It’s a common misconception that all games purchased through Steam have DRM (Digital Rights Management) enabled by the very nature of being on Steam, but that’s not the case. Here’s why, and how to tell if your game is DRM-free.
Why Don’t All Steam Games Have DRM?
If you were under the impression that all Steam-purchased games have DRM enabled and the Steam launcher is required to play them, that’s perfectly understandable.
You can add your spouse, kid, roommate, or whoever to your Steam library to share games within your home, but Steam shares the entire library at once not the individual games. That means if you want to play Game X in your library while your kid plays Game Y, it doesn’t work even though you’re not playing the same game at the same time. While we understand their logic (they’re trying to avoid somebody sharing a 1,000+ game library among a group of friends and the missing sales that would result from that) it’s frustrating when you just want to share the games you paid for with your kid down the hall.
If you know a particular game is DRM-free and can launch without the Steam launcher, then you know that game will always be available even if somebody in the household is using the family Steam library.
It’s Easier to Archive DRM-Free Games
We don’t know about you, but the nuance of game licensing and DRM aside, our attitude is “I paid for this game and therefore I own this game.” While the chances of Steam closing up shop and leaving literally millions of gamers high and dry with no recourse is very, very slim, we also have been burned by DRM too many times over the years to not think about that possibility.
If a game in your library is already DRM-free to start with, that makes it very simple to backup the game and keep a copy that will work no matter what becomes of Steam.
Whatever your reason for wanting to check if a game is DRM-free, however, it’s easy to do so.
How to Tell If Your Steam Game Is DRM-Free
Curious if a particular game is DRM-free? Here’s how to tell. Let’s start with the most obvious ways to weed out DRM games and then dig into the finer details.
And if you’re not interested in playing DRM detective, don’t worry, after showing you how to check for yourself we’ll highlight some great lists you can check to skip the whole field test experience.
Check the Game’s Steam Page
It’s elementary but it’s the fastest way to rule out a game. Games that use third-party DRM are flagged as such on their Steam listing page. In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that the Bethesda game Deathloop uses the Denuvo anti-tamper DRM (an always-on DRM that requires you to be online even if you’re playing single-player mode).
Do note, however, that checking the Steam page for a game is just intended to rule out the big DRM systems. Just because you don’t see a notice that the game is using Denuvo, or UPlay, or any of the common DRM systems doesn’t mean it’s a greenlight.
Install the Game and then Run It Without Steam
You’ll need Steam to get the game files in the first place, but once you have them whether or not you need Steam is up to the publisher.
With that in mind, an easy test is to simply load up Steam, install the game, shut down Steam, and then temporarily rename the root Steam directory and the
steam.exe . So during the test your
/Steam/ folder will be renamed to, say,
/Steam-Old/ and your
steam.exe file inside that folder will be renamed to
steam.old —this is to ensure that should the game go looking for Steam, it can’t find it.
Then locate the actual executable file for the game and try to launch it without Steam. If it runs, great, you have a DRM-free game on your hands. If it doesn’t, don’t give up quite yet.
Some games have a
SteamworksNative.dll in the root game directory along with the game executable. Try changing the file extension from
.old , temporarily, to run the game. If that works, you can leave the file as
Changing the directory and Steam executable is a bit of a hassle, however minor, so we’d recommend testing a bunch of your games at once to save time.
Add an ID Text File to the Game Directory
Some games are DRM-free but require a simple text file in the game’s app directory to launch without the Steam launcher present.
You can test to see if your game is such a game by putting a file named
steam_appid.txt , in the game directory with the actual ID number of the game from the Steam database as the sole contents of the text file. The game A Short Hike is an example of a game that requires this text file.
The simplest way to get the ID is to simply visit the Steam page for the game and look at the URL. The full URL for A Short Hike is
https://store.steampowered.com/app/1055540/A_Short_Hike/ —the number between the
/app/ and game title is the ID.
So to run A Short Hike without Steam, you would create a text file in the directory titled
steam_appid.txt with only the text “1055540” inside.
Beyond these simple and risk-free methods, there are ways to run games purchased through Steam without Steam. These methods, however, require patching the game in some fashion ranging from altering the existing executables to replacing the executables or other files with “fill in” files from other releases of the game.
For example a game might be sold on Steam with DRM but sold elsewhere without DRM, so you could, in theory, swap out all the relevant files and your Steam-purchased version would now be DRM-free.
That’s beyond the scope of this article, however, and it introduces a not insignificant risk that whatever replacement files you acquire might be compromised and harmful to your computer. We can’t, in good faith, recommend it and would instead recommend that if DRM of any sort is that big of an issue for you that you should instead just purchase games that come DRM-free such as those sold by Good Old Games.
Useful Lists of DRM-Free Steam Games
It can be a bit time-consuming to fiddle with all your games to test their DRM and launcher status, so we completely understand if you’d like to skip the sleuthing.
Fortunately for you, there are a number of actively maintained lists where other curious gamers have slogged through games to determine if their DRM-free or not (and what steps are required to play them without Steam).
Given that there are roughly 50,000 games in the Steam marketplace no list will be exhaustive but checking these lists will give you a headstart.
If you don’t see a game you’re curious about, by all means fire off a quick search for the name of the game and additional parameters like “DRM-free Steam” to see what’s out there. The game might not be on a curated list, yet, but often times somebody in a forum or a subreddit has done the legwork for you.
Whether you test it yourself or do a little internet sleuthing, however, it’s not too difficult to get to the bottom of a Steam game’s DRM-status.