Do all games we install make Windows Registry entries?

Nov 27, 2020
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This was briefly discussed in another post about Skyrim, but it's kind of been bugging me. I hadn't realized that installed games actually make registry entries. Do all installed games do this? And, if/when we uninstall a game, are those registry entries deleted as well?

I'm curious about this, especially when it comes to modding a game. I've often seen recommendations from mod authors, that if you're really having problems with a game, to do a "clean install". It seems to me that uninstalling a game should remove all traces of it, including registry entries. But maybe those registry entries need to be done manually? And do mods themselves actually affect those registry entries? It's really something I hadn't considered until recently.

I'm pretty much a neophyte when it comes to understanding all the intricacies of how windows actually operates when it comes to games. Enlightenment would be welcome.
 

Brian Boru

Moderator
Enlightenment would be welcome
I completely agree, let's hope we get some for XMas :)

In the meantime I just searched my Reg for "conquer" and got:

Command & Conquer™: Generals and Zero Hour x 3
Command & Conquer™ Remastered Collection x 5
C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\EAInstaller\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Cleanup.exe
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\generals.exe
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\GDFBinary_en_US.dll
Command & Conquer™: Generals and Zero Hour x 2
https://www.commandandconquer.com
WINXPSP3 RUNASADMIN x 2
Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour [key name]
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Command and Conquer Generals\
Command & Conquer™ and The Covert Operations™
Command & Conquer Windows 95 Edition [key name]
FirewallRules [key name] x 8
C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\EAInstaller\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Cleanup.exe

While in there I also noticed one or more entries for:
Steam
GOG
Eidos
Electronic Arts
Epic Games
GameSpy [is that still around?]
Paradox Interactive
Petroglyph
Playrix Entertainment
Ubisoft
Valve
MS Solitaire
Firewatch
Hidden World of Art
Pingus

Conclusion:

The registry is a huge database so I'm not going to search anymore.
Do all installed games do this?
Obviously we can't say for sure, but my guess is almost all games do this.

when we uninstall a game, are those registry entries deleted as well?
Depends on how well the uninstall routine is written, which can/will vary by game. I can categorically say 'Not all are deleted'—which btw applies to all software.

do mods themselves actually affect those registry entries?
Grr, you made me go back into The Labyrinth and search for "resistance", my recent Far Cry 5 mod:
An entry for the Desktop icon—I'm fairly sure this would have been made by file manager, not the mod.
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe.ApplicationCompany x 2
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe.FriendlyAppName x 2
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe x 2
C:\Users\<UserName>\Desktop\FC5 Resistance Mod.zip

So clearly, yes some do. However, the Resistance mod is a lovely piece of work—a collection of many different mods, with a UI to enable individual ones, and also make option selections in some of them. So it's really a serious piece of software, and therefore more likely to adhere to Windows best practices.

I've used other single-app mods where it was a case of 'Replace the original 3 files with these 3', which had no Registry interaction.

My guess is that a mod which has an installer will write to the Registry—but copy/paste mods definitely [?] won't.

Does it matter?

Not an expert of course, but I say generally 'No.' Almost all software writes to the Reg, it's what Windows wants apps to do.

There was a time—90s & 00s—when Reg size was a bit of an issue due to weaker hardware, and it was worth keeping it tidy. But 10s hardware is fast enough that processing the dross leftover in the Reg from bad uninstalls costs nothing in practice.

Game Mods

In the specific case of game mods and other software hacks, who knows? Many mods affect the same files as other mods, and so won't work with each other—ie you can have one or the other, not both. If different mods write to the same place in the Reg, then they'll also conflict.

In an ideal world, a mod should tell you if it works with all, or what it conflicts with. But of course mod authors can't test against all other mods, so again who knows? If you're worried that installing a new mod might break current important ones, do system and game disk images beforehand, so you have a quick recovery route.
 

Zloth

Community Contributor
The registry is what the old Win.ini became. There's lots and LOTS of settings in there!

You can't just look through and assume every entry is an issue. Applications might keep their 'most recently run list' in there, for instance. Windows may be keeping a history of things (WindowsKey + Tab to see them) that would point to the application. Steam keeps track of all your applications (and flags saying if they are installed, running, and/or updating) under Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Valve\Steam\Apps.

