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

Advanced server options

Servers are king in online gaming. A solid server with friendly players can feel warmer and more inviting than a nice pair of wool socks. It doesn’t really highlight the fact, but the client keeps tracks of all the dedicated servers connected to Steam, and you can use that to keep track of your favorites.

steam servers IDG

Head to View > Servers to see several tabs’ worth of information about all the servers connected to the service. The Spectate and LAN tabs could be intriguing depending on what you’re looking to do, but I get the most use out of the History and Favorites options. The History tab tracks every multiplayer server you’ve recently used, with detailed information about the server itself as well as when you’ve last accessed it. If any particular servers strike your fancy, right-click it and select Add server to favorites to permanently save it in the Favorites tab—because home is where your favorite server is.

Broadcast your games

Twitch reigns supreme when it comes to streaming your games for others to watch, but Steam also packs native broadcasting tools. Head to Steam > Settings > Broadcasting to set it up. You’ll find numerous options to tweak the stream, such as video quality and the ability to broadcast your microphone’s audio so you can actually chat with viewers.

steam broadcasting tools IDG

The Privacy setting is the most important option, though. You can use it to disable broadcasting completely, allow friends to request to watch your games, always allow friends to watch, or allow anybody to watch (which puts your stream in the public Broadcasts portion of the Steam Community hub). Fear not: Steam will only start broadcasting your game once somebody starts to watch it, so your computer won’t use precious resources recording your gameplay if nobody’s around.

Change Steam’s opening page

By default, Steam opens to the store homepage when you boot it up cold or open it from the Windows system tray, but you can change that if you aren’t interested in window shopping.

steam favorite window IDG

Head to Steam > Interface and look for the Favorite window option. You’ll have several options to choose from; I personally find the Library or Friends defaults most useful.

Optimize your downloads

While you’re poking around in settings anyway, head back over to Settings > Downloads to reveal all sorts of granular options that help you manage how you install both games and their updates. (This is also where you can assign new folder locations to install your games.)

steam downloads IDG

Steam auto-selects the closest available download server, so you probably don’t want to touch that particular option. But you may just want to go through the Download Restrictions options, which allow you to limit the bandwidth allocated to downloads and set a specific time frame when downloads can occur. On the flip side, if you’re lucky enough to have wider Internet pipes, you can opt to allow Steam to download games and updates while you’re actively playing games. By default, Steam halts all downloads when you fire up a game.

Change Steam’s skin

Did you know you can change the way Steam looks? It’s really simple, too.

air for steam skin Air for Steam

Steam doesn’t include any alternative aesthetics by default, but you can find downloadable skins in various places on the web. PCGamesN has a fine roundup, while I have a soft spot for the Pressure² and Air skins. (The elegant Air is the skin you see above.)

Just plop those in Steam’s root skin folder in the Windows File Explorer—the default location is C: > Program files or Program files(x86) > Steam > Skins. Once that’s done, launch Steam, then head to Steam > Settings > Interface and choose your new skin in the Select the skin you wish Steam to use drop-down menu. Simply restart Steam and boom! You’re good to go.

Power-up with Enhanced Steam

enhanced steam Enhanced Steam

The powerful (and free!) Enhanced Steam browser extension might just convince you to start shopping on the Steam website rather than within the Steam client itself. Enhanced Steam packs a multitude of handy-dandy features designed to help you know when to buy—or not buy—a particular game. It’ll show the pricing history for individual titles, tell you when a game is available for less in competing stores like Humble or GOG, warn you when you have a coupon available for a game, and heck, even sniff out games with third-party DRM.

And that’s just the beginning. Seriously; if you’re a PC gamer, there’s no reason not to go install Enhanced Steam right now.

One for the road

steam calculator IDG

For kicks, check out SteamDB’s account calculator tool while you’re at it.

If you’ve left your Steam profile public, the tool scrapes its info to spit out details about how many games you own, how much you’ve spent on them, play-time statistics, total hours on record, and much, much more. It’s enlightening… and maybe just a bit depressing, too.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 29, 2014, but was updated to include new information.

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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