9 Steam Mysteries, Solved

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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

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.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

OK. Why doesn't YouTube work with Steam?

Ooo, another recent issue. Aren't you topical? This one's pretty simple, though no less infuriating for it. Basically, Google/YouTube recently switched over to an updated API (Application Program Interface), and Valve still hasn't updated Steam to follow suit. So for now, no YouTube account linking or embedding. You can still sort of embed through status updates, but that's about all at the moment.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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.

Nine Steam Mysteries, Solved

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.


    We should be asking the important questions here. Like, when the fuck is Half Life 3 coming out?

      The problem with Half Life 3 is that Valve has little to no incentive to actually develop the game. This is due to Valve having a steady cash flow from Steam and games like Dota 2 so the need to continually develop products to ensure the company remains afloat just isn't there anymore.

      For Valve to develop Half Life 3 it would be out of pure altruistic motive rather than anything else.

        Surely though they'd make a killing from fans plus people new to the series. It's a HUGE IP.

          I believe Gaben has previously stated that they don't believe that the game could ever live up to the hype or everyone's expectations now, so it likely won't happen.

            While we all believe it's true, I DON'T want to believe he actually said it.

              I purchased the HL2 episodes because Valve openly stated they would be a three part series, and well worth it. Two parts and however many years later and it's starting to stink of false advertising.

          Probably on name alone - but video games have an enormous risk v reward seemingly biased toward risk; finance/EMT have probably deemed developing Half Life 3 to pose a greater risk to the company's assets than sticking with the current model

        I feel, now, the problem with HL3 is us, the fans....we've hyped it up to a point where almost anything that comes out will have some form of negative reception (and seeing how the internet works these days, the negative people will be very loud...)

        Of course, I agree with your view on the financial incentive as well...

      This is really sad but I don't think they will make HL3 because fun games don't make money like addictive games with micro-transactions do. Fun is low on the priority list of AAA game developers these days.

    You decide to open your task manager, aka the magic computer gun you unlock when you enter the cheat code "ctrl+alt+del"
    I thought ctrl+alt+del just opened the weapon select screen and ctrl+shift+esc is the actual quick access cheat

    I'm not sure what he's talking about re offline mode. I don't even go online to use it.

    I start steam in offline mode, go to my library and start game as usual. Been doing so for a few years and never had a single issue?

      Aye, I haven't had any problems either. Seems to work as intended?

      I'm guessing there's a strong possibility you allow Steam to update games automatically when it's online? And that you're only offline by circumstance...

      Let's say for example, you do something a little different, like... oh. I dunno. Log in to your account on a separate laptop that belongs to a friend, install a tonne of games, run them to make sure they validate, then start Steam in Offline mode on that machine and walk away - and they never log in with your details ever again.

      You're basically giving your games to someone to play, while you continue to play them on your own machine. They're not online, so they can be playing one of your games while you are, which is technically not what you're meant to be doing, but because the laptop hasn't phoned home, Steam doesn't know any better. I guess you'd technically call that piracy or a licence violation.

      However. If you didn't run those games online at least once, or if those games' publishers decided to require an online check-in every 6 months, you're not going to be able to run some of those games offline.

      And if your credentials ever get lost out of the login for some reason and Steam goes back to checking to see if it can go online again, you won't be able to get that machine to go back into offline mode unless you've logged in with your details and had it phone home. THEN you can go manually tell it to go into offline mode again.

      That's just one of the quirks that I know of. There are probably a few more, especially if the system doesn't actually work as intended.

      For example: Say your network card explodes, or your internet goes out. You go to play a game.

      What is MEANT to happen is that Steam will say, "Huh, we thought you were online - we were going to hand-shake with the server to live-update your profile to show you playing this and give a nod to the bouncer, but since you seem to be offline, we'll have to get you to restart in offline mode." For most people (now, anyway), that will then reboot Steam, start you in offline mode, and you start your game happily. Instead of trying to handshake with the server, Steam just takes a mental local note of what you're playing, to update your online activity log later, when you can phone home.

      But for SOME people, it's this point that Steam fails. Steam reloads and says, "Offline mode?" you say 'yes', and it says, "Hm. Something's gone wrong, you're not authorized to use offline mode." There are a variety of reasons why it does this, but it was one of the biggest complaints when it was accepted to be a wonky system.

      That's understandable, maybe it was in the middle of something, maybe it doesn't like the unexpected, whatever... it's a bug. Doesn't happen for you, doesn't happen for me, but it definitely does happen. A lot. But not as much as it used to.

      Another weird one that people sometimes get is they TELL Steam, "OK, I want you to go offline now, I don't want you pinging back home - we're intentionally going into an offline state with advance notice," and Steam doesn't quite get that message. It refuses to load.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the problem is overblown due to user-error, and a large number of the complaints about these unexpected failures are probably because the system or the games did actually have updates pending.
      ie: Steam knew about it from the last time they were online, but it didn't get to apply them because the user nominated (at the time or in advance) not to let it. It knows there's updates out there and it knows it doesn't have them. It's not going to run.

      Last edited 08/05/15 2:06 pm

        Crikey.... yep I keep it super simple, because I know I'm super simple (when it comes to IT/technology in general)

        I take your point though :)

    In regards to DRM-free games, Terraria also works this way. You can actually play with your friends for free by using the application to launch the game. I mean, the game only costs five bucks but I still couldn't convince a mate to spend on it; moment some multiplayer kicked off he bought it for the hell of it.

    don't you all miss the days of just buying a game, installing it and playing it?

      Yep, that I do.

      But there's something I love about firing up Steam (this from someone who used to hate Steam with a wild abandon), everything is in my library in front of me, all updated and ready to go.

      I often don't know what I feel like playing, I scroll down the list and hit GO and I'm on. Sometimes I might try 2 or 3 things before I settle on what I feel like playing, meanwhile I don't have to frig around changing disks etc...

      Handy in a busy life, I guess.

      Last edited 08/05/15 2:14 pm

      For about 95% of games you still do that.

      Yeah, I did! I think that's a big part of why I love Steam these days.

      No dicking around with CD storage, multiple-CD installations, typing out a CD-key manually, changing between discs anytime I want to play a different game, scratched CDs, missing/borrowed CDs, on-disc DRM refusing to recognize the CD drive...

      Now there's Steam! Buy, install, run. No errors, no fuss. Woo! :D Just like the good old days.

        No errors, no fuss

        Multiple games in my library that won't run or constantly crash pushes that statement a bit.

        But then that's always been PC gaming. An element to gambling on every game. "Will the hardware combination I have work with this specific game?"

        Last edited 08/05/15 2:44 pm

          Well, it works fine on MY machine, so by the law of the internet I can safely declare that the problem does not exist. :D

      Installing? That's so much effort. I liked it when you'd just insert a floppy disk and play the game.

        Should I admit to remembering putting in a CASSETTE, waiting 20 minutes for it to load… then playing on my black and white TV?

        Probably not …

        It's all fun and games until Guru Meditation..

    A big mystery for me is why Greenlight is still a thing.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now