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New patent from Valve appears for "instant play" of games and more

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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.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Meta, Steam, Valve
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24 comments
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mirv 21 Sep
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Too much telemetry for my liking. I mean, Steam already gathers too much telemetry for my liking, and now it wants to look at my disk accesses. Aside from the privacy concerns, yet more processes monitoring yet more of a system and using yet more bandwidth to report back on it.

In other words, not a fan, and on the increasingly rare occasions I still fire up Steam, I'm be sure to check for and disable such a feature.
TheSHEEEP 21 Sep
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Quoting: mirvand now it wants to look at my disk accesses
From what I understand, it just wants to look at the games' disk accesses, not whatever else you are doing.
If anything, the game developers could feel spied on here, not you.
mirv 21 Sep
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Quoting: TheSHEEEP
Quoting: mirvand now it wants to look at my disk accesses
From what I understand, it just wants to look at the games' disk accesses, not whatever else you are doing.
If anything, the game developers could feel spied on here, not you.

Considering the nature of the software, Steam could do whatever it wished. So could a game I suppose, but a single game is much easier to isolate and sandbox.

And sorry, but no, Valve (via Steam) is spying on me, not the game developer.
BielFPs 21 Sep
Based on my understand about this technology:

-The good: people with slow internet partially being able to play without the game without the need to finish it first. Could also be used to make game "demos" out of the full client and be used in those "free weekends" without the end game content for example.

-The bad: This could generate bugs with games not well optimized to partial run (missing essential files for example) and all the extra bandwidth generated by those new telemetry. (windows 10 is a hell in this part)

-The ugly: Based on the telemetry analysis, they would know the best places to put ads inside the game.
CatKiller 21 Sep
Quoting: skinnyrafDo we like software patents now, because Valve submits them and they serve Linux gaming community?
Valve are at least a member of the Open Invention Network, which is a patent non-aggression organisation.
Consoles have had the "play before it finishes downloading" thing for many years. I'm surprised its taken this long for Steam to consider a similar feature
BielFPs 21 Sep
Quoting: LibertyPaulMConsoles have had the "play before it finishes downloading" thing for many years. I'm surprised its taken this long for Steam to consider a similar feature

Probably because this one may not require the developers to opt-in this feature, like consoles does (similar of how they don't need to do anything for proton to work with their games)
Mohandevir 21 Sep
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: skinnyrafDo we like software patents now, because Valve submits them and they serve Linux gaming community?
Valve are at least a member of the Open Invention Network, which is a patent non-aggression organisation.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Valve ever sueing anybody over a patent infrigement. Usually they patent stuff to protect themselves from patent Trolls. It's more like a "Patents are a reality we have to deal with, so let's do what must be done to protect ourself from them".

Edit: Is this feature something that could be used to, let's say, prevent the Steam Deck from downloading 4k textures on a 800p screen? That would be awesome!


Last edited by Mohandevir on 21 September 2021 at 3:47 pm UTC
Developer12 21 Sep
IANAL. I see two potential problems here:

1) This skims awfully close to existing "profile guided optimization" techniques. I don't believe it should be different using such techniques for games vs anything else, but if this patent specifically applies to games then if could cause a conflict. Either the patent could be invalidated based on prior art, or it could block a lot of optimization work.

2) What happens if it drops a part that nobody uses, until someone uses it? Presumably all that code had to be present in the first place following the software build for a reason. Perhaps it just wasn't triggered as it belongs to a secret area almost nobody finds? It might not be horrible if this only affected the order of things loaded into RAM, but if the required code is nowhere to be found (even on disk) because it was never downloaded then this may cause a spectacularly messy failure.
Quoting: Developer12IANAL.
Why are so many people on the internet so ANAL?
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