You'll soon be able to borrow digital PC games like you would disks -- Valve has just announced a program called Steam Family Sharing that will let up to 10 Steam accounts share a single library of games. But there's a catch.
If I authorise your computer to be one of my sharing buddies, you can download any of my games and play them on your account, with your own achievements and save files. The catch: we won't be able to play games at the same time -- think of it like you're borrowing my computer for a bit. If I try to play a game while you're using any game from my library, you'll get a warning to either purchase that game or quit, and then you'll be booted.
The feature will enter beta next week. Here's the press release:
September 11, 2013 - Steam Family Sharing, 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.
Steam Family Sharing is designed for close friends and family members to play one another's Steam games while each earning their own Steam achievements and storing their own saves and application data to the Steam cloud. It's all enabled by authorizing a shared computer.
"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."
Once a device is authorised, the lender's library of Steam games becomes available for others on the machine to access, download, and play. Though simultaneous usage of an account's library is not allowed, the lender may always access and play his games at any time. If he decides to start playing when a friend is borrowing one of his games, the friend will be given a few minutes to either purchase the game or quit playing.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it's quite similar to the Xbox One's coolest feature, the Family Sharing plan, which was cut from launch, but might come back one day.
The limit on this new Steam sharing plan is 10 authorised devices -- just like the Xbox One's family plan was going to be.
Also worth noting: not all games will work as part of this program. Says Valve: "due to technical limitations, some Steam games may be unavailable for sharing. For example, titles that require an additional third-party key, account, or subscription in order to play cannot be shared between accounts."
For more specifics -- and to sign up for the program -- check out Valve's official Steam sharing website.