PostHeaderIcon How To Back Up and Restore Steam Games

We show you how to back up your games, so you don’t have to re-download them

With modern PC games tallying up download sizes of 20GB (and even soaring up to GTA V’s massive 70GB), sometimes it’s better to back up the game to an external drive rather than slog through the long download again. If you’re using Steam, there are two methods you can use to back up your games to another drive and restore them later, and thus avoid the hassle of a re-download. We’ll go over both methods and point out their pros and cons.

Back Up Through Steam

Steam has a built-in backup tool to use with any of the games and software you own. You can back up (or restore) individual or multiple items at once. Steam will then compress the game(s) to a location that you specify. There are a few limitations to the tool, however. One is that any modifications done outside of Steam Workshop will not be backed up. Another is that games that are updated outside of Steam cannot be backed up. This usually applies to MMO and F2P games.

1. To start the tool, either:
Go to Steam > Backup and Restore Games. Select “Backup currently installed games” and click “Next”
Right-click on a game that you want backed up and select “Backup Game Files.”

SteamBU 1a

You can invoke the backup process either from the top menu…

SteamBU 1b

…Or by right-clicking a game title.

2. A game selection window will come up. Tick the checkbox of each game you want to include in the 

SteamBU 2

3. Next, select where you want the backup to be saved. The selected games will be saved into one folder. For this example, we used C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Backups.

SteamBU 3

4. Name the folder for the selected games and how to split them up. If you plan on burning the games to a CD or DVD, you can select the appropriate option. There’s a third option for a custom size. This will create folders named in the format Disk_#, starting with Disk_1. When the backup reaches the size limit, it creates Disk_2, and so on.

In this example, we will save into C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Backups\Cities Skylines and F1 2013. 

SteamBU 4

5. Now, go enjoy a cup of coffee, have a shower, or run some errands. If you’re backing up your entire library, this will take a while! Note that if you cancel now, you’ll have to delete the folder where the backup would’ve been saved if you want to user to that folder again. Otherwise, Steam will complain that the folder exists when you try to use it.

SteamBU 5

6. When the backup process is complete, you’ll get a confirmation page and the option to open the folder where the backup was saved.


To restore games:
1. Go to Steam > “Backup and Restore Games…” From there, select “Restore a previous backup” and press “Next.”

SteamBU R1

2. Steam asks for the saved backup directory. It’s is a little picky in that it wants the root directory of all the Disk_# folders. If it’s happy with the directory you’ve selected, it will show what games were found.

In this example, we saved our backup to C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Backups\Cities Skylines and F1 2013. This folder must be specified; Steam won’t find anything in C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\Backups.

SteamBU r2

3. Tick the checkbox of the games you want to restore and press “Next.” This will continue the install process like the normal Steam install process.

SteamBU 3

* It’s built-in and straight-forward to use
* You can split the backup into chunks if you need to
* The backups are compressed

* It’s tedious to do at the individual game level
* Since it compresses/decompresses games, it takes a while and will be slower on less powerful machines.
* Backups don’t preserve modifications you’ve made

Manual Backup

There’s a manual process you can use to back up your Steam games. One of the reasons you may want to do this is that Steam’s backup utility doesn’t preserve game modifications. This can be useful if you have, for instance, a heavily modified version of one of the Elder Scrolls games.

First, locate the games in your system. In Windows, the default location is C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps. On Linux, the default location is /home/[username]/.local/share/Steam/steamapps (or ~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps). 

SteamBU m1
The contents of a steamapps folder, where Steam programs live.

In the “steamapps” folder you’ll find another folder named “common.” This is where all your games and software live. A manual backup is a simple copy and paste of the game from this folder to the location where you want it stored. You can also right-click a game and select “Properties,” then go to the “Local Files” tab, and click “Browse Local Files.” This will open a file browser at the game’s location.

However, there’s another file you’ll want to back up to avoid an additional headache. In the “steamapps” folder, there are several “appmanifest_####.acf” files. These files tell Steam which games are installed. To locate the appmanifest file that’s tied to the game you’ve backed up, point your browser to the game’s store page on Steam and look for the store ID number. For example, if Bioshock Infinite is to be backed up, its Steam store page URL is The number at the end is the store ID. So for Bioshock Infinite, the appmanifest file is “appmanifest_8870.acf.”

To restore the game, copy the game back to the “common” folder and its appmanifest file to the “steamapps” folder. Restart Steam and the game will appear already installed.

If you don’t have the appmanifest file for the game, you can still copy the game and then use Steam to install it. When Steam asks where the game should be installed, choose the drive where you restored the game. For example, if you restored the game onto the E:\ drive, have Steam install the game to the E:\ drive. 

SteamBU m2
As this copy of Bioshock Infinite is on the E:\ drive, point Steam to “install” it on E:\.

Steam will then run the install process, but will say “Discovering existing files….” This process takes several minutes, as Steam checks to see if every file is there. After this, Steam will either consider the game installed or it will download additional files for the game as needed. 

SteamBU m3

Steam finds Bioshock Infinite is already on the drive, and is checking it.

* It’s a simple copy and paste.
* It works well from individual games to groups.
* It preserves any modifications you’ve made.

* You need the game’s appmanifest file for the game to immediately show up on Steam. Doubly annoying is that the appmanifest file references the game by the game’s Steam Store ID.
* Steam may end up downloading the game anyway. The best way to avoid this is, at the time of the backup, ensure the game is up to date and that you can run it without error.
* Backups take more space since they’re not compressed.

Bonus Tip: How To Back Up Save Files and Settings

Of course, what’s the point of backing up games if you don’t back up your progress and settings as well? Unfortunately, there’s only Steam Cloud and not every game supports that. You’ll have to figure out where the game save files and settings, and manually back them up.

In Windows, your games’ save files and settings are located in one of these places:
* In “Documents” under either the game’s name, or the game’s publisher’s name, then the game’s name. For example, “Documents\4A Games\Metro2033” or “Documents\Arma3.”
* In “Documents\my games.” Games will usually be stored by name.
* In “C:\Users\[username]\Appdata\Roaming.” You can type %APPDATA% as the location in File Explorer and it will take you there. Files are stored either under the publisher’s name or the game’s name.
* Where the game is installed. This is more common in games made before 2005.
* Some games may store data in “C:\ProgramData,” but it’s not save files. For example, Codemaster’s racing games store replay data here.

In Linux, most game saves can be found in /home/[username]/.local/share (or ~/.local/share), in a folder of the game name itself, or the publisher’s name, then the game’s name.

To restore those files, copy and paste the files where you found them.

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