April 25, 2024


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Steam on Chromebooks: How to Play PC Games on Chrome OS

One of the biggest knocks against Chromebooks is that they’re no good for gaming. There are Android games, but not all of them work. You can use a cloud gaming service such as Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now, but that generally requires a subscription. But Google’s been working on a bigger solution with help from game-maker Valve.

A prerelease version of Valve’s Steam game store is now available to try on Chromebooks through the Chrome OS Dev channel. It’s an early, alpha-quality version of Steam, so anything can break. Be prepared to face crashes, bugs and performance problems, Chrome OS Product Manager Zach Alcorn said in a community forum post. From my first-hand experience, this is 100% true but I haven’t experienced anything too bad. Due to the instability of the alpha version, though, it’s best not to test it out on a Chromebook you rely on for work or school and you’ll want to make sure all important files are backed up before proceeding.

Also, it can currently only be enabled on a select set of Chromebooks with higher-end components:

Even if you have one of these models, the Chromebook will need to have the following components: 

  • An 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor (Core i3 configurations are not supported)
  • At least 8GB of RAM (16GB recommended)
  • Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Steam on Chromebooks

Steam on Chrome is in alpha and requires enabling a couple of experimental features. 

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

If you have one of these Chromebooks, you can access the alpha-quality version of Steam on Chrome OS. You’ll have to switch to the Dev channel in your settings menu. Once the Chromebook is updated to that channel, follow these steps to get set up:

  1. Open a browser window and navigate to chrome://flags 
  2. Search for #borealis-enabled and #exo-pointer-lock and set both to Enabled
  3. Open a crosh terminal (Ctrl+Alt+T)
  4. Enter “insert_coin volteer-JOlkth573FBLGa” 
  5. Follow the setup process to install Steam
Steam installation screen

Once the install screen opens, just follow the prompts and you’ll be gaming in no time.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Google has the full install instructions on the Chromium.org forums. You’ll also find a list of known issues as well as all of the games currently supported. It’s a surprisingly long list, including Portal 2, Dota 2, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Stardew Valley, Terraria, Hades, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition. 

When available, Chrome OS will run the Linux version of games. Other games use Steam Play’s compatibility tool called Proton. It’s also used for the Steam Deck handheld gaming device. Although I experienced some glitchy behavior before and after playing, the gameplay itself was actually fairly smooth on the Acer Chromebook 713 I tested with, paired with the excellent Steelseries Stratus Plus Bluetooth controller for Chromebooks and Android. 

If you’re shopping for a Chromebook right now and thinking you might want to use Steam once it’s finished and ready for the public, you’ll want to keep the system requirements listed above in mind. Also, make sure you get an SSD large enough to store your games. Chromebooks typically don’t have high-capacity storage drives but Steam support might change that soon.