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Steam is changing how game updates work to manage bandwidth during record usage

Valve is making some changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Steam logo against a backdrop of various video game titles and artwork Image: Steam
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Steam is setting new records for concurrent players as people are self-isolating at home during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 23.5 million players are logged into Steam on Monday afternoon, according to data from the unofficial Steam Database, with more than 1.12 million players in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive — a new all-time peak.

To contend with this unprecedented spike, Valve is making some key changes to how Steam handles updates as the company tries to manage bandwidth. The company said it will update some games in Steam users’ libraries less frequently. Here’s how Valve describes the change on the Steam blog:

For games that haven’t been played recently, Steam has already been scheduling updates for the next off-peak local time period. Beginning this week, we are now spreading these updates 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. We’re also looking into additional solutions to help on our side.

Valve is also encouraging Steam users to manage their own bandwidth usage with the following steps:

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.

Valve’s efforts to manage bandwidth follows similar moves from companies like Sony Interactive Entertainment, which is slowing PlayStation Network download speeds in the U.S. and Europe, and video streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, Amazon, and Apple.

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