Steam may steal a favorite console feature that you’ll ‘instantly’ love

Steam behind a magnifying glass
(Image credit: Shutterstock - Casimiro PT)

Valve’s Steam service is currently the most popular gaming platform on PC, and it may be able to extend its lead care of consoles (of all sources). A newly registered patent suggests that you could be gaming sooner in the near future, outlining a mechanic called “instant play.” Players would be able to boot up their newly purchased game before it fully downloads from the client.

The mechanic allows for “track read operations,” according to the patent document first spotted by SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik. This would enable game data to be read and accessed before it finishes downloading on a PC. 

Other features include freeing up space by discarding unused blocks of data, and “local prefetching of game data for reducing latency during gameplay.” 

Prefetching is a method for speeding up fetch operations by beginning one whose result is expected to be needed soon, meaning that Steam games will run faster. Both of these secondary features could be especially useful for gamers, and make for a far more enjoyable gameplay experience.

We've seen this before, but there may be a twist

The concept of playing a game before it downloads is something consoles have already started, with both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems debuting the idea and PS5 and Xbox Series X continuing the tradition. 

Normally, there’s the caveat of that game only being partially playable until the download completes. But the patent mentions an interesting phrase: “without limitation.”

Though it hadn’t been extrapolated on within the patent, this could be an indication that “instant play” will allow for a game to be fully playable before a complete download. However, this is all mere conjecture, as Valve's announcement of its plans hasn’t been, let’s say, instant.

Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.