Due to personal preferences and my career choices, I'm an avid gamer. Especially on Steam, I buy far more games than I will probably ever play; the combination of cheap Steam sales and recommendations everywhere you look means there's always something to buy. In contrast, my girlfriend has lessened her gaming habit as real life and her job demand more of her attention. Under our current system, when I find a game that she may like, but may not drop a ton of hours into, she either has to purchase it or sign in under my account to play.
Until today. Valve has announced Steam Family Sharing will be entering limited beta next week.
What does this magical thing mean? Well, Steam account holders will be able to authorize other account holders to borrow their entire library. The borrowers will be able to play most of the games within that Steam library - games requiring a third-party key or account are exempt - and have their achievements and saves attached to their personal Steam account. You can authorize up to 10 accounts or devices for a single library.
Now Valve's not crazy; the lender and the borrower can't access a library at the same time. The lender always retains primary access to their library of games. If the lender tries to access their library and play a game, the borrower will be told to either quit the game they're playing or purchase it on Steam. And you should expect to only use Family Sharing with people you trust: if a borrower uses your library for cheating or fraud, you could lose your sharing privileges altogether.
For me, this means when I have a great game I want to show my girlfriend, she can just borrow the game and play it on her computer. If she ultimately likes it, then she can buy it. That's better than buying two copies of a game only to have one go unplayed. For a couple or family that plays games together, Family Sharing is a far superior option.
But I wondered if developers would feel the same way, seeing as Family Sharing could mean less copies of their title sold. Sharing has always been a contentious thing because publishers and developers are worried about lost sales. If I can give a game to a friend and they beat it, then as far as the publisher is concerned that's a lost sale. Things aren't as black and white as that, but those thoughts are behind things like Microsoft's original always-online DRM system. Some folks in the industry absolutely hate any sort of used or second-hand gaming. So I asked a few devs what they thought about Family Sharing.
"It does seem like there's a possibility for a lost sale or two, but that's easily made up for in added convenience for multiple account families," Monaco designer Andy Schatz told me via email. "It's the sort of feature that's likely to create more gamers in the long run, at the expense of a tiny number of people that nibble around the edges of exploiting the feature. If it adds convenience and allows for frugal families to play a wider variety of games, seems like it's an all around win!"
"As a game developer and player, I'm excited about the Family Sharing program," added Amir Rao, studio director of Bastion and Transistor developer Supergiant Games. "As a studio, we're not worried about the possibility of lost sales due to the Family Sharing program in the same way we're not worried about potential lost sales due to piracy (Bastion has no DRM and Transistor won't either) because we ultimately care about creating a good experience for the paying customer. Valve is increasing the value of paid games for their audience by allowing customers to share them with close friends and family."
So customers love the idea and developers love the idea. I think that means everybody wins, right? If you're looking to get into the Steam Family Sharing action, you just need to join the Family Sharing group here.