Review – Steam’s Update

If only it stopped me from overspending on sales too.

If you’ve dropped by Steam lately, you’ve no doubt noticed a rather significant change. In addition to the lovely light blue streak across the background (it brings such light and warmth!), Steam has totally revamped how it curates the presentation of the games it sells.  From the first sales window to the recommendations, Steam has taken a page from other digital relators and used user preferences to guide what it does and does not sell you.  Which is good, because, damn, did Steam need it.

Somewhere in the past couple of years, publishers figured out Steam’s game. In an effort to combat endless waves of dreck, Valve established the Greenlight Games feature which allowed users to vote on games that looked interesting to them and therefore, they would like to see in their Steam store.  Publishers, on the other hand, could put forward whatever games they liked.  While this system prevented the tiny developers from flooding the market with their digitized hopes and dreams, it did nothing to stopped publishers from buying up terrible games and releasing them to realize whatever profit could be found.  Perhaps more frustrating was that Steam could not handle the glut of games it inspired.  The advent of the digital store front allowed for a renaissance of PC game development as developers no longer had to fight for physical storage space.  When the number of these games was relatively small, they were given top status and granted a larger audience.  As more and more piled on, they crowded each other out.  Steam, being unable to prioritize games well, slapped them on the front page with little regard for whose front page it was.  Advertising Call of Duty to someone like myself made no sense, yet I was made aware of all of its new content and updates thanks to good old Steam.

The new system appears to be an improvement on that. Steam has shifted its underlying philosophy from an undecipherable mess to sourcing user opinions to inform what should and should not be shown.  The first change is finally using all the information that users provided about themselves.  Steam logs both the games people buy and the time they spend with them.  This alone is enough to give the service some idea about what kind of games people want to play.  Why show me the latest basketball title when I haven’t played a single sports game across thousands of hours and well over 100 games purchased?  The games I’m seeing match my tastes far more closely than what I saw before based on that principle alone.  With new customization options that allow me tailor my viewing even more, Steam finally looks like it’s looking at me as an individual rather than as a giant, amorphous game buying blob.

In addition to evaluating individual user data, Valve has boosted Steam’s capacity to analyze and use the broader community’s information. A summation of user reviews is now at the top of the page.  Users can become curators and offer lists of recommended games that others may follow.  Trust a particular user or game site?  Follow their list and get their recommendations while you shop.  Steam is kicking the review process back to the users, and the results are clearly an improvement.

At least, they look that way. Over the next few weeks, I intend to test this by reviewing the games under the “Recommended for you” section.  I’ll reload the page twice and pick from the six games on offer.  I won’t replay anything either.  While I can’t commit to finishing them (a week isn’t a lot of review time when you have a full time job), I’ll put in at least 10 hours.  Let’s see where this goes.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Review – Steam’s Update

  1. Tarnk

    I’m surprised it took them that long to develop and implement such technology. I think its probably for the best that they don’t just use the individual’s data, but also include the community in there. This helps to make them much better than the experience they would get in a store, also keeps people buying games.

    • Agreed. Using the aggregate data of people with similar tastes allows Steam to suggest games that the individual hasn’t played. Done right, Steam can create a personalized storefront that will provide the player with better suggestions and sell more games. Everyone wins. Except our wallets, but no one liked them anyway.

  2. El Dudeface

    As you indirectly pointed out here and have written about previously, sales are a big part of what makes Steam such a successful enterprise. I’m curious to see whether and, if so, how much the new selection criteria influences what you see during sales times–and whether that hypothetically ends up increasing, reducing, or redirecting sales figures any.

    In a more general sense, if the new system ends up significantly affecting which particular titles end up in the virtual hands of gamers due to influencing what they see, how will publishers react? Will they try to target a particular subgroup and sell tons of games to them, or will it make more sense to make broadly appealing games that cross genre lines enough to be “targeted” for the largest number of consumers?

    • I think both models are currently successful and will continue to be so. What Steam’s revamp does is make targeting more capable, but the appeal of big budget, big profit games will continue. Players aren’t playing those games for want of another genre favorite, but on the merits of the broad appeal game itself. The sheer profit of broader games means there’s no reason to go into the smaller niche products.

      Who this really helps is the smaller developers whose focus is that niche product. They often got lost in the previous system due to curating focusing on popularity (if it focused on anything). When they did pop up, there was no way to know whether the targeted gamer was actually interested in that genre of game. More intelligent marketing means that the small developer is more likely to get in front of their target audience and, hopefully, make a sale.

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