Steam update aims to make games run smoother the first time you play

The latest Steam client update introduces a feature aiming to stop the longer load times and framerate stuttering that can happen the first few times you load a game after installing it. It’ll do this by trying to download and pre-cache the game’s shaders, part of their technoguts which your own computer can need to compile when you first launch it. That compilation is what can cause the hold-up. This doesn’t affect every game and isn’t a huge problem but hey, anything that makes getting into a game smoother is welcome. You shouldn’t need to do anything to benefit from this.

Let’s get mildly technical. This is about shaders, little bits of code in games which mostly power visual effects from special effects to lighting and, well, shading. Some games need to tailor these to your computer, compiling them when you first run it, sometimes at all once or sometimes when needed. This can mean hitches as you play or a bit of a wait. Those are the games this new Steam feature targets.

Valve explain Steam’s new shader pre-caching in the update notes:

“Whenever possible, depending on hardware and driver support, Steam can download pre-compiled shaders for your specific video card. This reduces load times and in-game stuttering during the first few launches of OpenGL- and Vulkan-based games on supported hardware. This feature may use a small amount of additional bandwidth as Steam uploads and analyzes a shader usage report after each run of the game.”

If you don’t want that, or if it causes problems, you can disable the feature.

It’s not mega-huge but hey, if this works for many games I’ll be happy to have those little hitches and waits removed.


  1. HillDweller says:

    Loved the image!


    • Ghostwise says:

      The wrath of CRT Lady is legend.

      • SBLux says:

        I read every article with CRT lady in it, regardless of the subject.

    • Axolotl says:

      Interesting. To me it looks like she’s having tons of fun browsing the steam store with a joystick.

      • Cvnk says:

        It seems obvious to me she’s not angry.

        It’s looks like she thinks she’s playing whatever game is on that Steam page when she’s really just watching one of the videos. When it finishes the videos and starts displaying the images then she’ll get angry thinking the game locked up

    • edwardoka says:

      Clearly her fury is because someone correctly called it Plunkbat and she’s waggling the joystick in a futile attempt at demanding it be called pub-gee or something equally ridiculous.

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      Don Reba says:

      The CRT lady feels like an old, angry friend, at this point.

      • Massenstein says:

        In 50 years when 5d direct-to-brain VR gadgets have replaced both monitors and manual controls Alice, now the Queen of New Britannian Empire but also working her old job for the RPS for sentimental reasons (and also because it is the official imperial newspaper) is still using that picture, to the confusion of all.

        The CRT Lady will have become a creature of folklore. Few eccentric hackers track down those old style monitors and joysticks and refuse to use anything else for surfing the spaceweb. People think they are crazy. Maybe they are.

    • GameOverMan says:

      The CRT lady predates CRTs.

    • April March says:

      You man you can’t buy a game with the joystick? Use Big Screen, pay for it with Steam credit… I never tried it so I wouldn’t know if it’d work, but it feels like it should.

    • caff says:

      Ahhhhh, Stock Photo CRT lady.

      Here’s the truth – she’s actually just been booted in the arse by her housemate, Laura. Laura is intensely irritated at having to rent a spare room off a woman who a) wears an early 2000-era headset, b) owns naff uncomfortable looking Ikea bar stools and c) spends a lot of time shouting at her monitor when browsing articles about Steam, particularly when there’s a picture of a woman shouting at her monitor.

  2. Kefren says:

    What I don’t understand is:

    – When I download and install a game from GOG, it’s done. When I click to play it the first time it just works.

    – When I download and install a game from Steam, it says it is installed, but when I first try to play it, it then installs all sorts of extra crud first (which is probably what this change is related to). DirectX etc, things I’d have thought should have been installed on … well, installation. This means I can’t be offline after installing a game, I have to go online the first time.

    I guess my question is – how come on GOG it has always worked with no issues and I can be offline when I first play a game, but Steam doesn’t work like that? Surely it’s a simple thing? Is Steam making it unnecessarily complicated?

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      Steam generally downloads the installers for the ‘extra crud’ when you download the game. I don’t think you need to be online for installing, at least most of the time.

