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Fourteen Things Every Steam User Should Know About

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What in the hell is “Steam WebHelper” and why is it always running on my PC? That is a damn good question.

[This post originally ran on May 7th, 2015. Updated with more ‘Things’ (TM) on September 25th, 2015.]

Steam is great and ubiquitous, yes, but it’s also pretty bloated and messy. Over the years, all sorts of weird eccentricities have crept into its design, misunderstood monsters lurking in its depths. And to be honest, most of the time you don’t need to know any of this stuff. But then something goes wrong or you want to access certain information or you want to play the game you purchased on your terms, and it suddenly becomes need-to-know information. So come on, gang. Let’s solve some mysteries.


What is Steam WebHelper?

So you’ve got Steam open, but it’s being obnoxiously slow and you want to close it. You decide to open your task manager, aka the magic computer gun you unlock when you enter the cheat code “ctrl+alt+del.”


You scroll down to Steam’s process and prepare to hit the almighty, ceaselessly cathartic “end task” button, but then you notice something strange: there’s another process called Steam Client WebHelper. Sometimes there’s more than one of it. Sometimes it’s using tonnnnns of your machine’s memory. What in GabeN’s tarnished name is going on?

Well, you might have noticed that many portions of Steam—the store, etc—are essentially a big web browser. That’s what Steam WebHelper does. It runs that, independently of Steam’s main processes. Recently, it was also the cause of a hellacious slowdown bug that had many Steam users shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders, and stomping their feet (because Steam users, unlike Steam, are very good at multitasking). Thankfully, an update finally cosigned that issue—which “caused steamwebhelper.exe to spike to 100% CPU usage and stop rendering pages”—to oblivion. And lo dideth everyone cheer and feast on its remains.


What is the deal with Steam gift restrictions?

Oh man, these sure are annoying, aren’t they? Why do you have to wait seven goddamn days to trade or gift an item after you’ve received it? What is wrong with the universe, and is there someone you can pelt with DOTA 2 International Compendiums until they fix it?


First, the bad news: the trade/gift restrictions aren’t going away anytime soon. But on the upside, Valve recently decided to emerge from their vaunted Fortress Of Barely Ever Communicating-ness to explain their rationale:

“We hate the gift restrictions as much as you do,” they began. Good! But then…

“Here’s the problem: Bad guys buy compendiums with stolen credit cards, and then resell them to other players at a discount. It can take days to determine that the cards were stolen, and that a fraudulent item had been added to the economy. We can’t effectively punish the fraudsters, because they’re not really traceable - they commit the fraud on new or stolen accounts, never on their own accounts. In addition, these side markets make it very easy for people to get scammed.

“In 2014, the percentage of compendium purchases that turned out to be fraudulent became very significant and we also saw a massive growth in scam-related support requests from users that didn’t receive their items or had their accounts stolen. Additionally, credit card fraud can become a big problem for us because if our fraud rates climb too high, we will no longer be allowed to accept credit card payments at all.”

“So, we added the time-based trade restriction to allow time to detect and limit the impact that the fraudulent activity has. We believe it actually hurts sales when we put restrictions on our players, because it means it’s harder to buy a gift for your friend, for example. We hated doing it, but we didn’t have a better solution. We are continuously exploring different methods to solve these problems, because we want to be able to stop fraud without affecting legitimate users.”


Annoying, but understandable. Here’s hoping the “different methods” they’re experimenting with come sooner rather than later.


Does Steam have DRM? How does it work?

Hoo boy, this a complicated one. Steam does function as a form of DRM (digital rights management, a debatably effective precaution against piracy), but it’s a) pretty light compared to the cinder blocks that came chained to older PC games, and b) it’s actually optional.

First, let’s delve into what people traditionally think of as Steam DRM. If you open a game, Steam launches with it, and if you want to run said game on another machine, you have to do it through that same Steam account. You can run the game on as many machines and hardware configurations as you want, but only through that Steam account, whether you’re playing online or offline. You can read more about how Steam DRM works works and the options developers have available here.


Sometimes you’ll also see developers or publishers add their own DRM on top of Steam’s DRM (see: Ubisoft’s uPlay service). It’s a fairly uncommon practice, but it’s pretty irksome when it pops up.

Even less common, however, is when developers opt to forego Steam’s DRM altogether. Strategy behemoth (and master of catering to a certain Luke Plunkett’s every dream and desire) Paradox are masters of this. If you launch one of their games—say, Europa Universalis—through Steam, everything will function as it would with Steam DRM. However, if you dig up the application independent of Steam and launch it that way, you’ll find that it still works, no Steam required. Yes, the game is actually yours.


Speaking of offline mode, how does that work?

