Steam rolling out faster, smaller downloads

By Alice O'Connor, Jul 18, 2011 7:00am PDT

An all-new Steam content system will bring faster speeds and smaller patch sizes for players, along new publishing tools that'll help Steam release more games, the digital store's proprietor Valve has announced. In true Valve fashion, it's also slipped in a cruel, casual tease, saying we can expect Dota 2 to be delivered by this new system "soon."

The new content system uses plain old HTTP, like a regular web file download. This means those behind restrictive firewalls should have far less trouble downloading, and ISPs can cache files on their proxy servers--which many don't count towards their users' bandwidth allowance.

Bandwidth will also be saved with a new approach to patching games. Rather than downloading a file all over again from scratch if it changes in a patch, as before, the client will only download the differences between the old and the new file. Anyone who's ever had to download a large game entirely from scratch with an awkward patch should be grateful for that one, as will those of us suffering tight ISP bandwidth caps. You also won't need to wait for a game to patch before you can play it, as the patch will download as you play then be applied once you stop.

Valve has more bandwidth to play with too, with more servers in more locations.

Steam users will also finally, after years of requests, be able to schedule and prioritise downloads, and throttle bandwidth.

To go along with the new content system, Valve's created new tools for developers and publishers. It says these "simplify the process of both publishing and updating a game on Steam," meaning "it takes the partner and us less time to ship each product, so we can ship more stuff to more users." Splendid.

The new content system has yet to fully roll out, and presently is only used if you download HD videos from Steam. Valve says we can expect "more and more" Steam content to be delivered by the new system "over time," including the much-anticipated Dota 2 "soon." Just like that, they drop the D-word then casually move on as if it were nothing.

Valve's sequel to the monumentally popular Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne mod DotA Allstars was announced in October 2010 but, a few details aside, little solid has been heard from it since. However, European games show Gamescom recently listed Valve as displaying a strategy game. Dota 2's all we know of that could fit the bill, so the grand unveiling could be coming at, or before, the show in August. Last we heard, DotA 2 was due to be released for PC and Mac some time this year. DotA Allstars' current developer, the mysterious 'IceFrog,' has joined Valve to work on it.

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