Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a casual gamer, if you play PC games, chances are you’ve heard of Steam. Steam was originally built by Valve as a gaming platform for cutting edge online multiplayer games. These days, though, it does so much more. Steam has become a virtual hub for PC gamers offering many titles such as Fallout 4. It allows them to browse forums, chat, download and purchase new games, organize teams, and manage game files across different systems. You’re probably already familiar with famous Valve games such as Portal, Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress, Half-Life and many, many others.
Unfortunately, Steam suffers from the same annoying problems as other multiplayer platforms, such as Xbox Live. The platform was created by a large business that exists to make money. As such, there are some strict account and download restrictions. These exist out of legal necessity, to help the business avoid liability issues. To that end, it’s pretty common for modern gaming platforms to restrict content to certain geographic regions.
Thankfully, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunnel can help alleviate some of the irritation these restrictions create.
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- Consistently high speed and reliability (99.9% uptime guarantee)
- Servers in 94 countries
- Three simultaneous connections per account
- Based in the British Virgin Islands
- Rather expensive
- No free version
- No dedicated IP addresses
ExpressVPN is the first of the five best VPNs for Steam. And even though it
has many admirable qualities, I chose it as the first alternative because
of its consistently fast speeds and high reliability (99.9% uptime
guarantee). You would think that every VPN service would provide a 99.9%
uptime guarantee, but there are still a fair few providers that lack this
And let's face it, speed and reliability are of the most important factors for most applications, especially if you intend to run any real-time multiplayer games through the VPN tunnel. We all know how irritating lag spikes, dropped connections and latency are. Apart from high speed and reliability, ExpressVPN also has a rather large network of servers. Right now it hosts servers in 94 countries around the world, and each account is permitted up to three simultaneous connections regardless of device type.
But there are two qualities of this service that I find unattractive. There isn't a free version of the VPN tunnel, though there is a 30-day money back guarantee. And lastly, I think that ExpressVPN is a little pricier than most other services, so I'd recommend getting the annual subscription plan for the most savings.
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- Parent company based in Switzerland
- Includes a feature to prevent Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)
- NAT firewall protection and kill-switch included
- Over 200,000 IP addresses, 700+ servers, and 70+ countries
- The basic plan is pretty stripped down
- No dedicated IP addresses
VyprVPN is owned by a parent company called Golden Frog, which is based out
of Switzerland, and this VPN provider has a lot of extra security features
not commonly found with average VPNs. I'd recommend it as the second of the
five best VPNs for Steam. Like ExpressVPN, VyprVPN provides highly
competitive speeds that will help provide for a smoother Steam experience.
It's also a little better equipped to circumvent firewall restrictions and inspections than most other services. VyprVPN has an anti-DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) that helps to hide metadata, traffic types, and other similar information from firewalls and security appliances. There's even a NAT firewall feature and kill-switch for added protection, and you won't lack for global connection options. Currently, VyprVPN hosts servers in 70+ countries.
But it's not all sunshine and rainbows with this provider, because there are two things I dislike. I think that the basic plan is so stripped down it doesn't offer a good value. For instance, the anti-DPI feature isn't included in the standard version. And finally, there isn't currently a dedicated IP address option, though they may offer that option in the future.
- Bundles free proxy service with VPN
- IPv6-leak protection, DNS-leak protection
- 850+ servers in 60+ countries
- Five simultaneous connections per account
- Based in the US
Even though I dislike the fact that IPVanish is based in the United States,
it is undoubtedly a high quality service and one of the best VPNs for
Steam. Not only does it offer the strongest encryption algorithms (256-bit
encryption), it also bundles in a free proxy service with VPN
subscriptions. That gives users plenty of flexibility when deciding how
they want to unblock geographically restricted content.
