How to Play Games on Steam: A Step by Step Guide

Steam library page

Steam is the most popular PC gaming platform. If you want to play PC games on Steam, or you bought a game that needs to be activated on Steam, this is how to do it.

Step One: Download the Steam Client

To play games on Steam, you have to install the Steam client. You’ll use the client to manage your games, track game achievements, and more.

Go here to download and install the Steam client. Click on the INSTALL STEAM button to kick off the download.

You’ll see some impressive numbers – millions of gamers online and playing games.

Step Two: Create a Steam Account

There are two ways to create a Steam account. If you’ve installed the Steam client, run it. When you see the login page, click on the Create a New Account button.

The second way is through the Steam website. Click here to go to the Steam login page. Once you’re there, click on the Join Steam button (it’s in the CREATE section) to create an account.

Join Steam Button on Web
If you want to create an account at the Steam website, click the Join Steam button.

Step Three: Buy a Game

To play a game on Steam, you have to buy it first. If you already have a Steam key that you want to activate, you can skip to the Activate the Game on Steam step.

There are three ways to buy games for Steam. This is true even when the game you want to play on Steam is free.

Buy Games from the Steam Store

The easiest way to buy games is right from the Steam store, which you can do using the client. Click on STORE, the first item on the large menu at the top, and you’ll be taken to the Steam store. Go to the sales page for the game you want, add it to your cart, pay, and you now own the game. Congrats!

If the game you want to play is free, you’ll do the same thing, except you won’t have to pay for it. Just find the game’s sales page and then skip to the Install the Game step.

When you buy games through the Steam store, the game is automatically activated, so you can skip the next step about activating your key and go right to the Install the Game step.

Buy Games from a Third-Party Seller

You can buy Steam games from third-party online sellers. The most popular ones are Fanatical, Green Man Gaming, and Humble Bundle, but there are others.

When you buy a game at another seller, you’re actually buying a Steam key. If you buy from a reputable seller, the keys are legal. The game publishers have provided the keys to the sellers.

When you buy a game from third-party seller, make sure you don’t buy a game that you can’t play in your region. Click here to check out my in-depth post on region locking.

Once you’ve completed your purchase, you’ll receive the key, which you’ll find in the keys section (or something similar like “purchases” or “my games”) in your account at the store. You’ll now have to activate the key on Steam, which you’ll do in the next step. You can skip to that step now.

Buy a Physical Copy of a Game from a Retail Store

You can go to stores like Best Buy, Staples, and Amazon and buy the retail version of the game. If the game can be played through Steam, the game box will say something like, “Steam account required to play” or “You must activate the game on Steam.”

When you buy the retail version of a game, you’ll get a Steam key.

Step Four: Activate the Game on Steam

If you bought the game from the Steam store, you can skip this step. Games bought at the Steam store are automatically activated.

If you bought the game from somewhere else, you should have a Steam key. To activate the key, click on Games in the menu at the very top of the Steam client. On the menu that’s displayed, click on Activate a Product on Steam…

Where to activate a game on Steam
To activate a game in the Steam client, click the Activate a Product on Steam… item.

Click next, and accept the subscriber agreement on the next screen by clicking I Agree. On the next screen, type in the Steam key you have for the game (if you bought the game at an online store, you can copy the key there and paste it in here).

Then click next. Steam will show the title of the game that will be activated. Click Finish, and the game will be added to your Steam library. At this point, the installation process will start. You can install the game right away by following the prompts (basically just keep clicking next). After the game is installed, you can skip to the Play the Game step.

If you don’t want to install the game right away, that’s fine. You can cancel out of the install and do it later by following the instructions in the next step.

Step Five: Install the Game

You’ll use the Steam client to download and install the game.

If the game you want to play is free, find the game’s sales page in the Steam store and click on the Play Game button. This will kick off the installation and add the game to your library.

If you bought the game, go to your game library by clicking on LIBRARY in the Steam client. You should see the game you want to install. If you don’t, try searching for it using the search bar at the upper left. If you still don’t see it, try clicking on GAMES AND SOFTWARE and check everything in the dropdown choices.

Click on the game to select it. You’ll see the game’s library page on the right-hand side of the library area. Click the blue INSTALL button. Steam will now download and install the game.

If you need to pause the download for some reason (maybe you want to do something else that requires Internet and the download is slowing it down), it’s perfectly fine. The download won’t start over from the beginning when you resume. To pause the download, press the PAUSE button. To resume it later, press the RESUME button.

In fact, the Install, Pause, and Resume buttons are one and the same button. The text and button colour changes depending on whether the game is installed, being downloaded, or ready to play.

Step Six: Play the Game

You’ve finally reached the point where you can play the game. To do so, select the game in your game library and press the PLAY button. This button is the same button used for Install, Pause, and Resume.

If you’d prefer to have a desktop shortcut that you click on to play the game, you can create one by right-clicking on the game in your Steam library. On the menu that comes up, click on Manage, and then click on Add Desktop Shortcut. You can also click on the gear icon on the game’s information page in your library, hover over Manage, and click Add Desktop Shortcut.

How to create a desktop shortcut using the Steam client
How to add a desktop shortcut from a game’s detail page in the Steam library.

Now you’ll be able to click on the shortcut to play the game, but keep in mind that you still have to be logged in to Steam to play the game. If you’re not logged in when you start the game, Steam will try to log you in. If the login fails, you won’t be able to play the game.

Congratulations. You are now a Steam gamer. Enjoy your game!

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