Valve is one of the video game industry's most highly respected companies, not only because they churn out great products like the Portal games and the Left 4 Dead series (and that little indy hit known as Half-Life), but also because of their online Steam service.  It's become a popular favorite with gamers over the years, enabling them to build a massive game library without the need to excessively upgrade their hardware (though the stronger, the better, obviously) or break their wallet.

Things are about to get better, as Valve's Gabe Newell confirmed that a "Steam Box" game console is on the way in 2013, poised to take on such next-gen efforts as the Wii U and whatever Microsoft and Sony have to offer.  With its vast library of games – and values that follow with it – this is no doubt going to be a big hit.

There are some people out there who still don't know what Steam is all about.  It's not really their fault, as they're probably more comfortable playing on a game console or just don't think PC gaming is their "thing".  But it's really a lot simpler process than you might expect, and one that opens up to a vast community of gamers, ones that can be just as avid as you are – or maybe even some casual folks who don't mind a good puzzle game.

Here are some tips to help get you started with the Steam service, which you can find over at http://store.steampowered.com.

Getting Started

First, head over to the site and make sure that your computer system meets the requirements needed to run Steam.  It supports both PC and Mac, and they're pretty simple in terms of hardware and operating system…

PC:

Windows XP, Vista or 7

512 MB RAM

1 Ghz or faster processor

Mac:

Intel Mac, OS X version Leopard 10.5.8, Snow Leopard 10.6.3 or later.

Two-button mouse STRONGLY recommended.  (The default mouse that comes with most Mac computers is one, but it works with most USB-supported mice.)

In general:

1 GB HD space (for general Steam storage – it's highly recommended)

Internet connection (broadband or stronger – cable is definitely the way to go here.)

After you've made sure your computer can run Steam, all you need to do from there is install it.  That's simple enough, as there's a link that appears on the main page that walks you through instructions.  From there, after a few minutes of setting it up, simply click on the Steamworks icon, register your account, and away you go.

Shopping Around

After you've got your account set up (you'll need a credit card in place for purchases), it's time to start buying games.  And on the Valve store front, it's easy to look for what you want.  There's a menu that scrolls through some of the hotter releases at the moment, including Dishonored, Far Cry 3 and Hitman Absolution, as well as various indie listings.  They're separated between PC and Mac, and while the PC market has a far greater game offering, the Mac certainly isn't empty handed, as it has its own fair share of games.

Another item worth noting are the little price bars that appear below the community activity tracking.  There's a section for $10 games and another for $5 games, and there are literally thousands available.  You'll want to look through and see what suits you best, then download away.  NOTE: you can play most games with a keyboard and mouse, but it wouldn't hurt to have a good gaming controller on hand, like the Windows-supported Xbox controller.

Don't Be a Stranger

Valve's Steamworks has one of the most avid video game communities out there.  There are literally millions of players online at once, taking on each other in competitive shooters like Call of Duty and others.  Some of them like to trash talk (that's the gaming community for you), but it's also a great place to find your friends – or make some new ones – no matter what you're into playing.

They're also divided into convenient hubs, in case you know what kind of crowd you're looking for.  Counter-Strike (which, by the way, is a Valve creation) is highly popular, as well as Borderlands 2, various racing games and so on.  It's a lot easier than just rooting through a random friend list on other services, like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.

An Open World of Creation

Finally, if there's one thing that Valve's Steam service is incredibly good at, it's letting users create their own content.  Utilizing tools from the company's custom Workshop, you can do a number of things, like making weapons and mods for games (Counter-Strike is a huge example of this), as well as downloading offerings done by other users, just to see what their devious minds could possibly cook up.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of community offerings in this mode, across dozens of titles, and that number is sure to grow well into 2013 when the Steam Box is eventually released to the public market.  The only question now is if it'll be as accessible as the Steam tools on PC and Mac, or if it'll be set up differently.  We'll find out soon.

It's a Lot Easier Than You Think

Steam isn't a service surrounded by complexity, and it certainly doesn't have the kind of price-gouged software that'll drive you bonkers as you wait for a good sale on your next game of purchase.  It does have slight hitches depending on your Internet speed, but, hey, you can always upgrade, right?

The bottom line, it's been a leading PC gaming service for the past few years, and will continue to do so for years to come as it expands to the home console market.  Now if only we could get them to release Half-Life 3 already…

Visit the Steam marketplace over at http://store.steampowered.com.