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Guest Passes resurface

Give your friends free games :: October 27th, 2006 :: Steam updates :: 28 Responses (Feed)
Red Orchestra - Universal Carrier vehicle
Take your friends into battle!

Regards to Andy S, who spotted a series of new strings added to Steam’s interface in the recent platform update. “Guest Passes” are on the way: you’ll be able to hand out free copies of participating multi-player games to your friends, through Friends or via e-mail, for them to play online with you. This is the first we’ve heard of the idea since it was mentioned offhand last March, and it seems to have survived the throes of development largely intact.

The big question is how the guess passes will be handled and restricted; the good news is that most of the story can be extracted from the steamui_english.txt file.

  • There are only so many guest passes per game
  • Passes can only be held in receipt by one account at a time
  • Passes are returned to you after each use and can be resent
  • You can only send someone a guest pass once every 24 hours
  • An account cannot receive a guest pass for the same game twice
  • Guest passes “expire” after an indefinite amount of time (minutes, hours and days are mentioned)

There are also some unconfirmed but probable limitations that we can safely guess at:

  • Guest passes will probably only be valid for online play
  • You may only be able to play on servers in which the sender of the guest pass is playing
  • VAC-banned accounts will almost certainly be unable to give out passes
  • Similarly, guest passes might only function on VAC-secure servers
  • The duration of a pass’ validity will probably vary from game to game (for the same reasons that Red Orchestra had a free week while Day of Defeat: Source only had a free weekend)

Even with all of the conditions we are aware of, there are plenty of loopholes around. It isn’t clear how Valve will prevent malicious users from giving out a constant stream of guest passes to different accounts/computer combinations, for instance, and there will inevitably be a myriad of other issues to be contended with. We will have to see what happens.

The nature of guest passes is still somewhat uncertain, but there is one thing we can be sure of: the news of their return is going to be very well received! 🙂

28 Responses to this post:


  1. Tom Edwards Says:

    I included the RO screenshot for a bit of a laugh, but the idea of handing out some guest passes and all trundling around the battlefield as a unit is actually quite a believable one.

    It’s hard to understate just how cool a feature this could be. We’ve had spawned copies of games in the past, but you always needed to be in physical proximity to use them. This just blows away anything that’s been attempted before.

  2. ATimson Says:

    With spawns, physical proximity wasn’t always required; Starcraft (and I believe Warcraft II Edition) could join any game created by the owner of the game you had the spawn from.

    Personally, I think that I prefer the spawn idea. While the guess pass is probably less restrictive while you have the pass, spawns didn’t have a time limit or a restriction on how many times you could use it. Of course, in this day and age of the dedicated server, spawns won’t work as well, because you probably won’t have the original account be hosting.

  3. bigburpco Says:

    Well received indeed.

  4. smash Says:

    Another leap in the right direction.

  5. Andy Simpson Says:

    I have to agree though with the private grumblings of the many – while adding features like this is certainly very cool, I think Steam’s long overdue a performance / reliability / bug fixing / polishing pass. It’d be great if they feature-froze for a couple of months or something just to fix the niggling little things that have been around for ages.

  6. Tom Edwards Says:
  7. Bob Says:

    One other issue that occurs to me is that Steam will surely have to acquire the whole “only partial download needed to start playing” feature. It’s kinda pointless sending someone a 24 hour pass if it takes them 8 hours to download the thing, and it does rather prevent a “hey dude, I’m about to fire up some CS, why don’t you join me” form of usage.

  8. Mike Says:

    ^^ Anyone is free to pre-load steam games regardless of whether they own it or not. I’d say that it won’t be activated until you begin playing…

  9. Tom Edwards Says:

    Yes, you can choose to activate the pass at your leisure (though it might be resent to someone else if you’re too slow about it). I should probably have mentioned that.

  10. Andy Simpson Says:

    [Comment ID #1735 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Steam does in fact have this feature. HL1 on Steam is a fairly good demonstration of this, if you’re interested, and even in the initial conception of Steam was that it would be streaming game data all the time – you would never have the entire game on your computer.

    However, rather frustratingly, not even Valve games these days seem to actually use this feature, and the new games using the NCF feature are more or less entirely barred from utilising it.

  11. Tom Edwards Says:

    Actually, NCF fully supports it. But of course if you’re using NCF you’re even less likely to want to create working reslists than if you were using GCF.

  12. ATimson Says:

    That depends on why the game switched to NCF. For anything running on the Q3 engine, reslists wouldn’t help any since it’s all in one monolithic PAK file. But with an Unreal engine game like Red Orchestra, reslists would still be quite useful. (Just not as much as in Valve’s engines.)

  13. Tom Edwards Says:

    HL1 has a monolithic PAK file too. 😉 Steam can update within files through offsets.

