I've been using it for several years now and find it to be fun, handy, and dependable. Most complaints are unwarranted. Steam itself is free, and games available on Steam are undergoing a Christmas sale right now until January 3rd, with Left 4 Dead 2 currently 25% off. And even when that's not going on, there are new sales weekly.
I seen a number of benefits: it's free; there's no need to find disks; you can play your games on any computer with Steam installed; you can stay connected with friends and see what they're up to; and you can keep track of achievements.
Of course, there are legitimate downsides to any online distribution software: there's no physical media for data backups; there's no ability to play online when Steam servers go down; and there's the possibility that Steam itself might go under, leaving you high and dry.
Still, you can backup data, as well as check file integrity and re-download if necessary should any data become corrupted. You also don't need to be hooked up to the Steam network to play alone in Offline Mode. And the likelihood of Steam going under in the near future is very low with companies like 2K Games, Atari, Activision, NCSoft, Rockstar Games, Sony Online Entertainment, and Ubisoft jumping on board.
If you're still leery, you can buy any game from Valve Software (such as L4D2) and a few games from other developers at retail locations and activate your copy on Steam to give it a test run. You likely won't be disappointed. This should alleviate most of your concerns and give you a stress-free way to test out Steam on your own. Check the "Information for New Users" page if you'd like to know more.
games i purchase on stardock can be played without an internet connection when i see fit. they dont force you to download patches to play games you've payed for, and i still dont need disks once ive installed them.
im not saying steam sucks, i like it as i said eariler. but it does have drawbacks compared to other distribution services. compared to both D2D and Stardock, its inferior. but its still a good service, even if it can be unnecisarily restrictive.
Steam doesn't require an internet connection either though, except for initial install. I've been in Offline mode for a month now, and will be for another 5 months. (doing a tour in Afghanistan, no civilian internet, only government). And I can play all my steam games just fine.
Steam also does not require any disks after install, and you don't have to have patches for steam games either, it's just set up to patch games to current patch level by default.... besides why in the world would you not want to keep your games updated??
try playing MW2 without a steam connection. its not all games, but some.
i know steam doesnt need disks, my point is that all digital distribution services have that benefit.
and if you are connected to the internet, you must patch your game before you can play (it wont launch until you patch) so you can end up stick for 30 minutes waiting for a patch to DL when you just want to play a quick game.
like i said, i like steam. but it has some drawbacks that competing services do not.
I think steam rocks, the people that whine and complain about steam AAAAARRRRRRR pirates.
What other DRM engine allows you to log into steam from any computer in the world and have access to your games and play them.
Steam doesn't hurt pirates. It hurts legitimate customers. Silent Hill Homecoming was released only for Steam in the USA. It was cracked and can be run without it, so pirates don't care. They can get rid of it.
DRM is good if no overboard. Steam is a good example of "decent" balance.
Assuming steam doesn't go under(Steam is part of Valve and Steam makes $$ on its own and is defacto right now), it works great since you don't need to worry about media. There's always ups and downs to everything, but keeping track of your media sux.