ByNicholas Montegriffo, writer at
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Nicholas Montegriffo

There's a hidden game available on Steam that you'll never be able to find in the store, but it's played by thousands of users every day, for free. The game in question is the old-school shooter Spacewar, but there's more to it than meets the eye. Some of these players are secretly using it to hide more sinister activities.

Spacewar is a classic. In fact, it's one of the first ever, invented by computer scientists waaay back in 1962. It's an extremely basic shooter where vector graphic ships blast each other in the void, swirling around a dying star. The version was created by Valve as a tool for developers to test Steamworks' features like achievements and the Steam Workshop.

Although intended for devs, actually anyone can obtain Spacewar, just not through regular Steam channels. You can get the game by opening the Windows "run" dialogue box (press Windows key + R), and then entering "steam://run/480" therein. That should trigger a prompt from Steam asking if you want to install Spacewar. Congratulations! It's yours! But give it a try and you might notice something weird.

The Real Secret Of Spacewar Is The Piracy

[Credit: Valve]
[Credit: Valve]

If you play Spacewar and try to find other gamers to play against, you'll notice that there's hardly anyone available even at the best of times. Yet various reliable site trackers using Valve's own data consistently reporting Spacewar as pulling in up to 8,000 simultaneous players per day.

This little-known, hard to find proto-game has somehow been in the Top 50 list of most played titles on Steam for years. Now, the Steam community can really rally behind some pretty surprising titles, even some that are pretty pervy. But if Spacewar is so popular, then where are the players? As it happens, most of the people listed as playing Spacewar are actually doing something very different.

Valve uses an automated system designed to detect cheats, hacks and licenses for games installed on Steam, which makes using cracked games on the service pretty difficult, especially for online features. But pirates have found a workaround by masking cracked games using Spacewar's Steam AppID. When these games are launched on Steam, the game is flagged by the system as "Spacewar" instead of the actual game you're playing.

For another tale of video game deception, check out our vid of lying video game trailers below:

Obviously some serious retro fans and developers are still out there playing Steam's Spacewar legitimately, but the chances are that if you spot an account running it, they're actually playing a pirated game instead.

While this practice of masking cracked games with Spacewar has been around for years, I certainly don't recommend you try this at home, as Valve can ban your account for doing it.

As Steam continues to evolve into an algorithm-dominated mega-platform that threatens to command the PC gaming landscape, it might even be that Valve decides to do away with Spacewar. I for one would hope not. Sometimes it's the shadier, more anarchic practices of gaming pirates that end up being the best preservers of gaming history — and Spacewar is a relic we don't want to lose.

So have you, uh, played a lot of "Spacewar" on Steam, if you know what I mean?

(Source: Kotaku)


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