Valve announced that their long-await Steam Family Sharing feature has now left beta hell and is available for all Steam users to use and abuse.
But what is the Steam Family Sharing exactly? Let’s setup an mythical scenario. Say you got 5 friends, and they are all poor sons-of-guns that work as hamburger flippers at McDonald and they blow their savings on moonshine and Play Boy Magazines. They’re also the biggest freeloaders ever, and they constantly bug you to let them play some of your sweet games scattered throughout your Steam library. You don’t want to invite them over to your house because your mother will think even lower of you than she already does. And of course you don’t want to lend over your whole computer gaming setup to them with the threat that they might sell it to buy an exotic zebra-colored lion from the South African jungles. I bet you tried to be an sneaky rebel, but transferring all your Steam games on USB drive sounds like an headache with bypassing of all those firewalls that even Harrison Ford would have trouble breaking. You most likely have given up at this point and have either chosen to find new friends (My Suggestion), or even worse….. tell them to torrent the games. OH! That suggestion would hurt any true PC gamer’s ears and break any developers’s heart. Thankfully,with Steam Family Sharing, you and your friends don’t have to resolve to that….method. You simply give approval for your 5 friends (which is the max limit) and they’ll access to everything in your Steam library across 10 different devices. Yeah, everything. Even that dating simulator which you’ve failed in countless times. But don’t think cause your friends can freeload off of you, that you can have an guy’s night out over some Super Toy Cars off of the single copy in your library. Only one user can be allowed access to the shared library at a time. If you attempt to access your goldmine of Steam games while you have a friend in the middle of a session of any type of Steam game like Pool Nation; your friend will given a short moment to either buy the game he was playing, or GTFO.
With all accounts shared, it will save the progress of each individual on a cloud, so you can’t collectively earn achievements to score 100% in Team Fortress 2 achievements. Of course, not all of can share one account and play an subscriber-base MMO like EVE online at the same time. This new implied feature is all fine and dandy , but could this new feature negativity affect business for developers and publishers? And could we possibly see an decline of sales due to this new sharing feature?
Think about, for as long as the Steam Family Sharing exists, your friends can religiously freeload off of your library for the rest of time. They never have to go through the sufferings of building/upgrading their own gaming rig again. Never have to buy another new released game again as long as you own it. Your friends could save buck tons of money for more moonshine. This system works best for single player oriented games, as a friend can “borrow” your copy of a newly released game when your either finished with it or not playing at an certain time. This new system could negatively effect the economy of PC games over the Steam client. With an friend or family member knowing instead of forking over 60 bucks for an game that they could easily borrow from someone they are close with for free. It should also be noted this isn’t one group of family and friends that is participating in this system, it will be thousands if not millions joining into this feature. This could turn out to be the “used game market” on the Steam platform, just with one person spending their money instead of five. In an developer’s eye this is essentially like pirating, but now it’s both simple and legal.
There are obstacles and circumstances that prevent this from being the almighty leeching machine. With only allowing one user access to the library at a time, limits everyone else’s use and they would be better off buying the game themselves then waiting for one user to finish up counting their polls in Democracy 3. Also there is the social aspect that you have to take into account, as you and your friends could go through the process of fading away from each other. You could also stop playing games on PC altogether (god-forbid), or take away the privilege from your friends in accessing your collection. But these limitations can easily be avoid with a little back-work from both you and friends and family.
Taking an closer inspection of this new feature, because of the obstacles presented within Steam Family Sharing may not mean a loss of money for developers/publishers, but instead free advertising. If you allow your five poor friend to have access to your full library of games, and say one of your friends gets hooked or intrigued by one of your games in the collection. This friend could be so interested in this game, that he may want to own it himself and stop bothering with the limitations of Family Sharing. Essentially free advertising. This process is similar to the sale of cosmetic items in Team Fortress 2. A game where the sale of wearable objects like hats, single handily drives that game’s economy. Someone who plays enough Team Fortress 2 for so long, will witness other players’s cosmetic items that they too, will be adsorbed into urging for those features that they go exploring the store for them. This type of business model is what most, if not all, Free-To-Play and MMOs virtually share. Even in social setting, such as school, the same model follows suit. With types of clothes and style deeming to be “cool” to the mass, it sparks an domino effect. This domino effect is the goal that Valve was searching for in their new system. Someone having access to your whole Steam library is more of an “demo” than an theft due to the constraints of the system structure. This isn’t some theory I thought up with, this WILL HAPPEN. Obligating folks to buy the game for themselves than having to put in effort to play the games for free. A very smart and thought out scheme. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Valve.
So at the end of the day, Steam hasn’t created something that accidentally could have killed off their economy and PC gaming as we know it.