  14. Andy Simpson Says:

    One of the supposed high-points of the Steam system is supposed to be that the game can pre-hint to the filesystem that it’s going to be needing a particular piece of content soon so that can be bumped to the top of the download list – useful for non-linear games.

    Proper integration with the Steam filesystem is also I think probably needed for the game to get information from the Steam filesystem about how long a pending file transfer is going to take to be able to provide feedback to the user.

    I assume this because HL1 seems to do all of it… and it’s frustrating even Valve aren’t capitalising on it even in their games. Even Source games will just freeze on the loading screen rather than offering you feedback about not having all the content yet.

    I just don’t get how and why these kinda things aren’t an sbsolute priority over at Valve Towers. As the recent stuff about multi-core support at Bit-Tech shows, they’re not afraid of solid engineering effort directed at tricky problems but they haven’t stepped up to the plate to fix this deficiency in their filesystem.

    That is, unless there’s a Steam FS v3 under wraps. That would be cool.

  15. Tom Edwards Says:

    One of the supposed high-points of the Steam system is supposed to be that the game can pre-hint to the filesystem that it’s going to be needing a particular piece of content soon so that can be bumped to the top of the download list – useful for non-linear games.

    Now I didn’t know that. I always thought it would merely run through the reslists in the order specified by maplist.txt, not running a map before everything was in place. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of the old, old streaming model?

    Even Source games will just freeze on the loading screen rather than offering you feedback about not having all the content yet.

    I talked to Alfred Reynolds about this earlier in the year. It was on Friends so there’s no chatlog, but I believe the gist of the conversation was that it was a design decision. Even though they could engineer something, they’d still have people sitting around with a fullscreen game overtaking their computers while the downloads happened: in their mind, back then at least, it was better to be sure that it all went on at the desktop and in the background. Which is a fair point considering that Source does a lot of shared loads (I’m thinking soundcaches in particular) before it even reaches the main menu.

    Single-player streamed according to him though. I think your attempt at HL2 was 39%, but I’ve heard that that improved at some point.

  16. Ed Says:

    Try downloading half-life. You can start playing it way before its finished downloading, but it’ll just hang during the first map’s loading as it waits for it to download.

  17. Andy Simpson Says:

    Well, I might be. But you’d hope there’d be some mechanism for games to tell the Steam filesystem to bump something up in priority or it’d be hopeless at streaming anything but really linear games.

    That’s a pretty poor design decision in my opinion. It’s an awful user experience! It’s practically a cardinal rule of UI design – never, ever have your UI lock up for any reason. It makes it look like there’s something wrong.

    The vast majority of people are going to assume that the game’s silently locked up if it just sits there doing nothing for ages on the loading screen. If it stops, and pops open a progress bar telling you that it’s downloading stuff from Steam, preferably with a “Save and cancel” option, you’re at least giving the user a chance to know what’s going on, how long it might take, and a way to exit the game and let the download complete on the desktop without Ctrl-Alt-Deleting the game.

    That logic is kinda like saying, “Hey, it’s going to take the user an hour to install Windows anyway, and they’re not going to be able to do anything with their computer until it’s done, so hey, let’s just display a single screen with ‘Installing’ written on it!” It’s obviously ludicrous.

    So whilst single-player can stream, it’s an awful experience. Like when I did my trial, the normal age-long wait for the 3D-background to load turns into an era-long wait for the 3D-background to download. Then another huge wait while the first map downloads, all without any kind of indication a download from Steam is taking place, let alone when it’ll be finished.

    It’s the little things which make an experience feel polished; those little bits of attention to detail to detail that makes the product really shine. Valve usually get it so right, it makes it glaringly obvious when they don’t.

  18. ATimson Says:

    [Comment ID #1750 Will Be Quoted Here]

    That’s how it used to be; if you open the GCF, though, the .PAK files are unpaked. (Which, thinking about it, could be done for any iD engine game since it supports looking outside the PAKs for files of the same name.)

    As for popping up a progress bar while downloading: the HL1 engine does that (or, at least, did when I last tried about a year ago). There’s no reason they couldn’t have done it in Source, one would think…

  19. Tom Edwards Says:

    It’s practically a cardinal rule of UI design – never, ever have your UI lock up for any reason. It makes it look like there’s something wrong.

    There is a progress bar, both for HL1 as Andy T said and for Source. But as I said to Alfred all those months ago sometimes it just doesn’t appear. Which is indeed pretty shoddy, even if the consideration is there.

  20. King2500 Says:
  21. Tom Edwards Says:

    Quick note: I might not be able to cover the upcoming beta for this immediately. My laptop died last week (and good riddance), and I’m not exactly sure when its replacement will arrive.

    I hope it’s soon though. God help me, I’ve been using Macs.

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