Like all the best origin stories, Hyptronic's began with Half-Life 2. After receiving a Steam key for Half-Life 2 with his graphics card, Hyptronic found he had to install Valve's clunky new software to play the most-anticipated PC game of all time. He had no idea what he was getting himself into when he registered his first game on Valve's nascent platform. Thirteen years and 10,908 games later, Hyptronic has built one of the largest Steam libraries in the world, with a total account value of $83,208 according to his . And yes, he uses SteamGuard.
Thanks to Humble Bundles and steep sales, Hyptronic's only spent a fraction of that $83,208, but it's still a lot of money to invest in something that exists on the other side of the monitor. You can't exactly invite your friends over to admire your Steam library, after all.
"There was a time I was [asking] myself what the hell am I doing and why I’m doing it," admits Hyptronic, "but when time went by I slowly understood and managed to accept it and I’m now enjoying every minute of it. Knowing that I’ve the option and freedom on Steam and can browse between many titles and play whenever I want to—I don’t regret it."
Some of Steam's other diehard collectors are dedicated to preserving games, or just love the thrill of the deal. We asked some of the most prominent Steam collectors on what drives them, and as it turns out, their motivations are just as varied as their libraries.
Gotta catch 'em all
Human beings are born to hoard. Blame the wiring of our brains: whenever we start something, , and collecting taps into this part of our psychology. Seph 'seph.au' knows this compulsion well. Once a self-described MMO addict, Seph used to spend so much time grinding mobs and completing fetch quests in games like Ultima Online and Shadowbane that it started to feel more like work than play. Realizing this, Seph managed to kick his MMO habit only to fall down an even deeper rabbit hole: game collecting.
"It just kind of happened," he writes over Steam chat. "I hit 1k and I think 2k long before bundles existed. Pushed harder for those lower marks. I think 2k was a 'gaming god' badge. Every time I passed another 1000 I would tell myself, enough's enough... but we all have our problems."
Seph's Steam library now sits at more than 9,600 games, 40 percent of which he has hasn't touched according to . He maintains that he'll call it quits at 10,000—though he admits he said the same thing at 4,000, 6,000, and 8,000, too. Recently, he's made an effort to curb his spending habits and only buy games he's legitimately interested in, but it's not always easy overpowering one's own psychology.
"I'm not entirely sure why I keep purchasing stuff," he says. "[I] joked to friends Steam needs a store lock so I can't see new releases. 'Oohh shiny!'
"I guess it's more in my personality too. I like to keep things fresh but find it harder to focus on one task for long periods of time. [It's] quite rare for me to sink 20-30-50+ hours into something, even if it's the bees knees to everyone else. And yes, I'm [the] idiot who buys all the deluxe/gold editions. Because it won't see a half price sale before any DLC is released."
It's not always easy to face the naked truth of your own spending habits, but Seph's pretty chill when it comes to the stats on his SteamDB profile page.
"It has never really bothered me," he says. "I figured I could always trade the account for a car or something. (don't tell Valve!) lol. But jokes aside, what I don't play someone will eventually: kids, grandkids, etc... If Valve doesn't die first. :P"
Choice, freedom and variety
From a , the anticipation leading up to an experience can often be just as exciting as the experience itself—just look at the hype surrounding and . This is especially true when it comes to collecting.
"Part of the thrill of having a large Steam library is always looking for new ways to get titles at a heavy discount or even as a giveaway," says veteran Steam collector ReaperMadness. "It is not unlike one building a great book library within their home, one so large they cannot possibly ever read all the books that that library contains. There is something that I find very awesome about the fact that as a gaming enthusiast, I will never run out of options in regards to having something new to play, and that I can carry such a library with me anywhere I go."
"I have a unique way of looking at it myself," he says. "I have been a lifelong gamer since the days of the earliest consoles when the Intellivision, Atari, and Coleco systems were very popular. The '80s was a Golden Age of sorts for older gamers, arcade gaming was hitting its peak, consoles were coming out that far surpassed what came before, such as the NES, SNES, and all their competitors. PC gaming was coming into play. I have had the fortune to live through much of gaming's great milestones, and as such, have a tendency within me to amass as much of its history as I can. If I am to be honest, I will probably never play even a fraction of the games that I own. But when you are a child of the 80's who made do with only a few new games a year, the thought of having so many games available at your fingertips is nothing short of heaven."
Put in context, Reaper's collection seems far more reasonable than at first glance.
