from the gamers-unite! dept
A review of stories here at Techdirt about Steam, the chief online retailer for digital games distribution, offers a mixed return of grades on its approach. Valve has a tricky wire upon which to balance as it seeks to protect the relationships it has with both its gaming customers and the publishers that sell their games on Steam. At times, Valve makes decisions that favor publishers, while at other times Valve's actions are quite good in terms of protecting its customers against those same publishers.
But this balancing act is going to become an issue in yet another way that revolves around the recent explosion in titles being released on the Steam platform. The excellent Steam Spy account on Twitter tweeted out the following graph, which should come as a shock to nobody with a Steam account.
38% of all Steam games were released in 2016 pic.twitter.com/JiX2pt6JhB— Steam Spy (@Steam_Spy) November 30, 2016
Even for those of us who have noticed the uptick in games being released on Steam, I doubt most of us realized that nearly two-thirds of all the games currently on the platform were released within the past two years, or that over a third of them were released in 2016 alone. It would be silly to try to argue that such a deluge has no effect on the customer experience. An explosion in available titles adds to the workload involved for gamers searching for new titles to play, as they must weed through more titles in more genres, searching for the gems they want amongst an ever-growing number of rocks that they don't want.
And, in fact, Steam recognized this a ways back when it introduced its Steam Curators program, through which gamers can pare down game searches using curators they have come to trust for recommendations. However, the Curators program quickly managed to suffer from the same problem as the game titles deluge: there are thousands of curators, at times more than there are game titles on Steam. At some point, if Steam wants to remain useful to gamers as a platform on which to find new games, as opposed to simply buying them, it's going to have to do something to get out ahead of this.
That could take many forms, of course. The worst idea of the bunch would be for Valve/Steam itself to get involved in pimping some titles while pushing others to relative obscurity. This is a solution to the deluge problem offered in other arenas, notably in the way Apple restricts access to its iTunes platform and App Store, partially as a way to play quality police. It's not the optimal solution for two main reasons: it benefits existing entertainers more than newcomers, and it's partially the reason why Android and other music services are the preferred platform of users.
Better would be a solution that weaponized the Steam community itself, relying on reviews and feedback of both games and curators to lead gamers to "expert" curators, or something of the like. Alternatively, Steam could implement a matching system to match up gamers and curators by interest. This idea was laid out by James Beech at Gamasutra, who delightfully compared it to the matching system for dating sites.
If Valve really wants to make this system useful, they should implement a OKCupid style matching system. No really, make me fill out a one-time profile where I list my five favorite games, my five least favorite games, genres I love/hate, game elements I appreciate, (exploration, story, twitch gameplay), preferred game length, subject matter, etc. Have curators fill out a similar profile, and then generate match percentages, (just make sure it doesn't use the same match algorithm that the Discovery Queue uses; a feature theoretically far more useful than curators, if it weren't so consistently off the mark).
Anyway, all the answers would be private, with an option for curators to display theirs publically, so other users can see what those curators value. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’ll get me in the ballpark a lot quicker than manually sifting through thousands of curation pages with the same, “only great games within,” description.
Steam is going to build on its curator system at some point to battle this issue. The last thing anyone should want to see is Valve itself getting in the business of picking winners and losers, as it were. Force-feeding recommendations like that to gamers will make the problem worse, not better. Instead, they should trust their gaming customers and empower them, even more than they already have.