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12 min read
This story originally appeared on PCMag
Steam. It’s the face of PC gaming and the reason why Valve won’t release a game that people want to play in our lifetimes, aside from Half-Life spin-offs designed to sell VR headsets. GabeN and company’s video game marketplace isn’t the only place to purchase PC games—Epic Games Store, GOG, and Xbox are viable options, too—but Steam’s footprint and infamous seasonal sales make it a popular online retail destination.
With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X slated to release this holiday, you may be tempted to pick up a next-gen console. However, exciting new graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia can give your PC an even greater power boost if you’re willing to upgrade. Games you purchase from Steam will look and play better than ever.
Steam is so much more than a mere store, though. Its desktop client lets you do many things, including organizing your library, streaming your play sessions to an audience, and chatting with the homies. In short, Steam has a lot going on, but many of its more attractive and useful elements may go unrecognized by newcomers and long-time users alike.
With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of Steam tips that will help you get the most out of the application. It’s an ever-growing list that will be expanded as time goes on.
So, boot up your gaming desktop or laptop, fire up Steam, and prepare to learn what Valve’s gaming software can really do with a little bit of effort on your part.
Join Steam Beta Program
When you create a Steam account, you sign up for the features that have been pushed to the public. That said, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can participate in the Steam Beta. By doing so, you’ll access features that are still in the testing phase, such as Steam Remote Play Together. Here’s how to do it.
You visit Steam > Settings > Account and open the drop-down menu in the Beta Participation section. Select Steam Beta Update, click OK, and you’re done! Now, Valve will push early features your way.
Secure Your Account With Steam Guard
Security is important. You don’t want a GlenGary GlenRoss disciple breaking his or her way into your Steam account to further a nefarious agenda. To prevent that, you should, of course, use a strong password. But you should supplement the password with an extra layer of security, too.
When Steam Guard is enabled on your account, you’ll need to provide a special access code to verify your account on a unrecognized device. Depending on your Steam Guard settings, you’ll either receive an email with the special code or you’ll get it from the Steam Mobile app on your smartphone. You enable it by visiting Steam > Settings > Account > Manage Steam Guard Account Security.
Use Collections to Manage Your Library
By default, Steam displays your games in alphabetical order in a single, vertically aligned list. That gets the job done if you don’t own many games, but if you own close to 100, you may long for better organization. Fortunately, Valve provides the tools to tidy up your library.
By right-clicking a game’s name and navigating Add To > New Collection, you can create categories (say, action or Sega Games) to organize your digital collection. Collections can be static or dynamic. With a static Collection, you manually move a game to a category by right-clicking its title and following the menus (or by dragging it to its new home). With a dynamic Collection, you can apply filters that automatically sorts games by their default Steam tags as your library increases in size.
In addition, clicking the Collections icon opens a grid that displays your created categories in one easy-to-read central location.
Create a Shelf
Shelves are alternate ways to view your game library. By clicking Add Shelf > Choose a Shelf, you can transform any Collection into a horizontally scrolling Shelf. There are also several default, non-Collection options, too, including All Games and Recent Friend Activity.
Add a Non-Steam Game to Your Library
Sometimes the games you want to play just aren’t in the Steam Store. Suppose, for example, that Star Wars: Battlefront II is on your wishlist for some oddball reason. Battlefront II is only available for purchase from Electronic Arts’ Origin shop (on PC), so you must buy it directly from the company that gamers love to hate.
You download it, enjoy swinging a few light sabers, and pray that loot boxes never return. But, alas, you don’t like the idea of having two separate clients through which you launch games. Valve has a remedy for that.
You can make Star Wars: Battlefront II, or any other PC game, show up as part of your Steam library by clicking Add A Game in the bottom-left corner of the interface and then selecting Add a Non-Steam Game. After that, simply pick a title and click Add Selected Programs. That’s it!
Hide Steam Games
Sometimes you’ve just got to hide a video game. It could a title you rarely play or, more likely, there’s a game you love that you don’t want other people to know you’re playing. After all, who wants to get roasted for owning the I Love You, Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator?
It’s simple to hide game. You just right-click on a title and then click Manage > Hide This Game. Now, the only way to see the game in your library is to key its name into the Search box. To reverse the vanishing act, search for the game and then click Manage > Remove From Hidden.
See the Big Picture
Valve’s desire to make Steam a part of your entertainment center resulted in the company creating Big Picture Mode, a streamlined interface designed for use with large-screen monitors and televisions.
Activated by clicking View > Big Picture Mode, this interface lets you navigate your game library, the Steam Store, the community message boards, and chat client using a gamepad, mouse, or Steam Controller.
Continue Playing Anywhere With Steam Cloud
Did you know that you can save your game progress to the cloud and resume your play session on another PC without missing a beat? By enabling Steam Cloud (Steam > Settings > Cloud > Enable Steam Could Synchronization), your game saves are stored on Valve’s servers, which lets you continue where you left off.
