A recent patent has been unearthed online which shows Valve is interested in a technology that will let you play games as they download. This is not necessarily a new concept though, as Ubisoft, Origin, and Battle.net have all done the same kind of thing, but Valve’s patent could be a more streamlined version of the technology in comparison.
The patent, known as “instant play”, will track the read operations of a game file in order to prioritize which files get downloaded first, letting players start the game as it downloads. Additionally, it will also free up space by “client-side discarding and prefetching” which can also help reduce latency.
"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 catalog 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."
Whilst Ubisoft, Origin, and Battle.net have all used the same sort of technology, those were limited in what you could actually play (mainly sticking to tutorials or menu screens). Whereas Valve’s patent could theoretically let you play the game without limits on what you can actually play.
That should definitely help with the problems of Valve’s unpacking feature when pre-loading games, as most of the time you’ll have to wait a while after the actual release date in order for Steam to fully unpack the files and let you start playing. This can be particularly frustrating if you've been staying up to midnight to play a new release, only to wait another hour as Steam unpacks the files.
Valve has yet to make an official announcement or comment on the technology, and the patent was only recently discovered but was actually filed back in March 2020. Either way, if Instant Play ever actually comes to Steam, it will likely be in a surprise update to the client as usual.
What do you think? When will Valve release the Instant Play technology? How will it benefit players? And have you used it before on other clients? What has your experience been like? Let us know!