Valve launches 'Family Sharing' to share your games library

New scheme will allow Steam's digital libraries to be shared with 'up to 10 devices'

The running battle between digital and physical media continues to rage in the gaming world, with US videogame developer and distributor Valve announcing new plans to make sharing your games easier.

Friends and neighbour have been swapping the discs of their favourite console or PC titles for years, but the increasing popularity of download-only gaming has curtailed this.

Copyright holders feel justified in putting the brakes on digital-only swapping because of their revenue losses from digital piracy, but gamers who don’t pirate content feel like they’re being unfairly penalised.

It’s a situation that will take a while to smooth out, but Valve’s newly-announced Family Sharing scheme seems like a positive first step towards better relations between publishers and gamers. Valve has described it as:

“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.”

Family Sharing will allow purchased games to be played by “close friends and family members”, with each individual earning their own in-game achievements and storing their own saves and settings.

“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,” explained Anna Sweet of Valve. “Family Sharing was created in direct response to these user requests.”

There are limits of course, including those that would apply for sharing any physical copy of a game: you and a friend can’t play a title at the same time, and region-restrictions (eg not playing a game you bought in Japan in the US) will also be maintained.

From what we know of the scheme, sharing a game will not be like taking the disc round next door, or handing it over at school or work, but will allow users to share their library with up to 10 different devices.

This may not be the sort of freedom-of-sharing associated with physical media, but as we’re never going to get that sort of system back again (activation codes and DRM have stopped that) what Valve is offering seems both generous and forward-thinking.

  "See a family member's installed game that you want to play? Send them a request to authorize the computer. Once authorized, the lender's library of Steam games become available for others on the machine to access, download and play."

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