Valve Plans to Let You Virtually Share Your Digital Games with Friends and Family

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In the old days, we had physical media, and physical media was good, and we shared that physical media with friends and family because sharing’s what friends and family have been doing for millennia.

Nowadays, with fancy all-digital games tethered to online user accounts and companies able to basically firewall content, you, your dad, your mom, your sister, your cousin, your cousin’s uncle and your circle of friends all wind up having to pay for stuff individually. Sharing digital media, while we wait for the First Sale Doctrine legal saga to play out, is pretty much a non-option.

Unless you’re Valve, and you’re thinking ahead of the curve — way ahead, by my measure — and planning to launch something called Steam Family Sharing:

…a new service feature that allows close friends and family members to share their libraries of Steam games, is coming to Steam, a leading platform for the delivery and management of PC, Mac, and Linux games and software. The feature will become available next week, in limited beta on Steam.

Everything I said about not sharing digital content above? This wipes that away for up to 10 people you designate as worthy, each of whom can access a game you’ve paid for, earn their own achievements and save their own games. All you have to do is authorize a shared computer. And notice “Family Sharing” means both family and friends — Valve’s basically opening this up wide — which is kind of incredible.

Here’s Valve’s Anna Sweet on the decision:

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. Family Sharing was created in direct response to these user requests.

The only catch, and it’s a perfectly reasonable one: simultaneous play isn’t allowed. How does Steam decide who gets dibs?

If [the library owner] decides to start playing when a friend is borrowing one of his games, the friend will be given a few minutes to either purchase the game or quit playing.