Valve has officially announced that Steam Family Sharing, where you can share entirely game libraries with friends and family, is now out of Beta and part of the regular Steam offering. The service is available to any Steam users who have the application installed and allow for families and groups of friends to club together to buy games and share them. Previously, the only way to do this was to set up a separate Steam account and share the username and login details with whoever wanted to play the games on the account.
Family Sharing has a few limitations though. You can only authorise up to ten computers or devices to log in to Steam and play your games and on top of that, up to five additional Steam accounts are allowed to share games with you. This allows for the people you share games with to have their own game progress and save files and when the time comes to buy their own copy, it’s already installed and they can continue with their previous playthrough.
There’s also a limitation in the way game libraries are shared. Only one user may access a game in a shared library at any given time. Accessing your library to play a game while someone else is busy with a shared game sends them a notification to save their progress and shut off the game or buy it to continue playing. This does, however, open up an interesting combination of one friend playing a game from another’s library, while that friend plays a game from another’s library and so on, ending up in all six friends playing a game from the other’s shared title.
Note that 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. There’s also no way to buy DLC for a game that a friend shares with you and there’s no way to transfer in-game items between accounts.
In reality, this is going to work really well for a Steam Machine in the living room. Set up your account on the device, set up your friends and family to share accounts only on the Steam Machine and use the optional “Family View” parental controls to allow your kids to play games that you approve from your shared list.
This costs a lot less than buying a license for each Steam account and means that it brings Valve closer to the kind of offering that consoles have when it comes to sharing games.
One more thing also needs to be kept in mind when sharing your games – don’t share them with jerks or cheaters. Doing so may have repercussions such as the other player being VAC-banned and Valve may elect to revoke your right to share your game library with others. Valve cautions that you should only authorise devices that you trust and only share your games with people who won’t spoil the service for both themselves and you.