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 Post subject: Messing around with Steam game folders
PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:29 pm 

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5098
I see this question pop up a few times here and there. What if you want to back up your Steam games? What if you want to move them around? Will you have to reinstall it? Etc. etc. So I hope this post will resolve practically all of these questions.

First, the structure of a Steam game
The primary folder where Steam games lie is in (assuming you've installed it here) C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps. Steam also now allows you the option of installing games to another folder on another partition, but only one partition can have games for Steam. At least, it will only recognize one designated folder per partition.

So what's in this folder?

In the root directory of the folder (SteamApps or whatever), for all non Valve games are the app manifest files. These tell Steam a particular game is installed. The only annoying thing about them is that they're listed by number. The only way to find which number is tied to what game is to go to the game's store page and note the ID from the URL. For example, Skyrim's URL is http://store.steampowered.com/app/72850/, it's ID is 72850. So if you have this game installed, its app manifest file is "appmanifest_72850.acf"

In the root directory for all Valve games, all of their games' asset files are here (they carry the extension gcf). While this is weird, this was probably a carry over when Steam was originally meant to be for Valve games.

The SteamApps folder usually has a few other folders in it, and it may or may not have all of these folders. The first one is "common". This is where all non-Valve games are installed, like if you were to install them other than from Steam. Thankfully, they carry the name of the game instead of their app ID. So using Skyrim as an example, all of the game's data is in \SteamApps\common\skyrim. The second one is "downloading" and is there as a placeholder for when something is downloading. This is like how BitTorrent works, it usually reserves space for the files its downloading. The third folder is "SourceMods". This is actually where you install all Source Engine mods. I believe mods for GoldSrc (Half-Life 1 games) are still installed the old fashion way in the Half-Life folder. The last one is "temp"... which is probably for whatever Steam needs temporarily.

Actually, there's one more folder under your account name. This is where Valve games live. This isn't the same as the gcf files, as the folders in here are probably just game specific content.

How do I back up my Steam games?
There's two options. If you right click on a game, there's an option to back it up called appropriately enough "Backup game files...". This puts the game in an archive file (similar to a zip or rar file). If you still use optical media, you even have the option to split it up. The second option is literally just copy the game folder to somewhere else.

While you should probably copy all of the appmanifest files over (they're 1KB a piece usually), if the game files are already in the common directory, chances are Steam will figure this out and act as if it's downloading at a rate you wish you had when you attempt to launch the game. Otherwise, if you have the appmanifest file, chances are it'll appear in your Steam game list right away.

I prefer copying the files over somewhere. Using the backup method takes more time because of compression/decompression of the files.

What if I want to move an installed game somewhere else without redownloading it?
Assuming you have another repository for Steam games somewhere, the easiest method is to copy the game folder and its appmanifest file to that repository. Usually Steam doesn't notice anything happened. Even if it seems to freak out, just restart Steam.

Another method, if you don't have another repository, is by way of symbolic links. I won't go into the specifics, but basically, move the game folder somewhere (JUST the game folder, not the app_manifest file!) and then...

  • Open up command prompt as an administrator.
  • Navigate to the SteamApps\common folder.
  • Type in "mklink /J [name of game folder] [destination of game folder]

Steam won't no any better that the game was moved somewhere.

Do I need to install the game after restoring it from a back up or moving it somewhere? i.e., does Windows need to see it in Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Programs and Features ?
Technically you don't. If the computer just had its OS installed though, you will need to install the other programs and/or frameworks the game uses. However, Steam usually runs the first time setup to install all the necessary programs and frameworks. And unfortunately, it may do this every time you run the application (I have no idea how to fix this)

That's really it with Steam games. Basically if you want to make sure Steam thinks it has some game installed...
  • For all non-Valve games, the game folder must reside in the SteamApps\common folder and its appmanifest file in the SteamApps folder. The appmanifest file has an ID number on it tied to that game. If you need to know what the ID is, go to the game's store page and look at the number in the URL.
  • For all Valve games, the game must have its gcf file and the source gfc files in the SteamApps folder. The game folder itself must reside in SteamApps\[account name]

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