Steam is a gaming juggernaut on the PC. While everyone knows it's great for managing your game library and getting sweet deals, there are a lot of powerful tools hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the best.
Steam has a bunch of extra features that make it more than just a game manager, like In-Home Streaming and Big Picture Mode. You may have heard of these, but there are a lot of others lurking beneath the surface that may not be so easy to find.
Listen to Tunes While You Play with the Music Library
The music you listen to while playing sets the mood for your gaming session. That's why Steam built its own music player. You can add MP3s to your Steam library and play them through the client. The player works on the desktop, but once you go into a game, you can also access the controls via the same Steam overlay you can use to access chat, your friends list or the Steam browser.
On the off chance that you've moved to a subscription service, you may not have a ton of MP3s handy. Fortunately, Steam offers some albums you can add directly to your library, including many free soundtracks for games like Portal or Half-Life. You might often find free soundtracks in DLC bundles. The music selection is unsurprisingly limited to video game music, but it's enough to give you something to play while you play.
To import your music library, follow these steps:
- In Steam, click the "Steam" menu and select "Settings".
- Select "Music" in the left-hand sidebar.
- Add any folders where you keep music. At the moment, Steam only supports MP3s.
- Once you've added all sources, click "Scan Now". (You can also come back and click this again if you add soundtracks via Steam that don't appear in your library).
- Click OK.
Once the scan is complete, you can find your music in your Steam library. Hover over the Library tab in Steam and select "Music" in the dropdown. Here, you'll see all of the albums you've added. Double click on a song and it will start playing in its own window. If you want to access the control in the middle of a game, just hit Shift-Tab.
Let Friends Watch You Play with Broadcasting
Even casual gamers have heard about Twitch, the service that lets you broadcast your gameplay live to people online. However, Twitch requires special software to stream your games, and is generally designed for performances or entertainers. Steam, on the other hand, can broadcast your game without any special software directly to all your Steam friends.
You can set up Steam Broadcasts so that only your friends can ask to watch, or anyone on Steam. Until someone starts watching, you won't actually be broadcasting anything, so there's no unnecessary resource drain. Once someone starts watching, the broadcast begins seamlessly. The only downside is that you can't record games to watch for later, but the feature is super useful for sharing with friends.
First, you'll need to enable broadcasting. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open Settings from the Steam menu.
- Select the Broadcasting tab from the side bar.
- Under Privacy Settings, select the option you prefer. You can choose to allow friends to ask permission to watch, openly broadcast to friends, or broadcast publicly to any Steam user.
- Configure the options based on your needs. You can choose to limit upload bandwidth if resources are scarce.
By default, broadcasting will only include video and audio from your game. You can choose to include audio from your microphone, or to also broadcast other applications on your computer. Once you've enabled broadcasting, other users can watch your game based on your privacy preferences. You can also manually invite other online players to come watch while you're in-game.
Open Your Game Library to Others with Family Sharing
Console gamers have been able to share games with each other fairly easily since the dawn of the cartridge. Perhaps Steam introduced Family Sharing so they'd have one less thing to lord over us. With Family Sharing, you can authorise a computer to access your entire library of games. Provided you're not playing them at the same time, of course.
To share your library, all you need to do is log in to the computer you want to authorise to use your library. Once you authorise the account, they can install and play absolutely any game you own. It's as if they bought it for their own account. The only exception is, once you start playing one of your games yourself, all of your games become unavailable to anyone you're sharing with. So, no, you can't each play different games at the same time, but it's still a nice middle ground.
To authorise someone else's computer to use your library, follow these steps:
- Log in to your account on the computer you want to authorise.
- Open Settings from the Steam menu.
- Select Family from the side bar.
- Click "Authorize this computer".
- Log out of your account and log back in to account of the computer's owner.
Once you authorise a computer, any Steam account on that machine can access your game library. All the games will be included in a separate section with the username of the person who owns the games. You can authorise up to 10 devices and five accounts.
Keep Your Games Safe with Backup and Restore
Video games take up a lot of space. It's not uncommon, then, to need to add, change, or remove hard drives from a gaming PC. While you might need extra software for full backups, Steam allows you to backup and restore games directly. This is particularly useful if you need to move games around to a folder other than the default after they have already been installed.
To backup your games, follow these steps:
- From the Steam menu, select Backup and Restore games.
- Select "Backup currently installed programs".
- Select the games you want to backup from the list of checkboxes. Click Next.
- Select a destination for the backup. Click Next.
- Give the backup a name and click Next.
Once the backup is complete, you can move or copy it to wherever you need. To restore the backup, use the same dialog, but select "Restore a previous backup" in Step 2 instead.
Get Help With Community-Made Game Guides
Back in my day, if you didn't know how to do something in a video game, you would just wander around Hyrule field for three days straight because seriously the entrance to Zora's Domain is so well hidden, how could I find that?! ...Ahem. However, with the advent of the internet, game guides made it possible to get information on how to accomplish any goal. Steam built their own game guide community.
You can access game guides a number of different ways from within Steam:
- While playing a game, press Shift-Tab to access the Steam overlay. Relevant Game Guides will appear in one of the boxes presented.
- In your Library, select a game. In the list of links on the right, select Community Guides.
Browse around and you can probably find the guide you need.
Keep Your Video Drivers Up to Date
Your video drivers are an important part of your gaming setup. They're also notoriously difficult to update. Windows may recognise that your drivers need to be updated, but sometimes they don't. Often, you'll have to hunt down some drivers on the company's site directly. Steam makes this much, much easier by allowing you to update your video drivers with a single button. Just click Steam > Check for Video Driver Updates.
Keep Track of Your Favourite Servers with the Server Manager
Finding a good server for a game is a bit like finding a good bar. It might take a few tries and you'll probably go through some bad ones, but when you find one you like, it can feel like a second home. Or so I've heard. Steam's built-in server manager allows you to browse for servers, even when you're not in the game. You can mark certain ones as favourites, and even keep a list of all your LAN servers. It's a very handy way to keep up with all the places you like to play your games.
To access your Steam servers, follow these steps:
- Under the View menu, select Servers.
You will see several tabs:
- "Internet" can show you a list of active servers online. Click "Change filters" to search through them.
- "Favorites" will have a list of any servers you've saved in or out of game.
- "LAN" can allow you to manage any servers you create for local gaming.
The server list is a little clunky, but if you have to manage a lot of them, it can help.