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Whenever I launch a game using Steam, it always says, "Preparing to Launch ________________". What exactly is it doing?

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No, it doesn't say <GAME NAME HERE>. That's a placeholder. – Joe the Person Sep 11 '11 at 6:02
up vote 9 down vote accepted

I'm guessing:

  1. Verifying the game is legit (DRM).
  2. Verifying the game is up-to-date.
  3. Verifying the requirements for the game (e.g. directx) are still met.

Although (3) should theoretically only be checked on the first run, I'm pretty sure it's actually checked on every run - I saw a few games that always show a brief "installing directx" line even after the first run. Maybe it is done to verify no hardware or software changes were made to the system that can break the game.

This is just a guess, though... if you want to know for sure, I suppose you can monitor the Steam process at the moment it is launched (e.g. with a network analyzer and some process monitor such as sysinternals).

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As of 3 - user might uninstall the DirectX/MSVS C++ runtime support between game runs. – Maciej Piechotka Sep 11 '11 at 8:46
I'm pretty sure #1 is only done the first time you install and maybe once every 30 days after. – Shadur Sep 11 '11 at 9:49
I rather think is does it once per session. When I launch a game for the first time of the day, the "Preparing" is much longer that the following launches? – Jupotter Sep 11 '11 at 10:22
@Shadur: As far as I know, that's only true if you're in Offline mode. – user2974 Sep 11 '11 at 17:33
@Powerlord Ah, fair enough. – Shadur Sep 11 '11 at 19:56

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