The lights are on
Intrepid NeoGAF users have found hints that a significant new feature could be coming to Valve's Steam service in the near future. If so, this would be a smart marketing hook, especially for games with significant multiplayer components.
According to the bits of code, it seems that a shared game can only be played on one account at a time. Should the owner decide to step in, the guest will receive a message that it's time to step aside.
There are a lot of reasons why this would be an intelligent move. First, it has the potential to eliminate some piracy. If players can legitimately enjoy a game without paying, they may be less likely to seek unauthorized copies.
Shared games would also allow Valve to track interest in a title and offer that data back to publishers. This could help guide pricing, implementation of discounts, and an understanding of how users who aren't faced with a sunk cost dilemma interact with the product.
Finally, for multiplayer games, shared titles would be a brilliant sales tool. Players can try the title out without investment, but if they want to play with friends, each is going to need a copy. Building a critical mass in social circles faster will facilitate sales.
Microsoft is planning on executing something similar with the Xbox One. Games can be shared with up to ten "family members," and it seems that the relationship will be defined loosely, allowing friends to operate in the same circles.
The Steam game sharing could just be errant lines in a beta build. Don't get your hopes up quite yet. We've reached out to Valve for clarification and comment. Our fingers are crossed that game sharing is something that we'll see go live soon.