There is nothing more tedious than finally getting home to play your favorite video game and then having to sit through update after update before you can finally game. What’s going on behind all of those Steam updates anyway?
Steam has to update so often because of frequent security, performance, and UI/UX upgrades. Steam also updates more often if you have a lot of games installed because each of those games need to go through their own updates. You can lower the amount of updates you get by uninstalling games you don’t play and by not joining the Steam Beta Participation program.
Let’s look under the hood and see what’s causing Steam to update so often.
Steam Platform Updates
Steam has about 120 million active monthly users. That’s a lot of data to manage—and secure—for even the biggest companies.
There are four big factors that cause Steam to constantly update: security, performance, upgrades, and the Steam Beta program.
The first thing we should look at is how Steam approaches security.
Steam has millions of users and that means millions of passwords, sets of contact information, and payment methods to protect. Given all of the transactions that happen on Steam every day, it’s no wonder that Steam has to issue fairly consistent updates.
Many of these updates are preventative measures to stop security breaches before they happen. These security breaches might involve your data being compromised, malware causing your PC to run slowly due to massive CPU usage, or even allow hackers to take over your machine (in the worst case).
As a result, these security-based updates regularly roll out as Steam changes and evolves over the years. New security threats are also evolving alongside software which can prompt more frequent security updates.
Steam can also update in response to a security breach. This could even be a breach that happened to another company, but revealed a security flaw that Steam might have also had.
If you have heard about a potential security issue, you can always click “Steam” (in the top left corner) and then manually check for updates:
This will (as the name suggests!) manually check if there’s any updates, and then start to download them if there’s any pending.
Another part of the tech world that is always changing is the hardware that we use. We’re getting faster processing, larger and faster storage volumes, and countless smaller changes along the way.
Steam has to evolve its software along with these changing hardware standards. These aren’t just the hardware changes inside your PC, but inside the millions of PCs that Steam is installed on.
Updates and Upgrades
Steam is also always adding new features and upgrades to existing content.
This means that you’re going to see frequent updates even though you might not use the features that are changing.
Steam is a complicated platform that functions as everything from a social media platform to a digital retail shop. There’s a lot of content here that needs to get updates and upgrades as Steam grows and changes what it has to offer.
As an example, a Steam client update on 12th May made a number of upgrades to common Steam features, but also improved areas such as Steam Chat and Steam Deck.
Steam Beta Participation
You might accidentally be setting yourself up for more frequent updates if you sign up for Steam Beta participation.
This lets you try the latest Steam features ahead of everyone else. However, the cost of admission is being a guinea pig of sorts for Steam’s features.
You get to experience the cutting edge of gaming, but there’s going to be a few bugs on the way. This means that Steam is going to have to update more frequently to troubleshoot, problem solve, and get things right before things are launched to the general public.
If you’ve signed up for the Steam Beta Participation program, you might want to toggle that setting back off if you’re getting a little tired of all of these updates.
Updates for Installed Games
Steam might not be directly responsible for all of the updates that you’re experiencing. Plenty of these updates are actually going to be coming from the games themselves:
Games Need to Keep Active Maintained/Updated Status
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most gamers don’t know. Steam is a whole different world when it comes to being a game publisher, and that can influence a game’s update schedule.
Games need to be actively maintained in order to stay high in Steam’s store rankings. The higher your game is, the better it’s going to sell and the more exposure it’s going to get.
This means that developers are incentivized to have more frequent updates to make sure that their game stays regularly maintained. This can even include extremely small 0 KB or 512 KB updates just to change the game to an actively maintained status.
Widespread and Minor Updates
There is a common update situation that happens on Steam every few months that has people hitting the keys on their favorite search engine looking for answers.
You might experience a situation where all, or most, of your Steam games update at the same time. The game’s could even have update files that are the exact same size.
Plenty of video games share resources during development. These likely won’t be things that players notice like character assets or music, but they are the behind-the-scenes tools used to put games together.
These are things like Unreal Engine, security tools, and other essential—if not highly visible—pieces of software. If there is a security breach or a performance update for one of these common parts of the game code, you could see an update across multiple video games at the exact same time.
This is usually nothing to worry about. This is just a variety of different games from different publishers updating these microservices and core components.
Updates and Upgrades (Again)
It’s going to be no surprise to hear that video games update to fix bugs, add new content, or improve performance. Each of those updates has to join the queue of your Steam downloads and wait its turn to go under way.
This can cause a considerable backlog of game downloads as well as use a lot of your internet bandwidth. You can pause and cancel certain updates, but this might prevent you from using the online features of a game like multiplayer or rankings.
How to Make Steam Update Less Often
If it feels like Steam is always updating, you’re not alone. It seems like Steam always has an update that’s downloading and preventing us from enjoying our favorite games.
This is partly true. Steam does fire off a lot of updates, but it also has to do with when Steam checks for updates and how many games you have active on your account.
Let’s take a look at a few ways to make Steam updates more convenient.
Schedule Your Updates
Since the Steam launcher is the biggest update culprit, let’s start by taking a closer look at Steam.
If you keep Steam running and let it auto-update in the background, you can experience fewer of these poorly timed updates.
Steam also lets you schedule when you’d like updates to take place. You can schedule updates for when you go to sleep and rarely have to experience updates while you game. To do this, click “Steam” in the top corner, then “Settings” and “Downloads“. See the “Only auto-update games between” option:
However, some updates only happen during online play. No matter what you do, you will be hit with a few Steam updates here and there.
Uninstall Some Games
Everyone’s got a few titles and their Steam library that they haven’t played in a while. However, those games are still getting updates. If you have countless titles actively installed in your Steam library, you’re going to be getting more frequent updates even though you’re not enjoying those games.
You can easily fix this by uninstalling games that you don’t play on a regular basis. This could be a story-driven game that you completed years ago or a multiplayer game that you’ve moved on from.
You can always reinstall games when you want to play them again. You can even backup your save files to make sure that those don’t go anywhere either. Keeping only a handful of games actually installed will greatly reduce the amount of updates that you have to go through.
Disable Auto-Updates For Certain Games
If you’re finding that a certain game is updating too frequently, you can adjust the automatic update settings on a game-by-game basis. To do this, right click the game in the library, go to “Manage” and “Updates”. Then select the relevant “Automatic Updates” option for you:
Selecting “Only update this game when I launch it” for particularly annoying games will stop the onslaught of updates when you first open Steam. Of course, this approach can have disadvantages too: you go to play a certain game after a long day…. and you’r stuck waiting for a 15 minute update.
The best approach is to auto-update games in the background (and uninstall any unused games). But knowing about this particular option is good for specific games that love to update All. The. Time!