Valve: Delivering Content to More Than 125 Million Users

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"Valve felt there’s got to be a better solution to deliver these updates to games, instead of just relying on FTP, and it should be dynamic," said Mike Dunkle, who heads up business development at Valve, as he kicked of the 2015 Content Delivery Summit in New York. The result was the Steam platform, which Valve developed as a way to replace FTP downloads.

Valve launched Steam in 2003, and told users if they wanted to get gaming updates to Counter-Strike, they needed to join Steam.

"They pretty much crushed us," said Dunkle, referring to the demand. Demand didn’t abate in the run-up to 2004’s release of Half-Life 2.

"In 2005, we actually launched third party games on Steam," said Dunkle, noting that the first third-party game they came out with was Rag Doll Kung Fu.

"In 2012, we released non-gaming apps," said Dunkle, who also works on network operations and infrastructure, "and in 2014 we introduced live broadcasting into the client. We also released movies on top of the Steam platform."

This push to release movies, in addition to allowing users to listen to music in the Steam platform client, is part of a broader push to allow more home page personalization on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

"We have 9.5 million concurrent players and 2 billion minutes played per day,” said Dunkle, “with over 4,500 pieces of content."

"Content ranges from 100 MB all the way up to 60 GB," said Dunkle, adding that the newest Grand Theft Auto release was close to that upper end.

Content Delivery Summit chair Dan Rayburn said before Dunkle's keynote that Steam had 125 million active users, but Dunkle said that number is already outdated. Dunkle stated the company isn’t yet ready to release the new number of active users, but teased that it was considerably higher.

Dunkle also said Valve will finally release the much-anticipated Steam Box gaming machines and Steam Link game streaming device in late 2015. In addition, the company has a platform for trading, with 2.3 billion items traded since the inception of the Steam platform, averaging over 5.5 million items traded per day.

"Valve has already paid out $53 million to users producing content," said Dunkle. "We’re a growing ecosystem."

At the end of 2012, North America and Europe made up 80% of Steam's regional markets, said Dunkle, noting that southeast Asia is now coming on strong, requiring points of presence there.

“We currently use six different CDNs,” said Dunkle. “Geographic distribution is important to us.”

Dunkle said Steam has content delivery points of presence from over 260 servers, in over 52 cities, with over 2.5Tbps capacity.

"The strategy of having a mixed solution is beneficial to us," said Dunkle, referring to the points of presence—mostly installed by Valve—and the use of the six CDNs. He then showed the network/content backbones on a graphic that showed traffic flows between points of presence.

Dunkle oversees the identification and relationship management of infrastructure partners including all aspects of contract development and negotiation—and, where necessary, partner product commercialization—as well as strategic planning and implementation of Valve’s network in existing and new territories.

An audience member asked if Steam would be considered a peer-to-peer (P2P) network. Dunkle said that P2P had been explored early on, but that they discovered they couldn’t seed enough nodes to make P2P a viable option.

"Going forward, one of the reasons we used a mixed network is denial of service attacks," said Dunkle. "And, by the end of the year, we expect to see a 100 GB game."

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