How do you legally “share” a game in the digital age when no physical media exists? Microsoft thought it had a possible answer for the upcoming Xbox One by allowing users to pass a game along, but the limitations were too strict and the company eventually backtracked in response to negative feedback. Now the folks at video game marketplace Steam have come up with what may be a more appealing solution — the ability to share a game with up to 10 other people.
Steam Family Sharing will let users authorize their entire library of Steam-purchased games and related downloaded content for use by “close friends and family members.”
Basically, you’re lending those other users the rights to play that game. Only one user at a time can play a game, so it’s not unlike letting your friend borrow that coveted DVD of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The difference here is that, should you decide you really want to play that game that your cousin Jenny is currently hogging, you can take it back without having to come up with any random reason for popping by. Cousin Jenny will get a few minutes warning to stop playing, or be given the option to buy the game herself and stop being such a mooch.
[NOTE: According to responses from a Steam employee in these forums (see posts #36 and 37), the limitations are more severe than the Steam FAQ had implied. Our understanding now is that if a friend/family user who is playing a shared game, the original user is locked out of his or her entire library during that time (or until the user gives that friend/family user the boot). So if Cousin Jenny is playing one of my games, I won't be able to play any of my games until she stops or I intervene. This effectively means that you can only share games with friends/family who don't play games at the same time of day as you do. Obviously, this is making some users very unhappy, and with good reason.]
“Our customers have expressed a desire to share their digital games among friends and family members, just as current retail games, books, DVDs, and other physical media can be shared,” said Valve’s Anna Sweet in a statement. “Family Sharing was created in direct response to these user requests.”
As mentioned above, any DLC you purchase will be accessible to the users on your list. They will not, however, be able to purchase DLC for any game they are borrowing.
The option doesn’t give users the ability to pick and choose which games are made available to their list; it’s all or nothing. Additionally, not every game sold on Steam will be part of Family Sharing; that’s up to the publisher. Likewise, any region-specific restrictions put in place by the publisher will remain, so you can’t lend all your games to friends in different parts of the world.
“Your Family Sharing privileges may be revoked if your library is used by borrowers to conduct cheating or fraud,” warns Steam in the FAQ for Family Sharing. “We recommend you only authorize familiar computers you know to be secure.”
The sharing service is set to launch a beta test next week. To get in on the fun, join the Steam Family Sharing group in the Steam community.