If you're a Steam user, you'll probably have noticed an unusual amount of updates over the last 24 hours. You're not alone — people's libraries have been updating, seemingly en masse.
The fun part: the developers weren't the ones responsible.
I first noticed it when I saw, out of nowhere, a sizeable patch for Mount Your Friends. It was over 160mb large which raised questions: what's being added to the campy co-op goat climber after all this time?
The answer: absolutely nothing. "I've made no recent updates to the game," Stegersaurus Software replied on the Steam forums. "From what I've heard a BUNCH of games just started auto-updating after the latest steam update. No idea at the moment why this is occurring."
But it wasn't just happening to Mount Your Friends — it was happening to tons of games, seemingly without rhyme or reason.
The current theory — because Valve hasn't confirmed anything — is that the updates are related to redistributable packages for DirectX, Microsoft's .NET framework, Visual C++, and other software that games need to run properly.
They're typically found in the "_CommonRedist" folder of your game installs, although not all will use them. Here's what was sitting in my Street Fighter V folder:
And for Mount Your Friends:
What you'll find in those folders varies; some games don't have a _CommonRedist folder at all.
But for those that do, you'll often see a lot of the same files. SUPERHOT and Mount Your Friends, for instance, have precisely the same DotNet folder. The DirectX files in Nidhogg's folder are identical to those in my install for Street Fighter V.
In principle, bundling all of that into the main Steam client so users don't have to keep redownloading files already on their hard drive makes a whole lot of sense. It's the kind of centralisation that should have been done years ago, if someone had thought to implement it.
We think that's the case, anyway. Valve hasn't said anything, so we don't know for sure.
It'd be less annoying if this whole process went smoothly. A whole string of games, for instance, downloaded 0 byte patches. But other games actually downloaded data. Some of those patches were small — and others, like Mount Your Friends, were closer to hundreds of megabytes. And this is happening to Steam users across the world, not just ones who have signed up for beta updates.
If it was just one or two games, nobody would mind — but when it affects a significant chunk of your Steam library, it's not funny. That's especially the case if you have limited bandwidth or your internet is restricted for whatever reason.
the fuck is happening with Steam? it's got update fever pic.twitter.com/EtOQddMxGG
— Cyclic Redundancy (@Delibird444) April 15, 2016
Suddenly my Steam client wants to do a 0 byte update on about 330 of my games for some reason.
— Kl⚙kwurk (@Klokwurk) April 14, 2016
seriously steam do you have to update 42 games
— Richard Fearn (@badgerlord40) April 14, 2016
It gets even better if you were one of the people who got to watch your Steam download 0 byte updates for games, only to then download actual data hours later. The stickied thread on the Steam sub-reddit is full of users bemused at Valve's client over the last 24 hours, with those not online over the last day or so seemingly unaffected.
An update to Steam's beta client was issued this morning, but that doesn't shed any light on the situation either. The patch notes say it "fixed game install failing with 'Content still encrypted'", an error that some users have experienced after the wave of 0-byte patches. But it doesn't explain the mass redownloading of data, nor why games have been patched only for users to discover nothing has been updated or deleted whatsoever.
I've reached out to Valve for comment, but was yet to hear back at the time of writing. I've also spoken to a few Australian developers, some of whom noticed similar behaviour with their own games or games in their libraries.
Not every game is affected, although some have been temporarily broken as a result. Techland has told fans to opt out of Steam's beta updates for the time being to avoid getting a "content still encrypted" error, an issue that also affected the Aussie-made Assault Android Cactus.
Another developer also shone some light into the updating process. Whenever you go to upload a game or a patch, Steam analyses the data and uploads the difference between your data and what's already on the service. If Steam thinks that the entire structure of your game is affected (as could be the case if the redistributables are deleted or rebundled into another part of Steam) it's possible that it could force an update — even though nothing has actually changed.
The latest beta update should resolve that, although the question still remains: what caused this chain of events to kick off in the first place, and how did a ton of developers' games suddenly start updating without Valve telling anyone?