Published today is a new patent from Valve that (amongst other things) might allow for an "instant play" feature for games being downloaded from Steam. Credit to SteamDB's Pavel Djundik for the find on Twitter.
The patent was submitted back in March 2020 from developer Pierre-Loup Griffais, who has been heavily involved in the Linux side of Valve (with Proton and the Steam Deck) but it only got published live today. Not only is it targetting letting people get into games a lot faster, but it also seems that it could be used to help free up disk space. As the description notes:
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.
Some of it actually sounds a bit like how the current shader pre-cache system works, with it gathering data from multiple machines to then give out the shaders to other people when they download the game. In fact, that could be partly what the bit about prefetching of game data could be but it seems to go further with it dumping some elements into RAM for even faster access.
When it comes to the "instant play" feature, it's something other launchers sort-of have where you can hit the play button before the full download is done and this does sound similar. With the system that Valve are proposing here, it seems developers won't need to change their code either as the features would be baked into the Steam client and the way it downloads games with it predicting what you would need first in terms of the data involved based on the telemetry gathered from others.
See the full patent details for more.