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Today Valve announced a Family Sharing program for Steam. Steam Family Sharing will allow players to let their friends and family members to access the same Steam library.
"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," said Valve's Anna Sweet. "Family Sharing was created in direct response to these user requests."
Steam users will be able to authorize Family Sharing on up to ten devices. You can do this by locally changing your account settings or by responding to an email request by a friend or relative to share your games. Authorized devices will be able to download and play all the Steam titles on that shared account. While playing, these friends and family members will earn their own Steam achievements. They can upload their own saves and application data to the Steam cloud.
Simultaneous play won't be supported, though. If the primary account holder (or "lender") accesses their Steam library, anyone currently borrowing the library will have to quit the game they're playing or purchase it. Valve says the borrowers will have a few minutes to do either option. Furthermore, some games can't be shared due to a third-party account or subscription.
"A borrower will have access to the lender's DLC, but borrowers may not purchase DLC for a base game they don't own," says the official FAQ. "Any player may purchase, trade, earn, or otherwise acquire in-game content while playing a game, but in-game items cannot be shared between accounts. These items remain associated with the account that purchased or acquired them, whether borrowing or lending the base game."
A closed beta for Family Sharing will kick off next week. You can show your interest in participating by joining the Family Sharing Group on Steam. Valve will invite a thousand Steam users to test out the feature at first. If the beta for Steam Trading Cards was any indication, they'll continually invite more and more users until the feature is ready to go public. No word yet on when Valve expects sharing to be available to all, though.
This feature confronts the main concern that many of us have with digital distribution: the loss of ownership rights. If you're done with a digital game, you can't loan it to a friend or sell it back to the retailer. Family Sharing is a big step toward evening out physical and digital media rights. It would be nice to be able to share individual titles instead of the full Steam library but maybe we'll get there eventually. We can always hope that Steam will implement digital resales as well. That would make the transition to a digital-only future a whole lot less scary.