Right: offline mode. It used to be wonky, sometimes bordering on un-usable, but now it’s functional most of the time. You just have to make sure the game in question is fully updated. Here’s a list of instructions, straight from Valve:

  • Start Steam online - make sure the Remember my password box on the login window is checked
  • Verify that all game files are completely updated - you can see the update status for a game under the Library section (when the game shows as 100% - Ready it is ready to be played in Offline Mode)
  • Launch the game you would like to play offline to verify that there are no further updates to download - shut down the game and return to Steam once you have confirmed that the game can be played
  • Go to Steam > Settings to ensure the Don’t save account credentials on this computer option is not selected
  • From the main Steam window, go to the Steam menu and select Go Offline
  • Click Restart in Offline Mode to restart Steam in Offline Mode

Let us suppose I got banned in a Valve game.

VAC bans (aka, Valve anti-cheat bans) are well-documented. Valve’s been issuing them in games they developed/published for ages. If you want to know more, click that link.


What happens if I get banned in a non-Valve game?

Recently, Valve gave other developers and publishers access to the same Steam system they use for punishing cheaters. There’s been some confusion about that. Some people are worried that a VAC ban in a non-Valve game will also affect their status in Valve games or other games in a particular series, given that VAC bans in Valve games often affect your status in other Valve games. That, however, does not extend to non-Valve games. Valve explained:

“[Non-Valve] VAC bans will only apply to the game the cheat was detected in. For example, a VAC ban in Modern Warfare 2 will not affect Modern Warfare 3.”


So there you go.

What happens if I don’t like a game I purchase? Or if I can’t run it? Can I gift/trade it?

Unfortunately, you can’t, but you can get an (almost) no-questions-asked refund if you’ve played for less than two hours and owned the game for less than two weeks. Here are Valve’s instructions on how to submit a refund request.


Can I use the same Steam account on multiple computers at the same time?


UNLESS one of said machines is offline at the time. It’s not a great workaround since so many modern games (not to mention Steam itself) are quite intimately hooked into that crazy neo matrix hack attack zone that has all the kids, as they say, “tobogganing down the tubelines.” Still, it’s something.


OK, what if I just want to share one of my games with a friend? Is there a better way to do that?

Yes. Steam has a family sharing feature that allows a select handful of friends/family to access your entire game library.


Ehhhh, maybe tone that down a bit. It’s cool, but it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds.



Better. So, to set up family sharing, first you have to log into your Steam account on a friend or family member’s machine. After that, they can log into theirs and the two of you can swap precious, precious e-fluid, just as GabeN Ntended.


However, if you’re sharing a game (i.e. if your friend doesn’t have their own copy), you still can’t play at the same time or—in the case of online games—together. The primary account holder will always be given priority. As Valve explains, “If you decide to start playing when another user is already playing one of your games, he/she will be given a few minutes to either purchase the game or quit playing.”


I’m worried about my Steam account getting hacked or otherwise swiped by some brigand. How can I prevent that?

Two things:

1) Activate two-factor authentication on your phone. That’ll send a special access code to your phone (and your phone alone) every time somebody tries to log-in to your account on a new machine.


2) Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER give your account info to anybody unless you would also trust them to hold onto thousands of dollars and hundreds of your happiest memories in a brain case for you. Because if you’re consigning away your Steam account, that’s essentially what you’re entrusting somebody with. (Note: scammers will often try to get this information from you, for instance via email or in Steam chat. If somebody says, for instance, that they’re a Valve employee and they need your user name and password, they are almost certainly lying.)

Wait, scammers?

Yeah, Steam has a lot of them. Sometimes they’re after your account, but usually they just want to get items or money from you under false pretenses. Here are the trades Valve says you should avoid if you don’t want to get scammed:

Trading items/gifts for money outside of the Steam Community market. You cannot add Wallet credit, PayPal, gift cards or any form of money into the trade window.

Trading items/gifts for CD Keys. You cannot add a CD Key into the trade window. CD Keys that are offered can be for a different game, fake, used or region restricted.

Trading items/gifts for nothing in return in the first trade and expecting to get an item or gift in a later trade. There is no reason to not trade everything in one trade. You may add unlimited items/gifts to a single trade. A common example of this is using a middleman to facilitate a one sided trade.


What if I do get scammed? What can I do about it?

If someone swindles you unfair and square, there’s not much you can do. Valve’s policy is as follows: “Steam Support will not return any items or gifts that you feel have been traded unfairly. There are no exceptions to this policy.”

HOWEVER. If you lost a bunch of items because your account was hijacked, that’s a different story. Granted, nothing’s guaranteed, but Valve at least promises to handle those sorts of incidents on “a case-by-case basis.”


Why the heck is Steam down?

When Steam is down it’s usually routine maintenance. Every Tuesday there’s a scheduled maintenance that lasts around ten minutes or so. After that, it’s business as usual. If you want to know whether or not Steam is up, you can always check here.


How do I pull up old Steam chat logs?

You don’t.


Yeah, it’s kinda dumb. There are third-party services that claim to be able to save your chats as they’re happening, but I don’t recommend giving your Steam information to any third-party service ever. It’s a baaaaaaad idea.


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To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @vahn16.