Steam unveils a “Family Sharing” program for digital lenders

The day has finally come for indie gamers to share digital copies of their beloved game libraries, as Valve has officially announced “Family Sharing” for gaming platform Steam — a free service that allows gamers to lend titles to friends and family through the cloud.

Users are able to share games by creating “authorized computers” within the cloud. Right now, Steam assigns games to specific usernames — if a family or group of friends play on the same computer, each person would have to have an individual copy of a game. Family Sharing would eliminate that rigidity by approving friends’ computers and creating a cloud-based gaming library.

According to Valve, sharing will be limited to 10 computers, and two players cannot play the same title simultaneously. Ownership is also important: Users who play a friend’s game in the cloud will be able to save their progress and clock their own achievements, but will not be able to download DLC or stay on the game if the real owner would like to play it. There will also be a limited number of titles available to play via Family Sharing, so not everything will be available to lend.

Astute readers may know that the features Steam touts are almost exactly the same as ones once attached to the Xbox One. Amid the hubbub regarding digital ownership, DRM and privacy, library sharing was actually one of the positive aspects of Microsoft’s approach to games management on its next-gen console. However, the company wiped away the possibility of library sharing with the rest of its backtracking behavior earlier this summer, so it’s unsurprising that Valve has hopped on to make sharing a reality.

And, in many ways, Steam is the perfect environment for Family Sharing. While there are plenty of recognizable titles available on the platform (Saints Row IVCivilization VRayman Legends), Steam is anchored by high-quality independent titles — ironically, the same ones that both Microsoft and Sony have touted in their keynotes throughout the year. Indie games are considerably less expensive, and are consistently marked down through discount websites like Humble Bundle and the ever-loved Steam Sale. So users will be compelled to share, try and buy many independent, digital-only games — supporting a sustainable ecosystem of developers without raising questions of ownership.

Those interested in Family Sharing will have the chance to access a limited beta in the near future, and can sign up by joining the related Steam Group.