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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: 5731
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 folder structure of a Steam game library
The primary folder where Steam games are installed, assuming you've installed it to the default location, is C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps if you are running 64-bit Windows, otherwise it's C:\Program Files\Steam\SteamApps. Steam allows you the option of installing games to another folder on another partition, however, it will only recognize that one folder per partition.

In the root directory of the SteamApps folder there 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 and 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"

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 games are installed. 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.

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 and optionally its app manifest file somewhere else.

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

How do I restore my backed up games?
If you've used Steam's backup method, go to File -> Backup and Restore Games -> Restore a previous back up and point Steam to the backed up game file(s). If you've copied the game directly, put it in one of your Steam library repositories. If you "install" the game from there, Steam should start seeing the game files and check them. After that it'll be good to go. If you've also restored the app manifest file, the game should appear right away installed after restarting steam.

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 app manifest 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.

  • Move the game folder to the destination (JUST the game folder, not the app_manifest file!)
  • Open up command prompt as an administrator.
  • Navigate to the common folder of your Steam game repository.
  • 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)

Last edited by LatiosXT on Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.

 Post subject: Re: Messing around with Steam game folders
PostPosted: Mon Aug 04, 2014 2:48 pm 

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5731
Update to this. I believe Valve unified how the folders are set up for Source games now. So Half Life 2 and such will live in "conmon" now.

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