How to delete large files for Steam and other apps

Some items macOS identifies as apps are actually files used by other apps, and can only be deleted within those programs.

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The Steam system for games makes it easy to purchase and download games onto a variety of devices you own across multiple computer platforms. Steam acts as a combination of platform, offering some gaming features available to all the apps it supports, and a purchase and copy-protection system. The key part, though, is that when you download a Steam game, the program code is wrapped up and loaded in a way that Steam can use.

However, to macOS, each game can still seem sort of like a standalone app. That becomes important only when you’re trying to clean out storage on your Mac to free up space.

One of the easiest ways to find items that you no longer need is to select  > About This Mac, click the Storage tab, and then click Manage. A window appears that calculates storage consumed across several categories, and lets you select items to delete directly.

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The Steam game Portal appears as an app, but macOS can’t delete it through this interface.

However, Steam games can’t be deleted. (You may see this with some other kinds of apps that manage internal app files, too.) I have Portal installed on a Mac, and it appears as an app with no icon occupying 4.06GB of storage. Selecting it and clicking Delete or Show in Finder does nothing.

Searching with Spotlight in the Finder finds Portal and its sequel, Portal 2, and they appear as apps—but each of them occupies just over 100K, and are placeholders for launching within Steam.

To actually delete these games, I need to launch Steam. The same is true for other apps with the same large payloads: launch the app and then use internal options to delete.

With Steam, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Steam and login if necessary.
  2. Select the game in the list at left and Control-click, then select Delete Local Content.
  3. Confirm deletion.

When you return to the manage storage window, you’ll see game content has been deleted and your available storage increased by roughly the same amount.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Jona.

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