That’s a big pile of shit.
Steam has a problem. The now dominant delivery method of computer games can’t seem differentiate good games from bad. Once the light of hope for all computer gamers, now Steam is clogged with half finished “early access”, buggy trash, and crap left over from yesteryear. Indie developers used to rely on getting to Steam’s front page for instant wealth, but now must compete with the dreck of the community. How does Steam deal with the flood of terrible games?
Welp, it would help to learn from the past.
This isn’t the first time the video game community has dealt with this problem. Back in 1983, the video game market crashed after customers stopped buying games. The consoles of the day got greedy and decided to allow large numbers of low quality games as a way to take advantage of the video game “fad”. As a result, the developers flooded the market with low quality products and the unsavvy game market couldn’t tell which games were worth buying and which games were shit. After buying several bad games, customers pulled out of the market resulting in the devastation of most of the North American video game community and an effective reset of the market. This phenomenon happened again with the Wii. Nintendo produced an ultra-popular console that brought in tons of new players. Studios produced terrible games to take advantage of the fad resulting in the unsophisticated players buying bad games and leaving the market. Interestingly, it was the same console maker, Nintendo, that found a solution to this problem 20 years earlier.
After the 1983 crash, the North American market lay dormant until the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES boasted better graphics, a brilliant game bundled in, and the Nintendo Seal of Approval which gave Nintendo’s guarantee that the game met a minimum standard. Nintendo knew that Atari and its compatriots lost their market due to the flood of bad games. As a result, Nintendo both limited the number of games a developer could make and played them to ensure they weren’t terrible. By limiting the number of games, Nintendo incentivized publishers to focus on the quality of their games (as they only got five shots a year) over dumping as many games on to the market as possible. By playing the games, Nintendo weeded out the shovelware and ensured that customer’s knew the game would work if it had the seal. Finally, Nintendo published the Nintendo Power magazine to review games and provide strategies to both bolster its quality assurance efforts and help players get the most from their games. The effort worked and laid the foundations for the games industry as it stands today.
In many ways, Valve, the creator of Steam, has it easier. The decades old game market educated many gamers on how to recognize quality products and the healthy reviewing ecology ensures that reviews are available for those who want them. Steam doesn’t need a “Steam Power” to educate its customers. What it does need is a Steam Seal of Approval and a limitation on the number of games a publisher can make. Unfortunately, the Seal requires something that Valve is very bad at: people. Valve generally strives to automate its processes which is why all of its business initiatives (reviews, curators…Steam itself) have little human intervention and the bits that require people (its god awful customer service) are weak or lacking altogether. To implement a quality review process, Valve would need to get a handle on hiring and managing people rather than just automating everything. Understanding that isn’t likely to happen, limiting the number of games per publisher would help. Many bad games come through shovelware publishers and limiting said publishers to a few games a year would force them to support better games or rely solely on the meager profit of a few terrible titles. This system would still require additional people, but would only need a savvy few over the numbers a quality control system would take.
Whatever Valve decides to do, it needs to act fast. The digital distribution market has grown in the past few years with major titles now available on a number of sites. Steam still commands most of the market due to sheer size, but that need not continue. If customers find it too difficult to discover the games they want, they can move to greener pastures. Valve has time to fix this problem, but they don’t have forever.