If you are looking for information on how to activate your purchases – games, gift cards and so on – on Steam, look no further. We have prepared a thorough guide on how to do all that, either through a website or a Steam client.
There is plenty of advice on the Internet, so we thought it would be best if we just gathered all the details in one place, so that you don’t have to look elsewhere.
What is Steam, actually?
Let’s go back in time, shall we? The year is 2003. Valve Corporation (AKA Valve Software), an American video game developer and publisher famous for the Half-Life series, Left 4 Dead, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress and Dota, among others, releases an application that is to shape the future of video gaming in the years to come.
Steam, as it is called, originally served as a platform for delivering all sorts of patches and updates to the online games developed by Valve. Soon, however, it became so much more. When Half-Life 2 was released, you needed a Steam client to play the game. A controversial decision, for sure, one that raised questions about game ownership and the like.
Still, this model has become so profitable that more and more publishers and developers teamed up with Valve and started distributing their games through this digital platform, which now holds over 75% of the market, with no serious contender in sight (aside from Epic Games Store, maybe).
Today, Steam is a combination of a game launcher, an online store, a matchmaking/multiplayer service, a communicator and a streaming tool. It installs and updates the games you purchased, it helps you play and stay in touch with your friends, including through the Remote Play feature, it lets you shop for more games, etc., etc.
But it also works as a digital rights management (DRM) service. If you want to play the games, you need to have Steam on. Thankfully, once they are activated and installed, you can play them offline, as long as they do not need the Internet connection to function properly.
What’s a Steam key?
The whole thing is based on a system of Steam keys (or product codes) – a form of once common CD-keys that were often used in multiplayer games. These keys are a combination of letters and numbers, either printed or fully digital. The way this works is that once you buy a game on Steam, your key is automatically assigned to your account and your purchase ready to download and play. But what if you bought a key on a digital marketplace like G2A.COM or got it from a Humble Bundle, for example? How can you redeem it and add the game to your account?
How can I activate a Steam key?
Let’s imagine you bought a copy of, say, Dying Light 2, on G2A.COM, because you found it at a better price there and cannot be bothered to wait for another big sale happening on Steam.
What you get is a Steam key that you have to input somewhere in order to successfully complete its redemption and have Dying Light 2 added to your account.
So, once you have displayed your key on G2A.COM after the purchase, your task is to do the following:
- Fire up your Steam client and log in to your Steam account (or create one if needed). If you do not have the client yet, download and install it beforehand.
- Once the application is up and running, either click on the “ADD A GAME” button in the bottom left corner of the Steam’s window or go to “Games” in the top left corner and select “Activate a Product on Steam…”
- This will bring up another window. Click “Next,” read the STEAM® SUBSCRIBER AGREEMENT and then click “I Agree” to move to the next stage.
- Now, you will see a field where you can input the key (it is in one of the three formats shown below the field). Either write it there or simply go copy-paste and then click “Next.”
- If the key is correct and the process successful, the game will be added to your account. You will be now able to download it and then play it through the “LIBRARY” tab. Just click on the “INSTALL” button and once the game is on your hard drive, launch it through the green “PLAY” button. Have fun!
You can also activate your keys through Steam’s website:
https://store.steampowered.com/account/registerkey (you also need to log in to your account before you do that)
Make sure that you follow the on-screen instructions thoroughly to ensure successful key redemption.
How can I redeem a Steam Wallet code or a Steam Gift Card?
Since these two are also based on codes/keys, we decided to cover them in this article as well.
If you need extra credits that you would like to spend on some new video games or just want to give a gamer friend of yours a nice gift, Steam gift cards and wallet top-ups are a good idea.
If you want to redeem such a code, you need to select “Games” in the upper left corner of the Steam window and then click on “Redeem a Steam Wallet Code…” Once there, you will see another field where you can either input or just copy-paste a Wallet/gift card code and click on the “Continue” button. If everything is OK, your Steam Wallet will be successfully topped up.
I tried activating a key I bought, but it doesn’t work! What should I do in such a case?
There might be a situation where you try activating a key, but instead you receive a message that the process was unsuccessful. There is a variety of reasons why this can happen to you. What can you do to solve this issue somehow?
If you are typing the Steam key manually, make sure there are no typos. For example, the number 0 (zero) can actually be the letter O, D or Q. The number 1 (one) can be the letter I or L. The letter O can be the letter Q or D (or a zero) instead. B can be the number 8 (eight), G can be the number 6 (six)… The most common typo is probably mistaking O for a zero or the other way around.
If you have copied and then pasted the key, make sure there are no extra spaces or any additional text which may cause the invalid key error message.
The following three formats are supported by Steam (as stated in the Steam app):
- AAAAA-BBBBB-CCCCC (three blocks, five characters each)
- AAAAA-BBBBB-CCCCC-DDDDD-EEEEE (five blocks, five characters each)
- 237ABCDGHJLPRST 23
If the key is not working, then one of the causes might be that it is not a Steam key, but an Origin or Ubisoft Connect (formerly Uplay) one, for example. If that is the case, get the applications for these platforms and follow their separate instructions instead. Check out the website where you bought your key again, just to be sure. Those whose destination platform is Steam should be marked with Steam’s icon or labeled as such.
If nothing helps or you have received a message that your key has already been used (meaning it is a duplicate), you should contact the retailer or seller you bought the code from. In this case they should be able to assist you and send you a new, working key.