Back in June some sharp-eyed folks on Neogaf noticed some references to game sharing in a beta client for Valve Software's digital gaming service, Steam.
Now, just a few months later, Steam has introduced Steam Family Sharing, promising that a beta is coming soon.
It sounds remarkably similar to what Microsoft originally planned for the Xbox One; gamers will be able to authorize up to 10 computers to access their Steam library. (Microsoft backed away from this offering when they changed their DRM plans in response to consumer feedback, but Microsoft officials have said there's a chance that Xbox One Sharing will return at some point in the future.)
Now, as much as I hate to say it, we gamers tend to be 'glass half-empty' sorts, so let's dive right into the limitations and get those out of the way. First, only one person can borrow your library at time, and they do borrow the entire library, not a single game. So if you play games on Steam 24/7 this new service won't do much for you; you can't lend your library to a friend while you're playing a Steam game.
Also, not every game will be shareable due to 'technical limitations.' As examples. Valve says that games that require a 3rd party key, account, or subscription won't be shareable.
So what happens if your friend is playing one of your Steam games and you want to play? Your friend gets bumped; as the owner you always have priority access to your games. Your friend gets a few minutes to either quit or (aha!) purchase the game. Viral marketing win!
In a lengthy FAQ thread in the Steam Community plenty of gamers feel this new system is too limiting. They'd rather be able to share items on a game-by-game basis or at least be able to play a game in their library while a friend is borrowing a different game.
While I certainly understand that desire, it makes sense for Valve to initially roll this feature out in a very conservative manner. My guess is that they'll watch the sharing numbers and if it seems safe to do so, they'll open things up a little more. It'll be up to them to balance giving gamers as much as they can without harming their own bottom line by cannibalizing sales via sharing. (If they debuted sharing with rules that were too generous and later had to add new restrictions, they'd suffer much righteous indignation from gamers!)
In other words, if you're disheartened by the limitations of the system now, don't lose hope just yet. Remember, Valve wants you to love their service. If they can loosen restrictions without hurting sales, they will do so. (To be clear, this is just my opinion/expectation of what will happen. I don't have insider info.)
If you want a shot at beta testing this new feature, you have to join the Steam Family Sharing group. I've already thrown my hat into the ring and if I get in I'll report back on how well it all works.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.