      GoG doesn’t install those I think because it just assumes you already have them. Could be wrong on that one, but I think it just doesn’t install Direct X or C++ runtimes or whatever on the assumption that you either have them already or will know how to get them.

      Besides, MSVC++ runtimes and directX generally need admin rights to install. I’d rather have control over when that pops up, rather than just “Whenever steam downloads and tries to install it in the background”.

      • meloncrab says:

        link to

        “Why does DirectX install with every game?
        Running the DirectX installer is not a matter of making sure your overall DirectX install being up-to-date. Microsoft has a helper library with D3D called D3DX. You’ll find binaries for this like d3dx9_43.dll in your Windows\system32 folder. There are over 40 different versions of the D3DX library for D3D9 alone, and many more for D3D10 and 11 as well. Each game that uses the D3DX helper library is linked to a specific version. As such the game must run the correct D3D installer version that it was specifically compiled with to ensure the binaries exist.” etc.

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          Drib says:

          So that sounds pretty close to what I was saying.

          Though looking at the other comments, GoG does the same thing, just silently.

          So really, “It’s required, deal with it” is all one can say.

          • Archonsod says:

            They’re not required. You can simply cancel the installation of DirectX and similar crud and the game will still launch fine, assuming you already have DX et al installed. Unfortunately it means Steam will keep trying to run the installers every time you launch the game until you let it (or modify the ini file).
            It’d be pretty easy for Valve to avoid this, although to be fair it’s not really their responsibility. It’s really Microsoft to blame since they seem incapable of coding a DirectX/MSVC installer that can simply check if any libraries are required and only install them, nor do they allow developers to simply bundle the required DirectX libraries with the game. Instead, in typical half arsed fashion, they insist the DirectX installer is used so everyone gets to sit through a full DirectX install routine even if it ends up not doing anything on the system.

            The easiest workaround I’ve found is to get a good antivirus and simply blacklist DirectX setup, MSVC etc to prevent them running. As long as it allows them to be silently blocked it won’t affect Steam, you just need to remember to whitelist them if you do need to update (Windows 10 lets you kind of do this natively – just refuse permission for Steam to modify the system when you launch the game and it’ll skip the crud install – just check the program making the call, since you’ll usually see one for Steam and one for the actual game .exe).

          • Vanderdecken says:

            Archonsod, you might want to talk to a medical professional about your unhealthy obsession with a library installer that takes 20 seconds to run, without interaction, once when you start each new game. Chill.

        • Jokerme says:

          Why the hell Microsoft doesn’t install all of them by default? What kind of broken ass system is that?

          • ezelkow1 says:

            They do, but they also update it, and some games require a specific version. So to be on the safe side it always installs any necessary redists when you first run that game

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          MajorLag says:

          This sort of behavior defeats most of the purpose of having shared libraries at all. It would have been better to just cram the specific dlls needed into the game folder and be done with it.

          I suspect that violates some terms of use for the dlls though, which is stupid, but it’s Microsoft’s brand of stupid.

    • Lyrion says:

      When you download a game from GoG, you still need to use the installer. The install itself is long and will install all the crud you need.

      When you download a game from steam, the first time you click the play button is the install of the crud.

      They still do the same, but at different times.

    • ElementalAlchemist says:

      Both Steam and GOG versions include any required redistributables like DirectX, VC, etc. The only difference is that the GOG installer silently runs them while installing the game, whereas Steam only runs them when launching the game for the first time.

      • Kefren says:

        I think that ties in to my point. The GOG process is much smoother. By breaking it into two, Steam draws attention to it and maybe creates other problems by installing bits at different times.

        • ElementalAlchemist says:

          To be honest, I prefer Steam’s approach. I am not a fan of silent installs. GOG’s installer provides no feedback at all. The fact that people have no clue what it is even doing is telling. Sure, it makes things simple for your average slob I guess, but what happens if it goes tits up?

          • Kefren says:

            I have no idea what any of the installers are doing anyway. They all add crap wherever they want on my PC; with Steam games that have DRM they may be making all sorts of registry changes that aren’t undone by an uninstall. Whether it is all done at once, or in two stages, makes no difference to that for me (except I’d rather have the simplicity of one action than two, neither of which I control). :-)

          • Joibel says:

            Aren’t you referring to gog galaxy’s approach here. You still have the option of downloading the original version from gog and installing it manually, if you like that kind of thing. I’ve not yet had a gog game fail to work, but I guess that’s what happens when it fails to install properly. Pretty much what happens with steam.