I don't really know why a modern game would care to keep track of where it got installed. It would be handy if some other program need to know where it was. Launcher programs are typically in the same directory as the application, so they don't need anything like that. {shrug}
 

Brian Boru

Moderator
i don't think steam games do
Looks like they do—I did a quick Reg search on Sniper Elite and found ~10 entries.

you can move them from one hdd to another
Maybe Steam uses SymLinks? Dunno.
SymLinks are 'pointers' to a new location for 'stuff'—if I recall correctly, I've only read about its use for data, one specific being relocating User folders to other than C: drive. Not an advised practice, unless you know a lot more than I do :)

Don't use ccleaner
I agree, I've seen too many warnings against it, altho some reputable techies do use it. Maybe a safe use case is when installing a new OS like Win11 and wanting to clear any of the bloatware out before making a disk image.

fix most problems on windows without touching registry
Agree again, normal users should never need to go in there. If I visit it twice a year, it's as much.
 
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i ran ccleaner on a brand new PC and it uninstalled Asus programs that I hadn't run yet. That wasn't funny.

So I guess you need to check what its deleting, but I have yet to run into a situation its really needed.

maybe in the days before people had 250gb or bigger drives. Saving space seems pointless when you have so much spare.
I don't think anyone really needs it anymore, its just an old habit that fails to die.

I would hide regedit so it wasn't so easy to find.
its not really hidden in 11 (notices the "new" win tools page is just another view of control panel.)

they could make an advanced tools page as I don't think I use many of those at all. Ever
funny there is a link to the control panel, in the control panel.

wonders what power automate is... reads description... still isn't sure.

notices he wandered off topic...

Steam could use those links you mentioned.
 
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Brian Boru

Moderator
wonders what power automate is
It used to be Microsoft Flow. Did you ever mess with IFTTT or Zapier? Similar idea to those, of enabling users to script events when certain things happen—eg when email from Fred arrives, auto-send a copy to Wilma and move it to the high-priority folder.

MS have a bunch of these 'Power' products, all with the aim of users automating work flow. They're neat time savers and quality improvers.

Couple of good intro vids for Power Automate:

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUsik0FGzI0


View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDO4Y4aDYXw
 
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Nov 4, 2020
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Hi mainer , as others have said , anything installed on your pc creates registry entries , uninstall anything then run ccleaner and click on reg tab and watch it delete redundant entries.

As you might have seen me mention in other postings i dont use god modes because they can ruin a game , flying solo even in god mode actually makes games harder because after your squad has die you are obviously on your own. I used god mode on my first ever dragon age game but what i did not realise was the reg entry applied itself to all the other dragon age games when i purchased them.

Warning....... never be tempted to manually delete reg entries for anything weather it is an app or a game , 1 wrong move can do serious damage and system restore wont get you out of trouble.
 
Nov 27, 2020
535
1,409
2,770
@Brian Boru - Wow, that's some impressive work you did diving into the registry! I appreciate all the time you spent on that.

For whatever reason, I never really considered that games made entries in the registry. But now that I'm actually thinking, it makes sense. To our unfeeling Windows OS, a game is just another program.

Does it matter?

Not an expert of course, but I say generally 'No.' Almost all software writes to the Reg, it's what Windows wants apps to do.

There was a time—90s & 00s—when Reg size was a bit of an issue due to weaker hardware, and it was worth keeping it tidy. But 10s hardware is fast enough that processing the dross leftover in the Reg from bad uninstalls costs nothing in practice.
I'd have to agree that it probably doesn't matter. I can't think of any issues I've ever had that could be traced to the registry, at least when it comes to gaming. I've installed and uninstalled and reinstalled countless games over the years, as all of us have, with no registry related issues to my knowledge,

I had mentioned about doing a "clean install" of game that's modded, and looking further into that from videos and tutorials, none of those sources mentioned editing the registry entries that were previously made. Not that I would even attempt such a thing. The one thing I have seen mentioned a lot for a game you're going to mod, is not to install that game in the Program Files (x86) folder. I've personally never had an issue with a modded game that's installed there (again, that I know of), but it's recommended by every tutorial I've seen.

A short video on doing a clean install (with Skyrim as the example). Short, not overly detailed, but the basics of a clean install are there, and with no mention of editing the registry.
View: https://youtu.be/g67CnHD1wvY


Don't use ccleaner, its more trouble than its worth. Can delete things you actually need.
I agree, I've seen too many warnings against it, altho some reputable techies do use it. Maybe a safe use case is when installing a new OS like Win11 and wanting to clear any of the bloatware out before making a disk image.
I'll never use CCleaner, I've just read too many horror stories. I actually looked at it years ago, back when I had a much slower PC, but thankfully I didn't try it. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the workings of windows to be messing around in the registry, even with a supposedly automated program designed to do that.
 
I completely agree, let's hope we get some for XMas :)

In the meantime I just searched my Reg for "conquer" and got:

Command & Conquer™: Generals and Zero Hour x 3
Command & Conquer™ Remastered Collection x 5
C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\EAInstaller\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Cleanup.exe
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\generals.exe
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\GDFBinary_en_US.dll
Command & Conquer™: Generals and Zero Hour x 2
https://www.commandandconquer.com
WINXPSP3 RUNASADMIN x 2
Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour [key name]
G:\Origin\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Command and Conquer Generals\
Command & Conquer™ and The Covert Operations™
Command & Conquer Windows 95 Edition [key name]
FirewallRules [key name] x 8
C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\EAInstaller\Command and Conquer Generals Zero Hour\Cleanup.exe

While in there I also noticed one or more entries for:
Steam
GOG
Eidos
Electronic Arts
Epic Games
GameSpy [is that still around?]
Paradox Interactive
Petroglyph
Playrix Entertainment
Ubisoft
Valve
MS Solitaire
Firewatch
Hidden World of Art
Pingus

Conclusion:

The registry is a huge database so I'm not going to search anymore.

Obviously we can't say for sure, but my guess is almost all games do this.


Depends on how well the uninstall routine is written, which can/will vary by game. I can categorically say 'Not all are deleted'—which btw applies to all software.


Grr, you made me go back into The Labyrinth and search for "resistance", my recent Far Cry 5 mod:
An entry for the Desktop icon—I'm fairly sure this would have been made by file manager, not the mod.
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe.ApplicationCompany x 2
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe.FriendlyAppName x 2
G:\Steam\steamapps\common\FarCry5\FC5Resistance_v4.11\FC5ModInstaller.exe x 2
C:\Users\<UserName>\Desktop\FC5 Resistance Mod.zip

So clearly, yes some do. However, the Resistance mod is a lovely piece of work—a collection of many different mods, with a UI to enable individual ones, and also make option selections in some of them. So it's really a serious piece of software, and therefore more likely to adhere to Windows best practices.

I've used other single-app mods where it was a case of 'Replace the original 3 files with these 3', which had no Registry interaction.

My guess is that a mod which has an installer will write to the Registry—but copy/paste mods definitely [?] won't.

Does it matter?

Not an expert of course, but I say generally 'No.' Almost all software writes to the Reg, it's what Windows wants apps to do.

There was a time—90s & 00s—when Reg size was a bit of an issue due to weaker hardware, and it was worth keeping it tidy. But 10s hardware is fast enough that processing the dross leftover in the Reg from bad uninstalls costs nothing in practice.

Game Mods

In the specific case of game mods and other software hacks, who knows? Many mods affect the same files as other mods, and so won't work with each other—ie you can have one or the other, not both. If different mods write to the same place in the Reg, then they'll also conflict.

In an ideal world, a mod should tell you if it works with all, or what it conflicts with. But of course mod authors can't test against all other mods, so again who knows? If you're worried that installing a new mod might break current important ones, do system and game disk images beforehand, so you have a quick recovery route.
I don't understand what you are doing here. The stuff you listed up top is not in your registry. Are you sure you are searching your registry?
 

Brian Boru

Moderator
I appreciate all the time you spent
I appreciate your appreciation, let's get together for a back slap sometime :D
I was curious myself anyway, so you're welcome.

To our unfeeling Windows OS, a game is just another program
Yep.
There is a software sector called "Portable" which you don't install—typically you'd carry it around on an USB drive, very handy for people who make house calls to repair PCs, or swap between their own machines. There are some games in that sector, I've never looked into it but here's some info:

not to install that game in the Program Files (x86) folder
Or the Program Files folder either.
Reason is Windows controls those folders, and will not allow external apps to make changes there—it's a good security step. Make a 'Games' folder and put them there—preferably on a different drive than C:, or you'll find disk imaging time significantly increased.

Are you sure you are searching your registry?
Absolutely certain :)

View: https://imgur.com/nM8y5pQ


View: https://imgur.com/dAM7HoI
 
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