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5 Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Steam

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If you’re a PC gamer, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Valve’s Steam and use it regularly. Steam includes a variety of cool features that you might not notice if you’re just using it to install and launch games.

These tips will help you take advantage of an SSD for faster game loading times, browse the web from within a game, download games remotely, create backup copies of your games, and use strong security features.

Move Game Folders

Steam stores all your installed games in your Steam directory. This is normally fine, but sometimes it’s not optimal – for example, one of your hard drives may be full or you may want to place a game on a smaller solid state drive (SSD) to take advantage of faster load times. You can do this with standard Windows commands, but Steam Mover automates this process. Using Steam Mover, you can easily move an installed game to another location on your system. Steam Mover creates a junction point in the Steam directory, so it appears to Steam that the game is still located in the Steam folder.

Steam Mover can even show you the commands it will run, so you can run them yourself – if you really want to. This tool should work with other folders on your system, too – not just Steam games.

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Use the Steam Overlay

Press Shift+Tab while playing a Steam game to reveal the Steam overlay. From the overlay, you can chat with your Steam friends, easily take, view, and upload screenshots – or even load a web browser without Alt-Tabbing out of your game. This can be convenient if you’re looking for a walkthrough for the game you’re playing, or just browsing the web during downtime in a multiplayer game.

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If you don’t see the overlay, open Steam’s settings window (click the Steam menu and select Settings), select the In-Game tab and enable the Enable Steam Community In-Game checkbox. The overlay can also be disabled on a per-game basis – right-click a game in your Steam library, select Properties, and verify the Enable Steam Community In-Game checkbox is enabled. Bear in mind the overlay doesn’t work properly with some older games.

Download Games Remotely

If you leave Steam running on your gaming PC at home, you can start game downloads from a web browser (or the Steam app for Android or iOS) and the games will be ready to play when you arrive home. To start a remote download from your web browser, open the Steam Community site, log in with your Steam account, view your games list, and click one of the download buttons.

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Create Game Backups

Some people miss having offline backups of their games so they can install them from a disc if their network connection goes down – this can be useful if you want to move games between computers without redownloading them, too. You can easily create a backup of one or more installed games by clicking the Steam menu, clicking Backup and Restore Games and selecting Backup currently installed games. Select the games you want to back up and select a location for your backup file, such as an external hard drive. You can use the Restore a previous backup option to restore the games in the future.

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There’s another way you can create a backup copy of your games or transfer games to a new computer, too. Just copy your entire Steam directory. Unlike many programs, Steam won’t complain about missing registry settings if you move its folder between computers – you can just copy the Steam directory and launch Steam.exe without having to install Steam or redownload your games.

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Enable SteamGuard for Security

SteamGuard is now enabled by default, but it’s a good idea to check and verify it’s enabled. When you log into Steam from a new computer, SteamGuard will email you a code. You’ll need this code to log into Steam. This prevents people from hijacking your Steam account unless they also have access to your email address.

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To verify it’s enabled, click the Steam menu, select Settings, and look for the Security Status field on the Account tab.

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Do you have any other tips or tricks to share? Leave a comment and let us know about them!

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/16/12

Comments (10)

  1. Chris

    Go Offline

    You can “Go Offline” if you have a laptop and want to play Civ V on the bus or whatever. Pretty effectively, in fact. The option is found in the “Steam” menu item across the top. You will need to be able to authenticate your steam credentials as before you can actually go offline, however, so don’t attempt it unless you can have steam contact the internet. Once you are offline, however, you should be good to go.

  2. Srivatsan Venkatesh

    Just another tip, I use AutoHotKeys and I remapped CapsLock to open the Steam UI because in TF2, I use Shift to crouch because Ctrl is too far away, and Tab opens the scoreboard, so I remapped Steam UI to F12 and used AHK to remap CapsLock to F12 only in TF2.

  3. ChefJoe

    When buying games, particularly during the frenzy that is the steam sale price, buy them as gifts if you aren’t going to play them right away. Gifts with no recipient specified can be stored in your account and later reassigned, actual purchased games cannot be reassigned in such a way.

    Who knows, you may end up wanting to trade or give the game away when you realize other games have caught your fancy.

  4. Gory J

    Loving the Steam Mover idea but would have to ask a question, “Would it Interfere with a game if I had to do a Steam Verification through my Steam Folder?”, I think anyone using Steam for more than a year would be very familiar with the process and the glitches involved.

  5. Danny

    You point out some helpful things.
    I feel it help if you explain that it’s possible to change the key combination for opening the steam overlay.
    As Srivatsan Venkatesh explains, the default settings of shift and tab can interfere with games that use those keys.
    Personally I rebound it to shift and + on the numpad.
    I use this because my hand is close to + while it’s on the mouse, so it’s really easy to open it up when I need, but the chance of opening it by accident is minimal.

    I think this is useful to know about steam too.
    https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=7480-WUSF-3601
    It’s a list of games you can assign to your steam account using the CD key.
    It’s a perfect reference for things to keep an eye out for incase it’s going cheaper somewhere other than on steam.

  6. Steve

    Would Steam mover be a good way to permanently move the Win7 Users folder of the system SSD and onto the 2Tb media drive?

  7. Steve

    (Sorry, spelling error) thats:
    the Users folder OFF the C: SSD and onto the big media hdd?

  8. Nathan J.

    How about DISABLING “Steam Guard”? That’s what’s asking me for my code every time I start it. It’s a nice idea, but apparently dynamic IP (i.e. DSL) is not offered where Valve is from. Connecting from a different IP is what I imagine is triggering the prompts. Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about it. That I know of anyway. I can build a computer but I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to networking. I know what I have and I can use my home WiFi but that’s about it.

  9. Chris Hoffman

    @Steve

    I’m not sure about using Steam Mover to move the Users folder at all. It’s a use-at-your-own-risk program. I wouldn’t move that stuff aroudn while your system is running, anyway. You can easily move individual folders inside your users folder to other locations — for example, right-click your Documents folder (C:\Users\Name\Documents) and use the Move button on the Location tab).

    @Nathan J.

    You should be able to disable steam guard from the options, I think?

  10. kaboom521

    I lost my steam password long ago… but for years it has been logging me in automatically. When I try to change it so I can save it in KeePass, it asks for my old password first. Is there some kind of 2-level authentication like email/cell phone I can use to establish a new password?

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