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Steam Is About To Get A Whole Lot Better

Steam might just be the most popular digital games storefront on the internet, and Valve's reportedly working on making it even better. Pavel Djundik, creator of SteamDB, recently spotted a recent Valve-related patent and shared it on Twitter. SteamDB is a third-party site that often reliably discusses Steam sale rumors and other news regarding Valve's digital storefront. In other words, Djundik's attention to this patent raised some eyebrows among fans who are curious about how Steam could evolve in the future.

"New Valve patent for tracking game file read operations and to allow 'instant play' where you can start a game before it finishes downloading," Djundik tweeted. Djundik also linked to the patent's full description. In theory, this "instant play" option might work similarly to Microsoft's xCloud service, which allows players to test run games before allocating the hard drive space and time to download them.

Djundik followed up with another tweet specifying quality-of-life improvements with the patent, which include "freeing up space by removing unused data" and "prefetching data to decrease latency when loading." The patented feature could theoretically improve loading times by automatically clearing hard drives of unused data, as well as by fetching data before it's needed. Developers also wouldn't need to change anything on their end for the feature to be implemented, meaning this new patent could help consumers without adding work for creators.

Can Steam really make instant play a reality?

There's no arguing that the "instant play" patent is real, but there's currently no concrete information on how it'll work and when PC gamers can expect it to go live. Djundik's tweet is more of a preview rather than anything definitive. Valve hasn't even officially addressed anything to do with this patent yet, and it's worth noting that not every patent ends up becoming a real piece of software or tech.

Some doubt even that Valve could pull it off, with some pointing to the fact that the company tried implementing a "virtual drive" system over a decade ago that didn't quite work the way it was supposed to. Valve eventually scrapped the idea. However, technology has evolved to a point where maybe the approach is more feasible now. After all, Sony and Microsoft later successfully implemented the technology for the current console generation — however, as noted by NME, a significant amount of the game typically has to be downloaded before its playable.

Whatever happens with this latest patent, it's clear that Valve is making some big swings this year. Valve's upcoming portable console, the Steam Deck, divided fans at the time of its announcement, but it's sounding better with each update. Valve has even made the bold claim that every game in Steam's library would be playable on the handheld. Maybe Steam Deck gamers won't even have to wait for a full download before diving into a new title.