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Steam apparently keeps Steam games in my home directory of all places. That makes it very difficult to back up my home directory without also backing up Steam games (I have only one: Civ 5).

How do I tell Steam to install and store games in a legitimate location (like the /Applications folder)?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 17 down vote accepted

When you install a game, Steam places it in ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/ and creates an alias in ~/Applications/ which you can use to launch the game. It does this because different games may have different directory structures—unfortunately, not all Mac games come in neatly-packaged app bundles. Because of this, it's not really possible (or a good idea) to trick Steam into putting the game data in /Applications/ instead.

It's safe to exclude ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/ from your backups since no user data is kept there, only the game installs. Save files are kept elsewhere in your home directory, depending on the game.

If you really want to keep game data out of your home directory, you can make a symbolic link at ~/Library/Application Support/SteamApps/ pointing to somewhere else on your disk, perhaps in /Users/Shared/. Here's how you do this:

  1. Shut down Steam.
  2. Move the ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/ folder to wherever you want it to be.
  3. Open up Terminal and change to the Steam folder by typing:
    cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/Steam
  4. Create a symbolic link in this folder pointing to the place you moved the SteamApps folder to:
    ln -s /Users/Shared/Steam/ SteamApps
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I'll try the symbolic link. I don't want applications in my home directory because a home directory is simply not the correct place for them. Both Windows and Mac OS have certain directories for certain types of data and I think Valve should not break them. –  Andrew J. Brehm Feb 4 '11 at 16:14
I don't want Steam games in my boot disk because it's an SSHD with limited space. I have a (built-in, but "external-seeming") 3Tb drive for huge things like Steam games. Even the ln -s trick didn't solve everything. Portal (1) now errors with "can't find background image materials/console/startup_loading.vtf" -- I'll report back when I solve that. –  Olie Mar 29 '13 at 19:08
Ok, for me, just linking SteamApps didn't work, I had to link ~/Library/Application Support/Steam, itself -- the whole Steam folder -- to my new disk. Now everything works. –  Olie Mar 29 '13 at 19:28

I had to totally uninstall Steam, then create a directory on my external drive as in /Volumes/DriveName/Application Support/Steam/, install Steam, use the ln -s command for the newly created directory and the ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/ folder on my main drive, delete the original Steam folder on my main drive, and then I fired up Steam and it worked. I knew because I went to download Civ 5 and the available drive space referred to my external drive.

By the way, a little alias Steam folder pops up within the original Application Support, so superficially the process will look like it has produced an alias.

I'm a total Unix n00b, so the whole experience was horrible and took me 2 hours to figure out. Fix it, Steam developers. That's two hours I'll never get back.

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I found this page while searching for an answer to this problem but it seems that Steam has been fixed to address this concern. I tried installing a game without going through this process and it asked where I would like to install it, giving me the option of creating my games library on another disk. Using the July 26th 2013 version of Steam for Mac OS X.

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You can move the game data files from ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps/ to anywhere you like, provided that you create a symbolic link to wherever you moved it with ln -s /place/where/you/moved/SteamApps/ ~/Libary/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps.

Using a standard Make Alias command won't work here; Steam will throw errors when you try to open the Steam app itself.

Brant is right that their packaging makes them unsuitable for adding to /Applications since you can't actually launch them from that location, they must be launched from within Steam.

Also it's good to know that those fake applications in ~/Applications/ aren't actually aliases, they're application-packaged scripts that call the Steam protocol (steam://) for a particular game when you launch them.

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Thanks. Note that they could create a directory /Applications/Steam. The point is that the home directory is for my files, not applications. –  Andrew J. Brehm Feb 4 '11 at 16:15
Technically, ~/Applications is an appropriate place for apps that aren't available system-wide. (However, this is a eye-rollingly nerdy detail best read in the voice of Professor Frink) –  Brant Feb 4 '11 at 16:44
@Brant I meant functionally - there's nothing in SteamApps/ that you can navigate to and click on to launch a Steam game from the Finder. –  authenticgeek Feb 4 '11 at 17:10
Sorry, that last comment of mine was meant for @Andrew, not you. :) –  Brant Feb 4 '11 at 17:31
@Nick: Actually, some games do have app bundles that you can navigate to and launch directly. (Source engine games don't.) Launching the games this way directly will bypass any Steam integration features like the overlay and Steam Cloud, though. –  Brant Feb 4 '11 at 17:33

Here is another way.

  1. Make a new folder for Steam. I made one called "Steam Games" at the root of my big drive.
  2. Go to Steam (menu item) -> Preferences
  3. Click on the "Downloads" tab in Preferences
  4. Click on the "STEAM LIBRARY FOLDERS" button in the Downloads page
  5. Select the new folder, it will be added to the list.
  6. Quite Steam
  7. In the finder, copy the SteamApps folder from your Library/Application Support folder to the new folder you added in step (5)
  8. Open Stream
  9. In the Library, right-click on a game and select "Delete Local Content..."
  10. Right click on the game again, select "Install Game..."
  11. Most games will ask you where you would like to install it. This will be a pop-up listing the two folders, the original and the new one. Select the new one. Some games will not ask you and simply move on to the install, but luckily these ones tend to see the file in the new location and do the right thing.
  12. Steam will start the install process, but will first say it's "Discovering" the existing content. After a few moments it's done, no download.