"I probably have spent the equivalent of a moderate brand new car," he says. "How many can say that their new car purchase will last the rest of their lifetimes?"
A digital museum
With the games industry getting on in years, preserving its history is more important than ever. But while floppy disks and DVDs can be boxed away in attics or displayed in museums, digital games are a little trickier to hold onto. The fickle nature of digital licensing has seen many games removed from Steam without warning, often to never return. Not only does this make it difficult to go back and play games like The Godfather or Cryostasis for the simple sake of curiosity or nostalgia, it hinders the game industry's ability to preserve these experiences for future generations.
Fortunately, this is where Steam collectors like PhrostB come in. Totaling more than 10,600 games, his ever-expanding library acts as a safety net against missing out on rare and potentially remarkable experiences, while at the same time contributing to the greater record of gaming's history. In the future, his collection could be the only thing keeping the memory of certain games alive.
PhrostB didn't start out with the intention of building such a massive library, but he's done so in a remarkably short timeframe.
"I've only been on Steam for like 3 or 4 years," he explains. "See, I started out as a PC gamer as a kid, but then I switched to consoles when I was a teenager. When I was 24 I moved to Israel and decided to buy a laptop with a dedicated GPU. At first I pirated everything but then discovered Humble Origin Bundle [and] installed Steam."
From there, he quickly learned the ins and outs of bundle sites and Steam sales, but it wasn't the bargains that drove him to keep buying games.
"It was really the removed games that made me want to collect. I wanted to grab a piece of PC gaming history while I still could, before all the copies disappeared."
Disappearing games aside, the advent of Steam has made some aspects of game preservation a whole lot easier. For PhrostB, a single, infinitely large games library is far easier to maintain than shelves upon shelves of flimsy DVD cases and heavy steelbook editions.
"I hate cluttering my house with shit I don't need," he says. "Sometimes I buy retail games [just] to get the Steam keys."
Preservation-wise, Steam games have another advantage over their physical brethren: they don't degrade over time. Bit rot and data decay are mortal enemies of the game collector; as physical media like CDs and DVDs inevitably degrade over time, data corruption becomes increasingly likely, rendering a game completely unplayable. Many early PC games of the '70s and '80s have been lost forever thanks to failing physical media, making services like Steam all the more valuable for preservationists. So long as collectors like PhrostB exist, so do the games, though there's always some risk with digital goods that if that if the servers go dark, that collection could be gone forever.
The toll of collecting
By buying games only when they're on deep discount or part of a cheap bundle, collecting Steam games doesn't have to cost the world. Still, there's no denying it's an expensive hobby. How does anyone afford it?
"I spend the majority of my time in regards to personal entertainment on video games, and not very much in other forms," explains ReaperMadness. "I regret that the amount and types of books I used to read has dropped. When it comes to spending money on non-essentials in my life collecting games takes priority."
Hyptronic, too, has had to cut back in other areas of his life to compensate for his Steam spending.
"I had to buy less of the other stuff because I spent more than I should a couple of times," he says. "It made me realize that one has to spend their money wisely on Steam if it's only for the +1 purpose."
Money, though, isn't the only cost when it comes to collecting. Owning so many games can lead to what ReaperMadness calls 'Netflix Syndrome', where too much choice traps you in a state of analysis paralysis and simply picking a game to play becomes a challenge.
"With an overwhelming amount of titles to choose from," he explains, "one tends to get gridlocked regarding making a decision on which title to choose. I tend to spend more time on building and maintaining my collection than I actually do playing games."
Seph struggles with this all too often.
"Choice is good, [but] too much makes your brain melt," he says. "It's the same problem with Netflix and all the digital stream services. I sit there on the couch for 30min deciding what to watch, rather than putting something on and finishing it."
Being a collector isn't all trade-offs and sacrifices, though. For ReaperMadness, joining the ranks of Steam collectors has allowed him to connect with others who share his passion.
"The biggest benefit that I have gotten out of [collecting] is the diverse amount of friends I've met all over the globe," he says. "I tend to be very close to [them] and have known [them] for years, even though I've never met most of them in real life."
Seph, meanwhile, takes a slightly more pragmatic attitude when it comes to justifying his collection.
"If I said I had no regrets I wouldn't be human," he admits. "But if I didn't have so many games and Steam wasn't a monopoly on the market, I'd [just] be spending coin elsewhere.
"It's just money after all. Can't take it with ya."
(Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity)