How to Unlock Games on Steam early using a VPN
Oliver Bradshaw | Last Updated:
Technical VPN Analyst
Steam is the de facto choice when it comes to gaming on PC. There are many imitators but Steam is the real granddaddy of digital game distribution platforms. As of September 2023, there are over 95 million active accounts on Steam, Xbox Live in comparison only has 55 million active users. Furthermore, we have recently seen Steam go from strength to strength and it popularity increase.
Last month we saw that there was a peak of 24,691,277 concurrent Steam users. The most popular game on Steam right now is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 763,523 concurrent players, followed by Dota 2 with 671,497 concurrent players, and PUBG coming in 3rd position with 398,307 concurrent players.
SHORT ON TIME ? – we highly recommend ExpressVPN to unlock games early on Steam, they have a fast and simple interface to bypass Steam restrictions.
These 90 million users come from all around the world and this means there are many different time zones and release schedules. Though the trend of having staggered release dates for games has slowly waned as digital stores have become more and more popular there are a few games that still adhere to the regional staggered release method. In the pre PS360 era it was not uncommon for those in Europe to be waiting months after their US counterparts for a game release (if games ever released at all!).
What time do Steam games unlock?
During 2023 we have found that in most cases the majority of Steam games are released to the general public at 10 AM PST. This is not a hard and fast rule though with Steam sometimes releasing some of the Big Name games at various other times (e.g. Midnight).
Post 2006 saw games in the US usually release on a Tuesday, Europe Wednesday and the UK a Friday. I can remember my younger self, wondering who was responsible for the injustice of the oft-common Friday release in the UK. Thankfully these staggered releases are slowly being phased out, quite often many of the biggest games are being released worldwide on a Tuesday.
This is still a big issue in many gaming communities. Dark Souls 3 recently for example caught some flak for releasing earlier in different regions. The Dark Souls community really relies on that sense of wonder, adventure and discovery. Tips, tricks, and interesting finds are often discussed and one region having access to this earlier than another can easily fragment a player base.
It is important to note, does not buy a game from a different region’s store. Doing so is a direct violation of Steam’s Terms of Service and can result in a ban of your Steam account. Unlocking a game is completely fine and doesn’t violate anything in the ToS.
On Steam the store is based on your IP address location. This allows you to use a VPN to spoof your location and gain access to a different region’s store. Let’s say that in New Zealand a game unlocks 12 hours earlier than in your own region. If you connect to a VPN server located in New Zealand and log into Steam, you will be met with the New Zealand Steam Store. If you then navigate to the game you want to unlock in your Steam library, you should see the unlock timer has moved forward 12 hours (or is unlocked). You can now freely download the game and get playing. The same logic applies to unlocking Steam early, no matter which region or part of the world you are located in.
You don’t have to stay connected to the VPN once you have started to download the game, so feel free to disconnect if you get a faster download speed. You will have to reconnect though when you launch the game until the game unlocks in your own region.
Which VPN Server to connect to for Steam?
Now there are many different Steam Store regions, meaning which VPN provider you choose is an important factor in getting this to work. More often than not it is the Oceanic countries that have games released the earliest due to the time difference, so VPN vendors that offer in Australia or New Zealand are always a good place to start.
So why wait till you favorite game on Steam is available for download in your region. Grab yourself a vpn subscription to circumvent Steam geo-blocking, connect to an Australian or New Zealand vpn server, and start playing !
Here are our list of vpn providers that we’ve personally tested and recommend for use with Steam:
#1. ExpressVPN – speed optimised servers & low ping rates
ExpressVPN is a solid option for accessing Steam primarily due to their vast network of servers at their disposal. They have an extensive selection of high speed servers that are speed optimized and perfectly suited for gaming. ExpressVPN has an excellent selection of Australian and New Zealand based servers and these locations are going to be your best bet to be able to access your game early on Steam, as they are the first global city to see midnight due to their time-zone location.
ExpressVPN is one of the biggest players in the market which means that they have a pool of VPN Server and Software Developers available to ensure that their vpn servers are always well spec’d, optimised for speed, with ultra-fast backbone internet connections. When speed and reaction time matters in your Steam game, you’ll be glad you went with ExpressVPN.
Below are the latest ExpressVPN subscription prices, current as at September 2023:
#2. NordVPN – huge global vpn server count
NordVPN is worlds largest vpn service provider. With over 4000 servers globally, and 480 servers in the Asia Pacific region, their network of servers is huge to say the least. NordVPN currently has 186 servers in Australia and 18 servers in New Zealand, so finding a fast server to connect to will not be a problem (remembering that AU and NZ locations are typically granted first access to Steam games).
DNS leak protection and an internet Kill Switch are included on all NordVPN plans, which means that Steam will never detect you are using a vpn even if your vpn connection does momentarily drop out.
As you would expect from the largest vpn service provider, their apps (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) are all first rate, and we experienced no buggy functionality when we tested them in our VPNCompass office. Downloading and installing them on your chosen device is simple and straightforward, and they are intuitive and easy to use.
They are not the cheapest vpn service provider on market, but in our opinion the extra few dollars that you’ll spend on them each month is well worth it.
Below are the latest ExpressVPN subscription prices, current as at September 2023:
- 1 Month: $12.95
- 6 Months: $9.99
- 15 Months: $6.67 (Special Deal: 3 Months Free + Save 49%)
Note: All prices are in USD, and are Per Month.
Steam Preload Unlocker
Before you choose a vpn, check which steam regions are due to get the game first. In many instances, the region where the game development company is located will be the first one to unlock the games. This typically happens so the the development team can be available and online when the game officially launches to handle any bugs or issues that might arise.
More typically, most Steam games are unlocked at midnight. As global timezones are defined, the first major countries to see in midnight are Australia and New Zealand. If you’re located in the US, Canada, or Europe (UK, Germany, Spain, Finland, Austria, etc), you can be up to 10 hours behind Australia and NZ. To get your own steam preload unlocker, follow these simple steps:
- Pre-order your favorite Steam game
- Preload the game.
- Shut down Steam and disconnect completely – important step !
- Launch your vpn service, and connect to an Australian or New Zealand server.
- Once connected to your vpn, restart Steam.
- Steam will now think that you’re in Australia/NewZealand, and allow you to preload early.
- Download any additional files or game updates required
- Hit the ‘Play’ button and you’re now good to go!
Note: Be sure to always stay connected to your VPN while using Steam during this period. Once the game has been launched in your time, you no longer need to use the VPN.
Top Selling games on Steam for September 2023
The following is a list of the current top selling games during September 2023 on Steam:
- Sea of Thieves
- Rust – Voice Props Pack
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition
- Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Peak Players on Steam
There have been some hugely popular games released on Steam over the years. Below is a list of the games with the highest ever Peak Players count, along with the Month and Year that they achieved that figure:
- PUBG – 3,236,027 (Jan 2018)
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – 1,305,714 (Apr 2020)
- Dota 2 – 1,291,328 (Mar 2016)
- Cyberpunk 2077 – 830,387 (Dec 2020)
- Valheim – 498,478 (Feb 2021)
- Terraria – 486,918 (May 2020)
- Fallout 4 – 471,955 (Nov 2015)
- Life is Strange 2 – 468,634 (Sept 2020)
- Among Us – 438,524 (Sept 2020)
- POSTAL – 408,008 (Dec 2019)
Upcoming Releases on Steam in 2023
There were some huge titles released on Steam over the last 12 months, and 2023 is shaping up as another big year. Here are some of the most anticipated releases heading to Steam during 2023:
- Dying Light 2 Stay Human
- Party Animals
- Hollow Knight: Silksong
- New World
- Battelfield 2042
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
- Total War: WARHAMMER III
- The Day Before
- Back 4 Blood
How many Steam Users are there in September 2023?
The number of active Steam users around the world has continued to climb during September 2023, with over 18 million current users worldwide. The continued popularity for gamers worldwide is seen in the following user Steam figures:
- Current Steam Users: 18,246,092
- Peak Steam Users: 24,691,277
Final Word …
Hopefully in the future there won’t be any need for a VPN to specifically unlock a game early. We are really now living in an age where staggering release dates simply does not make sense. Games have their own thriving communities that love to discover things together and hampering this interactivity serves no one. There are over 125 million users on Steam from all around the world, drawing arbitrary lines in the sand seems like an archaic idea. Until then, grab yourself a vpn from a reputable vpn service provider (ExpressVPN or NordVPN both offer fast vpn gaming servers, huge global server counts, and at an affordable service) and enjoy your latest Steam game the moment it is released.