You can see where any of your games are installed by:

  1. Right click on the game, and select Properties from the menu
  2. Select the LOCAL FILES tab from the window that appears
  3. Click the BROWSE LOCAL FILES... button

If you did it right, the window that opens should be in the new location. You can check by Command-Clicking on the folder icon in the title bar (among other methods).

Moving a big library using this method will take some time, but it will actually move it, and they will download there in the future.

NOTE: This did not work for all files. Some, notably CivIV (which I haven't played since V) re-downloaded. HL also seemed to be an issue.

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Most of these answers are OBSOLETE as of 2015 (or earlier).

The Mac steam client allows you go choose a location for installing the game, including "Create new Steam library on drive /Volumes/DriveName"

Maury Markowitz's answer is also a good one, but I can't vote it up yet... :-/

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Good to see people adding new information to old question maybe this one will help anybody. But you should edit this answer adding some more information about "how to create new steam lib on specific path", that would be awesome – Feb 4 at 12:49

If all you want is to avoid it backing up your games you can tell Time Machine Backup (TMB) to exclude the SteamApps folder. You can also move the folder without breaking Steam by using a Symbolic Link like others have mentioned but since Steam has a feature to install games elsewhere already I recommend doing that. If you've already installed the game(s) and would rather move the SteamApps folder than to delete and reinstall I'll give instructions on how to make Steam realize you moved it below.

To exclude the SteamApps folder from TMB:

  1. Go into System Preferences and select the Time Machine pane.

  2. Press the Options button. This will open the list of items TMB will exclude.

  3. In that window press the "+" button and navigate to the ~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps folder and press the Exclude button.

  4. Press the Save button and you're done. It will no longer include the contents of that folder in your TMB.

Steam Method for moving SteamApps folder:

  1. Open Steam Preferences and select the Downloads tab along the left side then the "STEAM LIBRARY FOLDERS" button.

  2. Then press the "ADD LIBRARY FOLDER" button and select the folder you want the SteamApps folder to appear in; such as Applications, or in my case since I have a SSD boot drive I have a second HDD for Games so it's /Volumes/Games/Steam Games (I created the Steam Games folder for organizational purposes, it is not required).

  3. Quit Steam. Go to ~/Library/Application Support/Steam and move the SteamApps folder to the folder you added in "STEAM LIBRARY FOLDERS" and tell it to replace the empty folder Steam created there. You're done.

    • When you open Steam it will already know that there are 0 games installed on the default Steam Library Folder and that your games are installed on the new Steam Library Folder. Remember when installing games in the future that the Download location is set to the folder you want it to download to. If you want to open the game without launching Steam the actual app is in the SteamApps/common folder but to navigate to it more quickly you can:

    • Open Steam, right click on the game(s) you want to create a shortcut to, and select Create Desktop Shortcut. Then leave it or move it to Applications or anywhere else you want. In my case the Steam Games folder, though I also have a Games folder in my dock with my favorite/most often used games and subcategories for organization in my Games Volume with additional copies.

Symbolic Link Method for moving SteamApps folder FOR EXPERTS:

  1. Move the SteanApps folder.

  2. Open Terminal.

  3. Change Directory (cd) to the folder you want the Symbolic Link to appear in (~/Library/Application Support/Steam).

  4. Tell it to create the link to the folder/file (SteamApps) you want it to link to (ln -s).

  5. You're done. See below for an example if needed.

Symbolic Link Method for moving SteamApps folder FOR BEGINNERS:

  1. Move the SteamApps folder the same way you would any normal folder to the desired location, by Primary(Typically Left)-Click-Holding to drag and moving the mouse to the window with the desired location open then dropping the folder by lifting your finger from the mouse button.

  2. Press Command+SpaceBar to bring up Spotlight, type Terminal, when it shows that is selected (may be instantaneous, lag varies by machine) press return to Open the Application. Or navigate to Applications/Utilities/ in Finder and double click it.

  3. Type "cd " in the Terminal window then drag the folder you wish to create the Symbolic Link in from Finder onto the window in Terminal and press return to submit it. Or type "cd ~/Library/Application Support/Steam" in the Terminal window and press return to submit it.

  4. Type "ln -s " in the Terminal window then drag the folder/file (SteamApps) from finder onto the window in Terminal and press return to submit it.

  5. You're done. This is an example of what it should look like:


Last login: Tue Aug 18 10:41:58 on ttys000
Mac HD:~ User$ 
Mac HD:~ User$ cd ~/Library/Application\ Support/Steam
Mac HD:Steam User$ ln -s /Volumes/Games/Steam\ Games/SteamApps
Mac HD:Steam User$ 
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