Let me start by saying I love Steam. They really seem to have almost perfected personal game management from purchase to play. I say almost because it still has a few issues. One of the most annoying ones for me is the amount of space wasted by files left over after an install. We’re talking redistributable files from Microsoft like .NET and DirectX installers. These files are used once and never needed again. Even worse, each game can end up with an exact copy of the same files. We’re talking almost 200MB per each game install in some cases. Sometimes they even get left behind when you uninstall the game. Some informal checking found that better than 50% of your games will have at least some left over install files. Some people might say, “Why bother? I’ve got a terabyte of space!”. Well, I like to keep my drives free of as much extra garbage as possible and a few gigabytes is a lot of waste in my book.
Steam could easily help cut down on the waste by having a common repository for these rather common installers from Microsoft. This would be the perfect solution and shouldn’t be hard to implement. Until Steam figures out a way to cut this cruft from it’s library, I’ve found you can remove this garbage without adverse effects. The files may return if the game updates or you do a verify cache, but they are 100% not needed after install or for game play and can safely be removed.
This guide will first explain the files used in the Steam install process then show you how to reclaim that wasted space. This guide assumes you have basic computer skills including navigating your hard drives with Windows Explorer and editing text files.
When you run a Steam game, from the first time to every time after that, it runs an installer script that runs extra installers for thing’s like .NET and DirectX if they aren’t installed already. Now this is fine the first time you run the game, but is totally unnecessary after that and can even make game start up times longer. If you look in the root folder of a game in your Steam library, you will notice one or two .vdf files. After examining a few you will learn what files and folder names to keep an eye out for so you can delete them. This installer file is just a text file, so you can open it with Notepad or your favorite text editor. If you do a Windows Search from your Steam library folder (Default: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common) for *.vdf you will find the installers.
Open a .vdf file and let’s have a look. As you see at the top, it’s an “InstallScript”. There are several optional sections that can appear, but the one we are interested in is called “Run Process”. If the script you opened doesn’t have this section, pick a different one. As you can see, there is a list of various additional installers/patches that the installer fires off. Take note of the names and folders because you will be seeing them a lot.
Cleaning Up The Mess
Now that you have the tools and knowledge to find these useless files, you can safely delete them. Look for folders named “installers” or “redist” and variations. These files will remain deleted until the game updates or you use the verify game files feature. No problem, just revisit the game folder and delete them again.
While experimenting around, I found that you can actually remove the items in the “Run Process” section to further insure the game doesn’t even bother to check when launched. The .vdf file is run every time you launch the game and it runs each installer again. Of course they just quit immediately as they are already marked installed, but you can still see them being run in the launch dialog. By removing the entries in this section I’ve gotten games to launch faster. I’ve recently noticed that the Steam client is always refreshing the .vdf file for some games. I don’t know if this is new and for all games, but I’d not seen it till today as edits and even deleting the .vdf file altogether has worked for some games in the past. I’ve had some success with saving the script as an empty file. You can’t just delete it as Steam will download it if not present, so at a minimum it needs to be an empty file.
Don’t worry about deleting important files or screwing up the installer script .vdf. You can always use the Verify Game Files feature to restore the files. If the game always re-downloads the installers, have a look at the Advanced Users section. You may need to try deleting the Run Processes section.
Notice: I accept no responsibility for damage to your computer for following the above instructions. I cannot guarantee you will not kill your pet, burn the toast, or turn your computer into a brick. Make sure you do backups and practice safe computing at all times.