          • Kefren says:

            No, I don’t use GOG Galaxy. My preference is downloading an installer. I find clients add a whole other level of complications (e.g. most of the Steam client just displays error messages for me – something to do with using back doors through firewalls which I’ve blocked, for obvious reasons).

    • Lobotomist says:

      They said its due some old steam functionality, something that is difficult to change now.

    • Excors says:

      when I first try to play it, it then installs all sorts of extra crud first (which is probably what this change is related to)

      I think that’s not the same as this change. When it installs DirectX runtimes etc on first launch, it really is installing stuff – copying files into system directories etc. (That might require admin permissions, so it can’t be done silently in the background like how Steam downloads and installs the rest of the game.)

      This change is about taking the generic GPU-independent shader code that a game distributes, and compiling it into heavily-optimised versions in the native instruction set for your specific GPU. Normally that compilation is done (slowly) by your GPU drivers when the game first uses the shader, and then it saves the compiled output to reuse on subsequent runs.

      Every player with the same GPU and same driver version will generate the same compiled output, so that’s a lot of redundant compiling. Steam is just shortcutting that process by downloading a copy that was already compiled for your GPU and driver. If you are e.g. playing offline so it can’t download them, it should fall back to compiling with your own drivers like before.

      • Kefren says:

        Thanks, that clarifies it a bit.

        I still think when I install a game Steam should actually install the game. I don’t mind if I have to elevate permissions during the process. But the half and half would be like having a builder put in a bathroom; then when you first try to flush the toilet he comes back to attach an outflow pipe.

        “Why not do it at the time you installed the toilet?”
        “I needed permission.”
        “But I was there! You could have asked at that point and done it all at once?”

        • Vanderdecken says:

          When you click ‘Install Game’ in Steam, it’s not running a normal application installer. It’s just downloading and unpacking the game files inside the Steam folder – it doesn’t need to make changes to anything else, because Steam controls everything inside its own folder, and that’s where the game goes. When you actually want to run the game, it has some dependencies (like DirectX) which have to be installed outside an area that Steam has full control over (i.e. in Windows\system32), so it can’t handle those itself and must pass that responsibility off to a legit Microsoft installer. They’ve traded having to do that before running a game for the silent download and install experience at the time you click Install Game. Would you prefer that you click the Install Game button, then go away to watch a TV show and 35 minutes later a DirectX installer pops up because the download finished? Maybe you would, but I guess Valve decided that would be the greater of two evils.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      My GOG version of The Witcher 3 kept crashing and when I looked up the issue I found it wasn’t effecting Steam users because Steam had already installed the VCredist which was just laying dormant in the resources folder of my install.

  3. Turkey says:

    Will it be as smooth as one of Gaben’s katanas slicing through a water melon?

    • Ghostwise says:

      Wait. Why is there a watermelon here ?

      • Jalan says:

        Because in the historical and factual recreation of Gaben’s life in the coming year, otherwise known as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, there were plenty of watermelons to be had.

  4. Dogshevik says:

    When I read the headline I sighed and thought: “Yeah, just like an internet provider. First they sell you 400 MBit/s and then slow you down incrementally to sell you 500 MBit/s later on. Not surprised. Those Valveholes.”

    I am sure there is a moral lesson about expectations and jumping to conclusions to be had somewhere in there.

    Alternatively we just have to wait a couple of months more for another headline to mean just that.

  5. racccoon says:

    The only way to make games run smoother is…
    to not BOTHER WITH STEAM at all. end of.

  6. Person of Interest says:

    It sounds like Valve implemented the “sharing shaders” idea that the Dolphin team ruled out before developing Ubershaders: link to

  7. EuanDewar says:

    I had zero clue that this was even a problem. Almost wish I never found out because the placebo effect is gonna be intense now.

  8. Premium User Badge

    samsharp99 says:

    Anyone have an idea of how much of a download this is going to be? I play on a metered connection so if games start downloading extra GBs of shader data, it’s probably not worth it and I’ll turn it off.