IPVanish is known for competitive speeds and high reliability as well, and the software comes with a lot of great extra security features. In addition to the kill-switch feature, IPVanish also includes IPv6-leak protection and DNS-leak protection to make sure none of your personal information or DNS queries fail to be encrypted by the tunnel. And it has a moderately large network of servers, too. Right now IPVanish operates over 850 servers in 60+ countries.
Furthermore, subscribers are allowed to connect up to five devices simultaneously. Lastly, though it isn't the cheapest service, it's certainly not one of the more expensive services. You can get this service for as little as $6.49 a month with an annual subscription.
- Servers in 69 countries
- Six simultaneous connections per account
- Offers dedicated IP addresses
- 7-day money back guarantee
- Prevents IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leaks
- Logs some metadata, but not online activities
VPNArea is the fourth suitable choice as one of the top five VPNs for
Steam. That said, I would also recommend it for users who have a need for
extremely strong encryption and security. VPNArea is a bit unique since it
offers security features not often found with its competitors' services.
Extra security features include ad-blocking, private DNS servers and
features to prevent IPv6, WebRTC, and DNS leaks.
I am especially pleased with this service because it allows up to six simultaneous connections, too. That should be more than enough connections to accommodate most users' devices, and enough that you could even share the account with other Steam users. It does offer dedicated IP addresses too, though it is charged as an add-on feature.
Also, to date VPNArea runs servers in 69 countries, which gives you plenty of connection options. I do wish that this service had a free version, though it does get by with a 7-day money back guarantee. Lastly, VPNArea is a great option for Bittorrent users, since it permits P2P traffic through its servers.
- Servers in 37 countries
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Five simultaneous connections per account
- Based in Gibraltar, which is outside UK jurisdiction
- No free version
- Does not accept anonymous payments
- No kill-switch
The second to last alternative is Buffered VPN, which is comparable in
price and quality as the previous providers. It's priced a little above
average, but can be purchased for slightly less than the monthly cost of
ExpressVPN, which costs $8.32 per month. Buffered VPN, however, only costs
$7.75 per month with an annual subscription. There isn't a free version,
but there is a generously long 30-day money back guarantee to give you time
to test it out with Steam.
I have to say that the size of it's network is only slightly above that of the average provider's. Right now it hosts servers in 37 countries, but for the purposes of Steam, you'll have plenty of connection options, including the United States. It does also offer five simultaneous connections per account (which is becoming more common than it used to be), but there are a couple drawbacks. Not only does it not accept anonymous payments like Bitcoins, it also lacks a kill-switch.
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The Best VPNs for Steam: Considerations
How a Russia VPN for Steam Unblocks Content
VPN tunnels help unblock foreign content through a feature called IP address masking. The masking feature allows your computer or device to “borrow” an IP address from a foreign VPN server. The VPN server, which hosts your borrowed address, obtains data on your behalf and then forwards that data to your device. In the reverse direction, the VPN server sends data from your device to the destination server (Steam’s servers, in this case) from its own IP address. The destination servers can’t see your real IP address. Thus it appears to the Steam servers that they’re only interacting with the VPN server.
Since IP addresses are distributed by geographical region, it’s possible to circumvent content censorship and account restrictions. Proxy servers work in much the same way. However, VPN tunnels are superior because they encrypt data, making it unreadable to third parties. A proxy server does not. For that reason, I’d recommend sticking with VPN tunnels if you want to access Steam. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must first offer a warning regarding Steam VPNs.
For more information, check out our What is a proxy server guide, where we take a look at proxy servers and how they differ to VPNs.
Will Steam Ban Me For Using a VPN?
Like most other online gaming platforms, Steam is subject to strict regulations and licensing restrictions. These force it to limit liability and dissuade users from using proxy connections and VPN tunnels. Again, this isn’t uncommon among gaming platforms. Thankfully, PC gamers aren’t as encumbered as console gamers. For instance, on an Xbox 360, Microsoft wrote the operating system to purposefully omit VPN functionality. That way, users can’t connect the console to a VPN tunnel directly (though there are other ways to use VPNs with consoles).
