Your various ROM collections, Steam games, and various other Windows games are, at the end of the day, all just games. Wouldn’t it make sense to launch them all from the same place?
That’s the idea behind Launchbox, a free program that can launch ROMs with any emulator, DOS games using DOSBox, and even your PC game collection. If you’re the kind of person who hoards games and then forgets to play them, this is for you. You’ll end up with a single interface, complete with cover art and details, to browse whenever you want to play something.
We’ve shown you how to set up RetroArch, and that gives you a single interface for emulating everything you can imagine, but it’s still a system that’s separate from the rest of your game collection. Launchbox puts your ROMs alongside all the other games on your system. Here’s how to set it up.
Setting Up Launchbox
Installing Launchbox is simple: just head to the Launchbox website and follow the prompts. Note that you’ll need an email address to get the download link, and then installing works like any other Windows program.
The first time you run the program you’ll see a wizard that helps you install titles.
Again, right now, importing Steam games isn’t working, even though it’s listed among the options.
Adding Steam Games to Launchbox
In order to add your Steam games to Launchbox, you’re going to need a couple of pieces of information before you start importing games. The first thing you’ll need is your very own Steam API key. The reason for this is that Steam changed the way things work recently, and the API key that belongs to the makers of Launchbox no longer works for Launchbox users.
The good news is that getting your own API key is really simple. Head to Steam’s page for registering a web API key (and sign into Steam if you haven’t already). The site asks you to enter your website URL. If you have a website, you can enter it, but you can also type in any random website to get your API key. Copy that API key, because you’ll need it in a moment.
The next thing you’ll need is your Steam ID. The easiest way to find that is to sign into Steam (the website or the Steam client), and head to your profile page. Take a look at the URL at the top of the page, and the last part of that is your Steam ID.
With that information in hand, you’re ready to import your Steam games into Launchbox. In Launchbox, head to Tools > Import > Steam Games.
The first thing you’re asked is to fill out the user ID portion of your Steam profile. Type that in, and then hit the “Next” button.
Next, you’re asked for that API key, so go ahead and paste it into the box, and then hit the “Next” button.
Then, you’ll need to specify where to download metadata for your games. That includes things like the title, ESRB rating, and so on. Leave it set at the default if you’re unsure. Otherwise, make your selection, and then hit “Next” again.
Next, you’re asked if you want to download images for your games. There’s a lot here, and it covers all the different views and themes you might use to browse your games. You’ll want to grab most of it, but if you scroll to the bottom, you can deselect the trailer and theme video options if you want the downloads to go a bit quicker. Click the “Next” button when you’ve made your selections.
Launchbox will then scan your Steam library and show your games. The list includes all your Steam games, whether you’ve got them currently installed or not. If you see any games you don’t want to add to Launchbox, select them and hit the Delete key to remove them from the list. When you’re ready, click “Finish” to start importing your games.
Importing your game can take some time. How much depends on the number of games, and how much art (and video) you’re importing for each one. So just let it run for a while. When you’re done, you’ll have your Steam games added to the mix.
Adding Windows Games to Launchbox
If you’ve got a number of Windows games installed, Launchbox can scan your computer and add them automatically. To get started pick the Windows button in the launch wizard. If you skipped the wizard, head to Tools > Import > Windows Games in the main program.
The tool scans your computer and finds as many games as it can, including any installed using Origin or GOG.
That was easy, wasn’t it? Click “Finish” and and Launchbox downloads art for these games and imports everything.
Adding ROMs to Launchbox
The real magic here is adding your ROM collection. To get started click “Import ROM Files” on the wizard or head to Tools > Import > ROM Files in the main program. To start, you’ll point LaunchBox toward folders with ROMs in them.
Next, tell Launchbox which system the ROMs are for.
Finally, point Launchbox toward an emulator you’d like to use to launch the game. We recommend you set up Retroarch, because that way you only need to configure everything once, but with Launchbox you can also use a separate emulator for every platform. It’s entirely up to you.
When you’re done, Launchbox scan the folders and show you all the ROMs it found. It then downloads cover art and descriptions. You can go through a similar method for DOS games, but you’ll want to read up on setting up DOSBox to play old games before diving into that.
Adding Individual Games
If a ROM or game in your collection doesn’t show up, don’t worry. You can add titles individually. Just click the “Add” button at bottom-right and a window pops up.
Here you can type your own details for any game, including the name and where the executable or ROM can be found. It can be annoying, but if the various wizards missed a title it’s your only option. Most games, even ROM hacks, were found in our tests, but it’s still good to have the option.
Browsing Your Collection
So what does browsing your collection look like? By default, you’ll see a wall of box covers, with the background being a piece of fan art inspired by the currently selected game.
You can browse games with the arrow keys or with the mouse. You can even open a panel to see more information about your titles, including ratings and descriptions.
It’s a detailed interface, so take some time to explore it.
Optional: Big Box Multi-Menu
For most PC users, the primary interface works perfectly. But if you want to browse your computer using a controller from your couch, there’s another interface for you: Big Box. This feature, which is only offered if you buy a $20 Launchbox Premium account, offers all kinds of customizations and animations.
If you like the look of this, and love obsessively tweaking things, consider paying for the upgrade.