15 obscure Steam features that can power up your PC gaming

Steam can do a whole lot more than let you buy and play games.


										IDG Worldwide

IDG Worldwide

Let’s cut to the chase: For many people, PC gaming is synonymous with Steam. Valve’s ubiquitous gaming client is both storefront and service, delivering a one-stop shop for buying games, playing and managing those games, and even building out a friends list to chat with while you game.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Steam’s rife with hidden features that can help you get more out of your PC gaming experience—tricks that few people ever touch. Here are some of the most useful, starting with obscure (yet helpful) library management tools before diving into more exotic tips.

You can jump among them all using the table of contents on the left side of the page, but for sanity’s sake, all of the nifty library tricks mentioned on this page are lumped under a single entry in the ToC.

Optimize your Steam library

Add non-Steam games to your library

From DRM-free indie titles to EA games sold exclusively through Origin, not every PC game graces Steam’s digital shelves—which can be a problem if you game and socialize exclusively through Valve’s service. Fortunately, Valve lets you add non-Steam games to the Steam client.

Steam still won’t keep the rogue title up to date or save your game to Steam Cloud, but adding non-Steam games to your library lets your friends see when you’re playing the game, and unlocks the Steam overlay feature (Shift + Tab), including full screenshot and in-game chat functionality.

add programs to steam library IDG

Got it? Good. Now open the Steam client and head to Games > Add a Non-Steam Game to My Library. The process is straightforward from there. If you want to add a custom image for the game in your Library’s grid view, just right-click it and select Set Custom Image, then go from there. The fine folks in r/steamgrid on Reddit will whip up custom images for games if you’d like. You can find a ton of custom grid images on the Steam Banners website or Deviant Art, as well.

Manage where your games land

Maybe you want to shift all your titles onto a blazing-fast SSD, or maybe you installed a spacious new traditional hard drive that’s just begging to be filled with gaming goodness. Either way, Steam makes it a cinch to add new folders in which to store your games.

steam download locations IDG

Open Steam and head to Steam > Settings > Downloads, then click the Steam Library Folders button. From here, you can add as many folders for game installations as you’d like. Once you’ve added folders, you’ll be given a Choose location for installation option when you’re installing a new game.

Even better, it’s dead simple to move your previously installed games between directories now. Moving game installs (from, say, an SSD to a hard drive) used to require arcane trickery, but now all you have to do is right-click on a game, select Properties, then Local Files, and at the bottom you’ll see a Move Install Folder button. Clicking it brings up all your available Steam folder locations. Easy-peasy.

Batch install or uninstall games

Good news for folks migrating to a new PC or simply looking to clear out a lot of space in a short amount of time: Steam can install or delete games in bulk.

batch install steam games IDG

Open your Steam library in Detail or List View and select the games you’d like to install by Crtl + clicking on each. (The games you choose will appear highlighted.) When you’re done, simply right-click on one of the games and select the Install option. Boom! You’ll be greeted by bulk installation options for the entire mass of games.

Conversely, you can also select multiple games that are already installed on your hard drive, then right-click and choose Delete Local Data to wipe them all off your PC in one fell swoop.

Sort your installed games by size

Speaking of deleting stuff, if you’re trying to free up storage for new games, the ability to sort your Steam games by install size can help you find the biggest space-suckers. It’s hidden in a fiendish spot, however.

steam sort size on disk IDG

You want “Size on disk” selected in this drop-down menu.

Enter your library and set it to List View using the View options near the upper-right corner. Once that’s enabled, click the little + icon at the far right of the screen, just underneath the View options. You’re going to want to click the “Size on Disk” option at the bottom of the list that appears.

steam sort size on disk after IDG

That adds a new “Size on Disk” column to the list view. Click it once to sort in ascending size order, and again to sort by descending size order.

Back up your games

Sure, the Steam Cloud keeps your save games nice and secure on Valve’s servers, but it only backs up your save games—and only on titles that support the feature. Backing up your games themselves protects against life’s “Oh crap!” moments, ensuring that you don’t risk corruption or angering your Internet provider by re-downloading your entire library if your hard drive gives up the ghost.

Guess what? Steam can handle your game backups, too. Head into your library, right-click on any installed game, and select Backup Game Files. A dialog box will pop up with a list of all your installed games, allowing you to select which titles you’d like to backup. The process is straightforward from there.

backup steam games IDG

Restoring those backups is just as easy. Simply log into your Steam account, then open the backup folder and run the steambackup.exe file (which you can grab here if you’ve lost it). Follow the on-screen prompts from there. Note that the executable should auto-run if you’ve backed your games up to a CD or DVD. If you run into trouble, check out Steam’s backup FAQ.

Steam’s backup isn’t flawless. It won’t, for example, back up mods, custom configuration files, or games that utilize third-party installers, such as MMOs and many other free-to-play games. Nor will it back up any games that don’t call Steam home. You’ll have to handle those manually. But most importantly, Steam’s game backup feature won’t backup your local save games. Check out PCWorld’s guide to backing up your PC save games to be certain that the princess comes with you to another castle.

Next page: Family sharing, in-home streaming, and more

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