The anniversary that afflicted PC gaming forever

Gordon Freeman face closeup
(Image credit: Valve)
Tech Tales

This commodity aboriginal appeared in PC Gamer annual affair 384 in May 2023, as allotment of our Tech Tales series. Every ages we allocution about the ups and downs of PC hardware, with a attending aback on our own history with the hobby.

People were aflame in 2004. The best advancing PC bold there had anytime been was on its way. Half-Life 2’s antecedent had annoyed up the bold industry to a amount that alike the aftermost 25 years of hyperbole in the bold columnist hasn’t absolutely got across. It was like addition had aloof addled a switch: one minute there were alone Doom clones and aside yawns, the next, anybody was accomplishing set-pieces, real-time storytelling, and turrets. Valve’s FPS was so acceptable that we were alike blessed to comedy the bad impressions of it.

Even afore there were screenshots, the PC gaming citizenry was bugged by Half-Life 2’s announcement. And again there were screenshots, and we all basically broiled into burning-hot advertising puree. A strange, Soviet-inspired dystopian city. Massive ants. A car. A car! It was all aloof too abundant for us. We almost had the internet aback then, so it didn’t booty abundant to afflict our circuits.

That was the actual base of the bold of 4D chess Gabe Newell and co were about to comedy with Half-Life 2. Conceivably September 19, 2003 was a axis point for Valve, back it was fabricated acquainted of absolutely how online the apple had become back it was apparent that a German hacker called Axel Gembe had infiltrated the company’s centralized arrangement and pilfered an aboriginal beta adaptation of the game. He’d accustomed that adaptation to a acquaintance via a concrete media copy, and that acquaintance had appear it to the internet, and... absolutely a lot of bodies were now arena an early, unreleased and absolutely cataclysmically burst adaptation of the best advancing PC bold in history. Valve was absolutely upset.

Hot air

(Image credit: Valve)

Coincidentally, this happened absolutely one anniversary afterwards Valve launched Steam, a new online amateur hub advised to accomplish it easier to accumulate Counter-Strike 1.6 patched up to date and to stop cheaters. Aural seven days, the better bold in the apple had leaked assimilate the internet and was actuality broadcast for free, and its developer had launched an online appliance that would after become PC gaming’s de facto home for decades. It ability able-bodied be the best important anniversary of the 21st century. And one wonders if the two contest accept a added accord than arduous happenstance.

Because—and this is complete conjecture, let’s be bright about that—if Half-Life admirers were online abundant to accept amid and downloaded a hooky beta of HL2 from who knows where, they were online abundant to admission amateur through Steam. The users who’d downloaded that beta had beatific that bulletin actual clearly. This was an online industry now.

In December 1998, aloof afterwards Half-Life released, the CI Annual estimated there were 147 actor internet users globally—about 3.6% of the world’s population. By December 2004, that amount had risen to 817 actor all-around users, or 12.7% of the absolute population, and in America Pew Analysis estimates that 63% of adults now had internet access. That was a seismic change in the amplitude of six years, agnate to VR’s tiny bazaar authority in 2023 exploding so bound that added than bisected of American adults are blame aback with an Oculus Adventure by 2029.

(Image credit: Valve)

Untethered from the cutting anarchy of online ability and consistently at atomic a tiny bit bashed on atramentous sambuca, we were happy.

The time was appropriate to nudge gamers into a added agilely online ecosystem, Valve deemed. So back HL2 released, aloof over a year afterwards Steam’s rollout and the abominable beta leak, it appear both in disc anatomy and as a agenda download via Steam. The absolute kicker: you bare to go online and actualize a Beef annual either way.

I was active in university halls in November 2004, and we didn’t accept internet admission in our rooms, aloof like we didn’t accept acrimonious toilet seats in our bathrooms or artisanal Japanese chef’s knives in our kitchens. Broadband admission were a affluence to us, not a ubiquity. If we bare to admission the internet—usually to babble to our mates aback home on MSN Messenger—we did it from the campus IT rooms, a few times a month. Untethered from the cutting anarchy of online ability and consistently at atomic a tiny bit bashed on atramentous sambuca, we were happy.

Except for aback we bare to go online with our gaming PC in adjustment to validate an accession of the best agitative bold on Apple that we’d aloof spent £40 for a boxed archetype of bottomward at Curry’s. In that one abundantly specific and doubtful scenario, not accepting internet admission was a active nightmare. I was one of the gamers who artlessly wasn’t accessible for Valve’s eyes of PC gaming in 2004, forcibly pushed bottomward a carry into a new absoluteness area accepting an internet affiliation was a charge for arena singleplayer games, and area you bought those amateur as agenda downloads from a storefront we were all strong-armed into installing aback in 2004. GabeN balked us all—it aloof took us years to notice.

Phil Iwaniuk

Phil 'the face' Iwaniuk acclimated to assignment in magazines. Now he wanders the earth, endlessly passers-by to acquaint them about PC amateur he remembers from 1998 until their affable smiles about-face cold. He additionally makes ads. Adept accouterments smasher and bold botherer of PC Format, Official PlayStation Magazine, PCGamesN, Guardian, Eurogamer, IGN, VG247, and What Gramophone? He won an accolade once, but he doesn't like to go on about it.

You can get rid of 'the face' bit if you like.

No -Ed.