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Valve changes Steam's auto-update system to help relieve the pressure

(Image credit: Valve)

The coronavirus outbreak has, understandably, put considerable pressure on the online services we use to keep ourselves amused while we're stuck at home. Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon have all made changes to their services to help keep the data flowing smoothly, and starting this week Valve will adjust Steam's auto-update feature to help better manage its bandwidth usage.

Steam already schedules updates for games that haven't been played recently for local off-peak hours, but those updates will be now spread out over several more days. 

"Only games played within the last 3 days will be updated immediately. As always, the game will begin updating immediately if you request to play it, and you can always initiate an update (or pause it indefinitely) through the Download Manager," Valve said. "We’re also looking into additional solutions to help on our side."

The update also makes notes of user-controllable options that can help cut back on data usage:

  • Schedule auto-update windows! This will ensure that Steam doesn’t start updating a game while you’re in the middle of your work day.
  • If you don’t play a game in your library often, you can keep it installed but choose to no longer download automatic updates.
  • You can self-throttle your own connection to Steam. This might ease the load on your network connection, and may help ease bandwidth loads if network traffic in your area needs to be reduced.
  • Take advantage of Library Folders settings, so you can move infrequently-played games from an SSD to a storage HDD. This is usually better for you (and your bandwidth) rather than uninstalling the game and needing to re-download it later.

It sounds like a relatively minor change, more akin to YouTube's standard-def video default than the across-the-board bandwidth cut imposed by Netflix in the EU. It could be an impactful change anyway, though, given Steam's skyrocketing player numbers: After being roadblocked at a little under 19 million concurrent players for a couple of years, it surpassed 20 million in mid-March, broke 22 million a week later, and peaked out at 23.5 million earlier today. It's hard to say where the ceiling is at this point, and so it's not surprising that Valve is doing what it can to relieve some of that pressure.

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.