Budget that bandwidth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone is at home. If not, they probably should be. 2020 has been crazy wild and it's still only March. One of the things people have been doing more of, is playing games. What else is there to do when you're under quarantine? Work? HA! Screw that!

The problem with being at home all the time like this, is that the network in your home, country, or even globally can be impacted significantly. People have more time now to download and play games, they have more time to spend on social media, and they have more time to stream HD movies than ever before. Some services, such as PlayStation Network and YouTube, have already enacted some bandwidth saving measures where possible. Download speeds for the PlayStation Network have reportedly been capped.

Likewise, YouTube has defaulted to streaming at standard definition. You can still watch in HD, but you have to do so manually. While that may sound "stupid" or "annoying" to you, most people probably won't really care nor notice this. It does add up to a LOT of bandwidth saved over time, which is especially useful now.

Like many other tech focused services, Valve is keenly aware of the impact they have on network capacity from those using Steam. The record for the most concurrent Steam users has been broken multiple times in the past couple of months. In early February, Valve's concurrent user record was a then-impressive 18.8 million users. Just one month later from March 14-15, Steam's new concurrent user record grew to 20.3 million users and over 901,000 players in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. In the weekend that followed from March 21-22, Steam again broke records with 21 million and then 22 million users respectively.

Just this past weekend, March 28-29, Steam again broke its record, having hit 23.4 million users. Today, it broke that record again, having hit 23.5 million users online at once. There came a point after Steam surpassed 20 million users that I stopped reporting on the new records here because they began to happen daily.

According to Steamdb.info, there has been a 21.8% increase in Steam users when compared to the month of February 2020. The average daily peak user count went from over 17 million in February to over 19.5 million in March. A nice breakdown of the number of Steam users over the years can be seen in this useful chart. The sudden spike at the end should be a good indicator of the growth that has happened over the last several weeks.

Steam user chart

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help lighten the load, at least when it comes to your own networks at home. Valve has provided a number of quick and easy tips on settings you can manage that should help out a bit. They have also made a few changes to the background updates from Steam that should help out. The major change they made impacts the automatic scheduling of games you don't play as often as others.

Changes to Auto-Updating to Spread Out Peak Load
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.
Just as an example: I still have The Surge 2 installed on my machine. I haven't played it since the review for The Surge 2 went live in late August 2019. There was an update just released for the game that Steam has scheduled to download on April 9, 2020 at 4:15AM. That is roughly 10 days away from the time of this news posting, which is fine with me.

Beyond this, Valve has a list of several things you can do at home. These include setting your download rates a bit lower than usual, or even making use of Steam's update scheduling feature that you may not even be aware of. While some of these may not offer significant relief on Valve's servers directly, they should help out at home and in your area if you have other family members at home who are trying to get things done online.

Options You Can Control
In addition to changes Steam is making to auto-updating, we wanted to remind you that there are also a number of options you can control. We believe that the best solution for most users is to take advantage of Steam’s existing throttling and scheduling features to set their own optimal behavior. So here are some suggestions – follow this link for more details on how-to:
  • 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.
You can read more about these features here.
Beyond these tips, here are a few more handy tips during this pandemic: Wash your hands thoroughly, practice social distancing, and stay home! Also, stop hoarding.

Those tips have zero to do with saving bandwidth and protecting networks. However, those are still the best tips you can possibly follow during this global pandemic. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for those working to save lives.