Steam Family Sharing beta: What it is, how it works, and why people are unhappy with it

Screenshot - Steam Family Sharing

The Steam Family Sharing beta is upon us. I was recently accepted into the program to test out and see just how sharing my massive library with my friends, actually works.

When put into perspective, the Family Sharing program is actually a rather genius way to essentially let your family or friends 'borrow' a game in your Steam library, without you needing to give up your login credentials each time and thus being kicked out of your account. It does come with certain caveats, and not everyone is keen on how the program works, but the foundation Valve has laid out is certainly a welcome one.

How does it work?

After a user gets accepted into the beta, which is done by joining the Family Sharing Community Steam page and then waiting for the acceptance email, they'll see a new option in their Settings menu. This new option will allow you to Authorize and Deauthorize a device, so that whoever logs in on that specific device, will have full access to the users entire library.

However in order for you to share your library with your friends and family, you'll have to physically log in to your account from their computer. This is because you're giving their machines access to your library, and not their account. Of course you can always let them log in using your credentials, especially if they live far away. Though this should only be done with a family member, or a friend you fully trust.

So what are these caveats I spoke of ? For one, only one user can have access to the library at a time. That's right, I said library, not game. Whenever a user starts playing a game from your library, the whole library is locked out. Luckily, if you're the owner of said library of games, you always get priority access, which means you'll never be locked out of playing a game. If your friend is playing Sanctum 2 from your library and you hop on to play Borderlands, your friend will get a notification stating that the game is ending, at which point he should have enough time to save the game until it exits.

On the flipside, if you've allowed multiple machines to access your library, Steam will give priority to whoever accessed it first, replacing the Play button for other users with a Buy button.

Why are people unhappy with it?

The biggest problem many users seem to have with the program is that you actually have to authorize a friends computer by physically being there. Many complaints come from users who live in Europe, while their friends live in the US, and have no way of logging themselves onto their computers to authorize it. Many are also not keen on giving up their log in credentials to the people, no matter how much they trust the other party.

These are some of the complaints by users:

Well this is kind of annoying, I have to actually log in to the computers I want to share with (or share my credentials which is NOT gonna happen), but realistically only my brother would be in range for me to actually do that. All my friends are in the United States, while I myself am in europe.

Yeah I think so. In order to share my library I have to physically visit my friends and login from there to authorize that PC.... Crazy

It's ridiculous. I have friends at different universities right now that I want to share my games with but can't because travelling hundreds of miles would be insane. It's strange that valve have basically forced people into giving out their username and passwords if they want to share instead of a simple "share games with friend" option.

However it seems like the issues they have with the program would only go towards abusing it. Many users thought they could simply grant their friends access remotely from their PC, without ever having give up their log-in credentials. I probably don't have to explain why this would be a bad idea for Valve business-wise.

It's a shame that instead of people rejoicing the fact that they can now share their libraries with their friends and family, without losing access to it themselves, they're disappointed with a lack of functionalities, that would make the program be abused to no end.

If you want to check out the program for yourself, make sure to join the Steam Family Sharing Group on Steam, and then wait for an email letting you know you're in.

Charmander
Mike Splechta GameZone's Editor-in-Chief, retro game enthusiast, savior of kittens. Follow me @Michael_GZ
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