Steam: I was wrong, although right
Last week, I talked about Steam’s recent changes – (not including reviews in the review % if the copies were bought outside Steam) in my GamesIndustry.biz column. In the rest of this post, I’m going to call these changes ‘the Purge Update’ to make it clear what I’m talking about elsewhere. and speculated about some changes Valve might make in the future.
This week, Valve announced some (more) changes on the SteamWorks community. There are a bunch,but the tl;dr is
(a) more in the way of targeting and recommendations,
(b) driven in large part by ‘your friends are playing’ and by Curators
Well that’s embarrassing for me, given that I said bluntly in my list of things they wouldn’t do:
“[Valve won’t do] Anything with curators. Curators are a bust. Why would Valve support this kind of thing when they have the rest of the internet to do it for them?”
What I missed, of course, is that Curators’ recommendations are both a trove of, and a gateway for, Valve’s beloved data. On the one hand, they’re a way to identify connections and recommendations and affinity groups inside Steam. On the other hand, they’re another way to import users’ interest graphs from outside Steam – as with Twitter or with Facebook pages, these graphs can be directed/asymmetric. You probably wouldn’t be a Steam friend of TotalBiscuit or Jim Sterling, but you will likely recognise their name and might follow them as a Curator.
So Valve are doubling down on recommendations and the discovery queue, rather than giving more prominence to review scores. This was, I’m relieved to say, my first point in my list of things I thought they would perhaps do.
And my main point stands. Valve care about indie devs in aggregate, but that does mean that, in aggregate, they care. They’ve iterated twice on the Purge Update already. And improving discovery and better recommendations will likely benefit smaller devs with lower profiles much more than larger ones.
In fact, here’s a hypothesis: the Purge Update was in part a preparation for this most recentone. They want to focus attention on people who are active on Steam, rather than buying their games elsewhere, in order to make recommendations more likely (one of their other changes is to improve the UI to make curators more likely to recommend).
But to be honest, I think an alternative hypothesis is more likely. They knew the Purge Update would upset people and this one would be more popular, so they rolled out the Purge Update earlier, knowing they had an upcoming change that would make devs happier.
In either case, my reaction is always DON’T PANIC. Valve want Steam to be the most efficient recommendation engine they can manage. To be honest, our biggest concern should probably be the AI risk of them accidentally turning the entire planet into one giant nanocyte-driven Recommendation Device. Imagine: being recommended Early Access Games you know you shouldn’t buy, but somehow buy anyway, immortally, forever.
 I haven’t linked directly cos SteamWorks is a private community. In fact, I think the Reddit poster might be in breach of Valve’s dev agreement by c/p’ing the post. I don’t think I’m in breach now it’s in the public domain. Don’t have me executed pls Valve.