Steam's Family Sharing Feature Shows That They're Ready For Digital Sharing, Even if the Xbox One Isn't
Today, Steam announced that they're preparing to launch a new feature called Family Sharing, which will allow users to grant up to ten people access to their library on the wildly popular digital game distribution service. Only one person at a time will be able to access a library (with the library's owner taking priority) which means that it's certainly not an alternative to buying two copies of a multiplayer game, but it still seems like it will be a fairly flexible and useful system.
It also may sound familiar if you've been following any of the next-gen console news. It all sounds quite similar to a sharing feature that the Xbox One was supposed to have. Unfortunately, that one rather interesting feature became a casualty of a PR disaster. Although they've since said that they plan to revisit digital sharing on the Xbox One eventually, it won't be available at launch.
Let's get the best/worst joke out of the way: Steam does what Xbox One't.
Jokes aside, I'm very excited about this. I'm a person who likes to evangelize about good games, but talking a game up will only get you so far; sometimes you need to be able to sit someone down and let them play. While Family Sharing won't enable me to do this for everyone, it will let me show my close friends and family members things they might otherwise ignore based on little more than screenshots and my own frequently unconvincing explanations.
This works both ways. I have friends who might desperately want to kindle my interest in something, but they just can't quite convince me to spend the money on an item I might not like at all. The latest GTA game is due out soon, but I don't have much experience with the franchise. Is it for me? I'm certainly not going to spend $60 to figure it out, but if a friend has it... What's the harm in checking it out? In these cases, playing is believing. Demoing a game that comes alongside a recommendation could increase sales, even when demos alone are known to hurt a game's sales.
Then, of course, there's my mom. My mom loves games... Sometimes in theory more than in execution. There are so many games she would certainly like, but she often has difficulty with the controls and since she's not a longtime gamer she lacks a lot of the experience and understanding that game designers often take for granted. For me it's second nature to hit "I" for my inventory-- I've done it a million times before-- but for her it's brand new. Getting her into a game is a lot about trial and error, finding the right blend of style and intuitive gameplay that she can enjoy without constantly feeling like she lacks the skills necessary to play. The fact that demos have really fallen out of favor makes taking games for a test run difficult, and it's just one more obstacle for her. That's why having the ability to just open up my Steam library to let her pick and choose what appeals to her is something I'm really looking forward to.
Ultimately it will be interesting to see how Family Sharing affects sales on Steam. Will people buy a game that they've tried out through a friend, or will they just play it through that friend instead? Do personal recommendations have any effect in countering that sales hit that demos apparently cause? Any feature that increases loyalty to the platform will always be a smart move, especially with new consoles launching very soon (potentially within the same window that Family Sharing will go live, what a coincidence!) so maybe it will all balance out in the end.
If you'd like to try Family Sharing before it's officially launched, you can join the Family Sharing group on Steam. Beta access will be granted to select members starting next week, with more being added regularly until the beta closes.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.