the Steam app seems to have no additional later authentication.

Friends List

One further note about the Friends list: right now the grouping is pretty basic. Steam Desktop just added a great friends-labelling feature that splits your friends up into easy-to-manage groups. For now, Steam Mobile sticks to simple ‘Recent Chats’ on top, ‘In-Game’ friends, and then just a list of Online friends followed by a list of Offline ones. I imagine this functionality will be one of the first areas of the app they tweak, because the list of my 50-odd offline friends is a bit… much.

Steam mobile app's various internal news / updates selection

News

There’s a very nice syndicated news section with the embedded text of articles from sites like Eurogamer, Kotaku, RPS and many others loaded right into the app. Should save you time if you want the latest gaming news at a given moment.

As you can see in this next screenshot, there’s also a panoply of other information at your fingertips, including all the latest official info from Valve regarding updates, press releases, Steam changes, the Steam blog, and all the announcements for new Weekend Specials, daily deals and whatnot too.

The Store!

This is pretty important. To my mind, at least, a key benefit of the Steam app is that you’ll be able to stay on top of things like Christmas daily sales even when you’re travelling, or super busy doing Xmas shopping or out with friends. Now you can make that impulse purchase at 75% off right from your phone, without loading Safari, trying to log into Steam on a tiny web interface, and zooming in until all you can see is the word ‘Basket’ in green across the whole screen.

The Steam app Store has a separate ‘Specials’ tab, allowing you to quickly check the day’s reduced prices. There are also games categories called Featured, New, and Popular. Interesting to note, however, that there currently is not a ‘Top Sellers’ list as in the normal app, and I don’t think that ‘Popular’ directly correlates. Perhaps Valve want to use the mobile store as a nifty A/B testbed for comparing what sort of lists consumers are most likely to respond to? Or maybe they’re having more trouble piping that data to a mobile app, for some reason.

There’s a decent search function, and bonus points for a basic Price search that lets you see games for under $5 or $10 in the US (and no doubt in other currencies, elsewhere).

Steam mobile iOS app story catalog list

Making a Purchase

Here I am, investing monetarily in this blog once again. I just grabbed ‘The Wonderful End of the World’ since it’s on sale for $2.49 and it sounds kind of cool. I added it to basket from the under-$5 store page of the app, chose ‘Purchase for myself’… and…

Ah. A few problems.

a) It wants my payment info but Steam already knows my payment info. For sure. But that’s OK, maybe it wants it for security purposes since I’m buying from a new device and blah blah blah.

b) The list of stuff (CC number, address etc) is actually not ordered correctly in the app. Which is to say, if you hit the ‘Next’ button above the iPhone keyboard, it takes you to a random field halfway down the page, not the field which is, you know, next. But that’s OK, I took a perverse pleasure in filling in the fields at random.

c) This part… May be my fault. I’m a Britisher, more or less, but I’m in the USA for a month. I gave it my UK payment details since I don’t have a card registered here. But it’s been showing me prices in USD and clearly knows where I am. So it’s not taking my transaction, complaining only of ‘an error initializing or updating your transaction’.

Well, I didn’t want your stinkin’ cheap game anyway! Oh, by the way, your drop-down boxes are messed up. Sometimes I tap them and they just flash appealingly, instead of, you know, dropping down and giving me the damn options.

I have been reliably informed by another review that purchases are possible with the app, so chalk this up to me being in the wrong country. Let’s all try to move past this.

Verdict?

Overall, this is an extremely slick, well-engineered app with plenty of room for usability tweaking, feature improvements, and no doubt a bit of bugfixing in future. Right now, it’s already extremely stable and highly responsive, so I have confidence that the future is bright.

To be honest, contant access to Steam everywhere I go was the last thing my mental health needed. But, hey. Anything Gabe Newell can dish out, we can handle. Right?

  • http://blog.professorfiddle.com/ Yaakov

    > Getting out of a page deep in the app — for instance, the item basket — and all the way back to the main menu is a bitch. It is only possible by tabbing through however many nested pages you’ve gone through to get there, with no obvious shortcut.

    Just swipe right on the navigation bar.

  • http://www.davidmidgley.net David Midgley

    Ah, thanks, Yaakov — that’s extremely straightforward to do, but unfortunately rather unintuitive. Cheers for letting us know! I notice that you can’t drag the screen from the right back once you have the menu open — again, unless you drag at the top on the navigation bar only. I think Valve needs to add a little dotted section on the bar to make it more obvious that it’s draggable. — Right now, you are dragging what appears, based on the UI, to only serve as a pushable button to return you to the previous nested page.

  • Verakov

    This is a very convincing post about why Steam should be on mobile

    http://aveynes.com/2011/12/valves-steam-should-take-the-battle-to-mobile/

  • http://www.davidmidgley.net David Midgley

    Update: I should note that while ‘Friend Activity’ lets you see what achievement your friends are getting, there’s currently no way to either:

    a) Pull up a full list of the games you own (you can only see Recently Played and Wishlist)
    b) Look at your achievements list (both achieved and yet-to-achieve) for a particular game

    Finally, I predict that at some stage in the future (possibly a certain amount of time after OnLive’s iOS app starts to gain traction and you can stream any of their games on iOS), Valve will enable cloud gaming using the Steam app, so you can literally play any of their games through the iPhone itself via controls and video streaming on broadband. That’s the dream, and it’ll be part of the way they compete with OnLive and similar dumb-terminal services over the long run.

  • doomexpert

    dont download de steam mobile app!! because the app would you to get offline anymore. even when you uninstall the mobile app or log off in your mobile app and still you are online! and when you log in you get everytime a code send to your email so you can log in. also when you dont log out then nomatter what if you set your wifi connection off you still online. in steam on pc, friends of yours they can see you are online on mobile even if you only use steam on pc so then means every massage you get dupplicate to your phone also, very irritating!!!!

    now im busy for 2 hours how to get my ass offline in steam.
    the mobile app itself is good but there are certain things like:

    – you cant see friends who are set busy or away. in steam mobile app you only see your friend online or offline.
    – cant be offline anymore
    – everytime you logg in you must give an autority code
    – how do you set yourself away or busy? not possible..
    – you dont see time stamp in chat massages, i would like to see the time when the massage is send, ( there is time stamp but i mean the time when you send with EVERY massages.

    so the only thing what i like is the push notifications so it’s react like a sms so you know when someone on steam send a massage even when you have your phone in your pocket. and the GUI is awsome, you can see the news,store etc, nice synchronisation when friends come online, you have a good overview etc.

    i hope you gonna do something about this, valve !!

  • doomexpert

    hmm i solved the problem about how to get offline when you use steam mobile app..
    what i did is: log off into your mobile app then in steam set yourself offline ( where you can set yourself away or busy) then log off
    maybe it take some time also, when i was online in steam on pc its says, (online,mobile) but on mobile i was offline.

    also therefore i logged off into my mobile and delete the app and reinstall it. and change my password on steam on pc and still i was online when i was offline on both devices. you can check your status on the internet browser you know. but i want to know why you can be online with the steam mobile app on so many devices, they dont block each other, so it doesnt use the same recources, maybe it uses a different server, i dont know.

    Now i have the steam mobile app logged out, and i dont wanna log in to accounter the same problem again. maybe later.
    but still the problem about the autoriz code, everytime you log in steam mobile app then you must check your e-mail. maybe is that a security thing you know. but at least i can be offline after 2 hours to solve the problem. pffff

    ok laterr