On a PC or a Mac, however, it simply isn’t feasible (or even possible) to disallow the use of VPN tunnels. As such, Steam users have a much easier time of unblocking content that’s been geo-restricted. Nevertheless, I need to warn you: if you get caught downloading games (and other materials) on a VPN connection, you run the risk Steam banning your account. It’s all spelled out in great detail in the Steam Subscriber Agreement. More specifically, pay attention to section 3-A: Payment Authorization.
The SSA clearly states the following:
“You agree that you will not use IP proxying or other methods to disguise the place of your residence, whether to circumvent geographical restrictions on game content, to purchase at pricing not applicable to your geography, or for any other purpose. If you do this, Valve may terminate your access to your Account.”
If you still want to use a VPN tunnel, proceed with caution. It seems that there is some tolerance for the use of VPN tunnels, depending on the reason you’re using them, what you do, and whether or not you get caught. However, there are also some definite reasons that will result in a banned account when using a VPN tunnel. When connecting to Steam, make sure you don’t use a VPN tunnel or proxy for any of the following purposes without understanding the risk of a ban:
To circumvent geographical restrictions on game content
To purchase games and media at prices not applicable in your region
For any purpose that can harm other Valve users
The term “game content” is rather gray and vague. When I first heard that term, I instantly thought of game purchases, downloadable content and other similar uses. However, there have been plenty of accounts banned because users connected to regions where a video game had an earlier release date. Even though the game was technically legal in their region (eventually), the users were still punished.
As such, if you don’t want to run the risk of getting your account banned, it’s best to abstain from using a VPN tunnel with your Steam account, especially when trying to access games that aren’t available in your area. Too many users tried to use a Russia VPN for Steam to illegally access content before it was released in Russia, and their accounts were banned as a result.
Shared Servers and Shared IP Addresses
Your average VPN subscription, regardless of which provider you choose, typically uses a shared IP address. This means that many other users can access the internet with the same IP address hosted on the VPN server. This helps protect users’ anonymity. If the long arm of the law tried to trace users’ online activities, it would be virtually impossible to trace the connection back to the real user for two reasons.
Firstly, most VPN providers don’t keep log files of user activity. Thus there wouldn’t be a paper trail to follow. Secondly, since multiple users share the same address, it would make it that much more difficult to zero in on which user actually accessed a particular web resource from the shared IP address. However, when trying to access internet resources that try to limit, restrict or completely block the use of VPN tunnels, shared addresses aren’t typically your best option.
Shared IP addresses are frequently “blacklisted” by the service provider, and are usually well-known addresses. This is due to the “bad neighbor” effect, whereby someone sharing your VPN-hosted IP address (or a previous user) abused the IP address for spam emails, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks or other misuses. In turn, this can cause that IP address to be flagged as a dangerous or illegitimate address, and frequently cause Captcha verification applets to appear before you can access a website. As such, even though shared IP addresses offer greater anonymity, they are more often blacklisted.
There are two ways to circumvent this problem. The first solution is to use a VPN provider that offers a dedicated IP address, meaning that no other users will use the IP address that you subscribe to. This is better than a shared address if you don’t want a service – such as Steam – to ban your account. The best option, though, in terms of the lowest risk of an account ban, is to use your own private server. If you’re a hardcore Steam user and really want a private server, you could do one of the following:
Set up a home-brewed Linux VPN server to access game content when you’re away from home
Lease a dedicated/private server in the cloud
These options aren’t as simple as subscribing to a VPN service, but they are highly effective alternatives.
The Best Steam VPNs: Conclusion
VPN tunnels remain the best way to securely unblock content. They are vastly superior to proxy connections thanks to their encryption. That’s why many gamers still turn to VPN services to unblock foreign game content, and connect to foreign multiplayer servers. However, use caution: if you use a VPN tunnel with Steam to unblock game content or download games unavailable in your region, your account could be banned.