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.
Steam in-home streaming
Let’s start with a powerful yet quietly advertised feature that has revolutionized the way I play games around the house: Steam in-home streaming.
Steam in-home streaming lets you play even graphically intense games on technologically crappy PCs and Windows tablets. It uses the power of your main gaming rig to actually run games, and then streams the game in Netflix-like fashion to your secondary PC. Think of it as OnLive for your Steam collection, but only on your home network. I use it to play games on my cheap laptop from my couch or bed almost daily, and my colleague Hayden Dingman leveraged the feature’s power to play Assassin’s Creed IV on an ancient 2006 MacBook.
Activating Steam in-home streaming is easy: Just log on to Steam on your laptop while your gaming PC is connected to the same network and also running Steam. A pop-up notification will let you know the two machines are aware of each other and a new “Stream” option will appear in your library for games installed on your primary PC. There are some caveats and nuances—most involve balancing your network connection and graphics settings—which you can read all about in PCWorld’s guide to Steam in-home streaming.
Update your graphics cards drivers
Always run the most current drivers for your graphics card: It’s a core law of PC gaming. Nvidia and AMD pump out constant driver updates to support the latest games and optimize older titles, so you’re leaving precious graphics performance on the table if you stick to old drivers.
Both companies offer control panels to keep drivers up to date, but if you’re not looking to tinker with arcane graphics settings, you can do the same through Steam. Just open the client and head to Steam > Check for Video Driver Updates in the menu bar. If new drivers are available for your card, Steam will let you know and offer to install them right there.
Add non-Steam games to your Steam 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, however, 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.
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 on 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.
Power-up with 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 you when a game is already in your library or wish lists, show the pricing history for individual titles, reveal just how much money you’ll save in a games bundle, 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.
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.
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 additional folders, you’ll be given a “Choose location for installation” option when you’re installing a new game. Easy-peasy.
Moving already installed games is much trickier and involves the use of symbolic links, which essentially trick your PC into thinking the file it’s looking for is still in its original location after you’ve moved it. We explain the manual way to create symlinks in PCWorld’s guide to proper SSD management, but you’d be better off just using the incredible Steam Mover software. No, really—just go download that and follow the instructions. It’s way easier than the DIY method.
Moving your entire Steam installation is a guide in and of itself. Just follow Valve’s step-by-step instructions if you want to move all of Steam to a whole new drive.
Read on for secret game management options, tips on how to get the most from Steam’s Jump List, and the really advanced stuff.