Please note that this feature isn’t available for every game. That said, a whole bunch of ’em support it.
Just because your PC game library is digital, that doesn’t mean you can’t lend games to others in your household. Family Library Sharing lets you lend your games to up to 10 other folks who use the same gaming PC.
Enable it by visiting Steam > Settings > Family, and then clicking the Authorize Library Sharing On This Computer box. Once you approve another user’s authorization request, s/he can download and play the titles in your library—except those that may require a third-party security key. They get their own game saves, too, so you don’t have to worry about them mucking up your progress.
Monitor Frame Rates
We truly loathe that frame rate counting has become such a significant part of the online video game discourse, mainly because few gamers understand the sacrifices that sometime must get made to make a game run at 60 frames per second. But there are times when you want to see how your rig’s pushing polygons.
Say, for example, you want to see how your games perform with a new GPU installed in your PC. Go to Steam > Settings > In-Game and enable the FPS Counter. Then, after you boot up your game of choice, you’ll see an on-screen frame rate counter.
You can also enable High Contrast Color, so that the counter is easily identifiable on screen, and set its on-screen location.
Refund a Lemon
There’s always a small amount of risk attached to buying a video game. It may not boot. It may suffer from an awful frame rate. It may simply be a stinker. Thankfully, Valve’s refund program lets you mitigate those risks.
By clicking Help > Steam Support, Steam displays a list of your recent purchases. Click a game and the corresponding issues, and you’ll be taken to a page that lets you request a refund. Your refund request must occur within two weeks of purchase, and you’ve must’ve played the game for less than two hours. You can refund the game, DLC, in-game purchases, pre-orders, and even hardware, such as the Steam Controller and Steam Link.
Note: Mutant Football League is a fine game. It was just mentioned here just for demonstration’s sake.
Trade Cards for Cash
A few year back, Valve introduced Steam Trading Cards, digital cards that you earn simply by playing games. Collecting a set of cards via trades or purchases lets you craft them into badges that you can wear on your profile page as a, well, badge of honor. Crafting badges also rewards you with profile background, coupons, and chat emoticons. But you don’t have to do any of those things.
Instead, you can sell your cards in the Steam Community Market. To see your cards, click Username > Inventory. After that, select a card, click Sell, enter a price, and OK, Put It Up For Sale.
You’ll typically net a few cents per card for your average drop, while rarer cards go for a bit more money. The prices naturally vary by the associated game and even the time; if you’re among one of the first to sell a card in the Community Market, the thirst dogs will often bite on your price. I’ve sold a single card for more than $5.
Sell enough cards and you’ll have enough money in your account to buy DLC or a new game.
Give the Gift of Gaming
Games are a great gift, and Valve makes it simple for you to to buy them for others. You simply add a title to the Steam shopping cart as you would for yourself, but instead of clicking Purchase For Myself, click Purchase As a Gift and then select a person from your Friends List. That’s it!
Additionally, you can opt to immediately send the game to the recipient’s Steam account, or schedule a delivery for a birthday, holiday, or any other time.
Download and Play on the Go
You don’t need to be tethered to a PC to enjoy everything Steam has to offer. With a strong internet connection, Steam’s remote features deliver PC gaming goodness wherever you are.
With Remote Play Together, friends can enjoy select multiplayer games even if only one friend has the game downloaded to their computer. Launch the compatible games, find the friend you want to invite, and click Friends List > Remote Play Together.
What if you would rather game in bed rather than with friends? To play a game remotely on your mobile device, download the Steam Link mobile app. Connect your mobile device and your PC to the same local network (preferably with a wired connection for the PC) and you use the app to stream your Steam library to your Android or iOS device paired with a controller.
The separate Steam mobile app lets you remotely purchase and start downloading games from your phone, even when you’re nowhere near your computer, so they’re finished and waiting for you when you get home. Along with letting you avoid waiting on big and lengthy installs, the Steam app provides a portal to Steam’s community features.
Watch Steam Broadcasts
Steam isn’t a full-on video game live streaming service like Twitch or Facebook Gaming, but it does offer broadcasting features so friends can watch each other play. Select a friend from your Friends List and select Watch Game to see what they’re up to. You can watch public streams, as well. Note that you’ll need a third-party solution to record video.
For an in-depth broadcasting primer, please check out How to Get Started in Game Streaming: The Ultimate Guide.
Take a Screenshot
If you just want to share an image of a game you’re playing, and not a video, simply press F12 to take a screenshot. Look at your screenshots for a game under View Screenshot Library on that game’s page. You can also change the screenshot hotkey under Settings > In-Game. This is a basic yet useful feature other game stores inexplicably lack.
With some many games on Steam, both very good and very bad, it can be tough to tell what is worth playing. Sometimes you need some expert advice. By following a Steam Curator you can browse hand-picked lists of recommended games from publications and personalities you trust, including your friends here at PCMag.