Valve’s Family Sharing plan increases security

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Valve hasn’t even released its Steam Family Sharing system to the community-at-large yet, but it’s already changing, according to a forum post Friday announcing an authorization limit of ten specific users on ten specific machines.

Steam Family Sharing, currently in beta, is one of the most-anticipated changes to Valve’s digital games marketplace and a cornerstone of Valve’s upcoming SteamOS operating system. It allows users to share their digital library between multiple accounts—ostensibly so a household could buy the game once and then share it instead of buying a copy for each separate account.

In practice, of course, anyone can access your Steam library from their machine as long as you’ve logged into your account on that computer and given permission: your friends, everyone in your college dorm, your creepy uncle, the person you’re having an affair with—whomever!

The old method of Family Sharing authorization was on a per-computer basis. You’d log in to Steam on your [dad/mom/son/daughter/friend]’s computer, authorize it for Family Sharing, and then any account on that machine could access your games.

The changes

But as of Friday, Valve employee Christen Coomer wrote in a forum post, “Family sharing is now a two-factor authentication process, where up to ten Steam accounts on up to ten machines may be authorized to share your library at a given time.”

“This allows lenders more control while reducing the risk of VAC [Note: Valve’s Anti-Cheat System] or other bans resulting from an unknown user accessing and abusing shared games on an authorized machine,” Coomer continued.

From this, we surmise that the per-machine authorization caused issues where—unbeknownst to the lender—users were playing games through Steam family sharing and were cheating. Whether Valve was then banning the lender instead of the person playing the game (who also needed a Steam account), we can’t say, but that’s what it sounds like. We’re trying to reach Valve to find out.

Once you’ve authorized an account, that account can now access your games on any of the ten machines you’ve authorized. It’s unclear whether current Family Sharing beta users will have to go back and re-authorize old computers.

The new plan is a bit more painful to set up, but definitely gives lenders more control.

And it’s still a sight better than any other digital service (console or PC), since nobody else offers a similar digital-sharing plan yet.

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