Steam beta has system to prevent downloading old versions of games – update

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Valve has added a method in the latest Steam beta to prevent users from downloading older versions of games. For example, older builds are used by speedrunners, players who experience crashes on newer versions, and archivists.

Why Valve introduced the addition in the beta is unknown. In fact, the version in which the change was made, according to the extensive blog post by SteamDB chieftain Pavel Djundik, does not have that information in its changelog. One possible reason for the measure is to save bandwidth and possibly storage space, or to give publishers and developers privacy when it comes to older data. SteamDB foreman Pavel Djundik notes that the feature doesn’t actually work yet, but it is there. Djundik calls the introduction of the function on Twitter ‘plausible’.

Where users can now simply enter a command to request an older version of a title from Steam’s servers, if the function becomes a requirement, an additional manifest request code is required. The client only gets this if he provides an app id, depot id, manifest id, branch name and branch password, all that data is up-to-date and the client also ‘owns’ the game. An older manifest id, which represents an older version, is rejected. The codes issued by the servers are also valid for ten minutes, so they can hardly be reused.

Should the function actually become active, developers can still create so-called beta branches for users to sign up for in the Steam gui. The disadvantage of this is that developers have to do extra work for this and that there is a maximum of 25 branches.

The speedrunning subreddit is not happy about the impending change. People talk about using GOG as an alternative, but that store only keeps the latest five versions. An example of a game that is partly played in an older version because of speedruns is Cuphead. An anecdote is also shared about someone who can only run Doom 2016 properly on the penultimate version of the game, which can be made much more difficult for him or her with this Steam feature.

The feature would also affect SteamDB. The Steam information website collects all kinds of data about games, but after this change, it will no longer be able to track all file lists for all games on Steam. This means that the change history per file, for example, is no longer tenable. Because only the latest manifests may be available in the future, SteamDB downloaded all the manifests it could get. All those file lists make up a total of 600GB.

Update, Tuesday: PC Gamer has received a response from Valve on the matter. “We don’t plan to disable downloading of old builds. What we’re working on is an approach to handle edge cases with non-downloader content and to help partners more easily remove builds that need to be removed due to copyright issues, for example. We will share more information in due course.”

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