Valve’s digital storefront Steam might be getting a new “instant play” feature that lets you play games before they finished being downloaded, a patent suggests (via SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik‘s Twitter account). Steam’s file streaming patent was originally filed in March 2020 by developer Pierre-Loup Griffais, but it was made public today on September 21, 2021.
The Steam instant play feature update isn’t just designed to help people get into games faster, but it also appears to have the potential to help free up disk space and reduce loading latency. And best of all, unlike on EA’s Origin, Activision’s Battle.net, or PS4 that needs developers to specifically designed their games to utilize the feature, the patent submission claims that developers doesn’t need to do “any work to allow for the instant play feature” to be implemented and is a “value add for all games” on the platform.
Thanks to tons of telemetry data that Steam has gathered, the file streaming process will work by predicting what files you would need first to run the game then it will download additional data while the game is running. So whether you’re playing games made by small indie developers or AAA heavy-hitters on Steam, you should be able to play a portion of any game you have before the download bar hits 100%.
Here’s what the patent’s abstract reads:
Client machines running game executables of a video game(s) may utilize a file system proxy component that is configured to track read operations made by the game executable during a game session, to generate access data based on the tracked read operations, and to report the access data to a remote system. This telemetry approach allows the remote system to collect access data reported by multiple client machines, to catalogue the access data according to client system configuration, and to analyze the access data to generate data that is usable by client machines to implement various game-related features including, without limitation, “instant play” of video games, discarding of unused blocks of game data to free up local memory resources, and/or local prefetching of game data for reducing latency during gameplay.”
The patent filer Griffais himself has spent a lot of time working on Valve’s Linux division; both on the Proton compatibility layer that lets Linux users play compatible Windows games and the Steam Deck handheld. Considering his involvement, it could mean that Steam instant play is developed with Steam Deck in mind since the portable PC has limited drive spaces. Only offering three, relatively small choices:
- 64GB of eMMC storage for the $399 model.
- 256GB NVMe SSD for the $529 model.
- 512GB of high-speed NVME SSD storage if you’re willing to shell out $649.
With this play-before-finishing-download feature, Steam Deck owners will be able to start playing games without sacrificing their storage drive for the game’s full size. Still, it is just a patent submission and it’s still not clear whether they’ll implement the system or not. As I mentioned before, the idea isn’t exactly new and apparently, Valve has tried to do a similar thing before it ended up being canned way back in 2006. What do you think, will the Half-Life creator finally pull it off this time around? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for more nerd and gaming updates at The Nerd Stash.