Steam Discovery Has Increased Sales For Smaller Games

Steam added curators and personalised recommendations to Steam in last September’s Discovery update, in an attempt to make it easier for people to find lesser known games amid the flood of daily new releases. In a post over on Reddit, taken from the private SteamworksDev group, there’s an update from Valve on how the Discovery update is performing – including interesting information about its impact on sales.

In short: it’s working. People seem to be using the curators’ pages, such as the RPS one, and the main carousel on Steam now contains “over 4,000 unique titles” every day, up from the 10-20 that’d be included in the old manual system.

Most interesting though is the sale figures, which says that sales are up for games that typically sell fewer copies. Here’s the relevant part of the update:

In addition to the raw increases in traffic, we’ve also carefully monitored sales data to make sure we’re growing the size of the pie, rather than just adjusting the size of the slices. Steam’s overall growth doesn’t just come from the biggest hits (which continue to see great success), but also from the smaller titles that are now better able to reach the audience that is right for them. To look at smaller titles, we dug into revenue for all apps outside of the 500 top sellers. Within that subset, total revenue has increased 18% and daily earnings per app have increased by 5%, even with 400+ new apps joining the store since the Discovery Update.

This is interesting because it’s counter to my experience with the service, where recommendations seem to be based on what’s popular or personalised only in as much as responding to the last game you played.

Still, if it’s working, that’s good news. As more games are added to Steam through Greenlight, Early Access or publishers dumping their back catalogues online, it’s going to become harder for games with no name recognition or marketing budget to get noticed. Finding ways to shimmy games to the front of the service for people to find is imperative.

Do you find yourselves finding more games due to the curators and recommendations?


  1. wengart says:

    Curators I don’t really pay attention to. If I read a review here I might wishlist the game but I generally find that I don’t appreciate someone telling me on Steam whether they liked the game or not.

    On the other hand the discovery queue has shown me a lot of cool games I normally would not have noticed. Generally I wishlist them over purchase them because my backlog is so large.

    The discovery queue gets me to read the description and look at a couple of pictures/videos of a game so I have a bit better understanding of why I might find a game interesting. Whereas seeing it on the front page it is much easier to skip just by judging it based on a single screenshot and name.

  2. klops says:

    “Do you find yourselves finding more games due to the curators and recommendations?”

    No. I get my information from websites, not from Steam. i.e. I read RPS, for example, but I don’t follow them as curators. Recommendations are worthless to me.

    • Artist says:

      Same for me. The more I shifted away from all those dull AAA-titles to refreshing indies the more became RPS my first source of information about new games. The vids of curators are only interesting when I want to see that new game in action to make a decision. Or watching cynbrit or Joe ranting about the latest AAA fail-release.

    • ikanreed says:

      On the other hand, how do you feel about algorithms identifying things purchased by people with very similar taste to your own?

      If 10 people who all have 80-90% overlap with your steam library purchase a game, that does say something about that game.

      • Kefren says:

        These never work for me, because they are based on assumptions: “he likes JRPG games” “she likes platform games”. But maybe I bought the platform game because I loved the colour scheme and heard interesting things about the story halfway through; maybe the JRPG because I like games with vampires in, not because I like JRPGs. The reasons someone buys a game are many and varied, and I’m always suspicious of “more like this” recommendations in books, websites, films and games. They can only be based on very broad assumptions as to you interests and criteria.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          Or maybe you “bought” the game because it was included in a publisher catalogue bundle and you never had any interest in playing it?

          25% of my library falls under that circumstance.

          • Shuck says:

            Yeah, the recommendations based on what’s in one’s library, when one’s library contains games purchased as parts of bundles, say, that one will never install or play, those recommendations aren’t exactly meaningful.

        • ikanreed says:

          All that says to me is that there isn’t enough artificial intelligence in the analysis.

          Nowadays AI algorithms looking at your facebook likes can predict your answers to personality test questions more accurately than any other person in your life besides your significant other and yourself.

          • jezcentral says:

            Or it tells you that the Curator and Discovery stuff aren’t the channels you use to decide what to buy. I should imagine that goes for a lot of RPS people. Those who aren’t so fanatical about games will probably find that useful, and that is where the extra sales come from.

            Those of us who follow games journalism are actually the tiny minority.

      • phelix says:

        More accurate would be games played rather than games owned. I own tons of games from bundles yet I only play a small subset regularly.

        • jrodman says:

          Of course this has other problems.

          I play a lot of games outside of steam, because I find their “the customer is frequently wrong” presumption obnoxious, and the DRM unwanted. But I play some games on steam anyway, because they’re only available on steam. So the real picture of my game playing tastes are hidden from steam.

          Also, i spend 99% of my gaming time “playing” dota 2. What this means is that I leave dota 2 running downloading a bunch of tournament replays. I don’t actually play the game at all, I just view it as an entertaining spectator experience. Thus Steam recommends all the MOBAs to me and I click Not Interested for all of them.

      • klops says:

        Same as Kefren. “Nope” on those as well. Sometimes I might check what kind of game they are recommening to me but I never have researched the recommended games further. Either I already know about them or I’m not interested.

        There’s already a huge amount of interesting older games that I haven’t played and interesting new games that are published all the time. I have little interest on scavening for curiosities that _might_ be good while I already have a big collection of games in my mind that I’m interested in and that I’ve read reviews about.

        The curator/recommendation thing probably is a good thing for indie devs like/because of what Rizlar said. That’s great but I don’t get much from it and don’t care about it.

    • Rizlar says:

      Although I don’t get much out of steam curator’s/recommendations personally, it’s worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of steam users probably don’t read sites like RPS or pursue a broader understanding of games and what is available.

      I imagine that most steam users just use it to download blockbusters and play multiplayer games with their friends. Getting these users involved in the broader sphere of games and moving beyond the stranglehold of big publishers has to be a good thing, for the users, for indie sales, for the expectations and culture of games.

  3. Artist says:

    To all those for whom the Steam system works: Enjoy your bubble!
    No offense.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Having less of a random collection of ALL the games would help even more, but hey, i guess someone has to be the one that carries all the junk with the hope of some hidden gems, and that would be Steam.

    • klops says:

      I’m a bit lost here. Care to explain why using Steam puts you in a bubble? Or does it give you a bubble to enjoy or what?

      You mean that when you buy a game from Steam, you can’t buy them from anywhere else? How’s that compared to Gog, for example? If you buy a physical game from a store are you a free bird then?

      Please enlighten me. I want to break free!

      • klops says:

        Ugh, now I got it. You spoke about the Steam system the article was about, like you said. Not Steam in general. Now my “I’m going to be witty now! I am!” comment was pretty silly. Oh dear.

        • April March says:

          It’s not that at all, I think. I believe OP was implying that, if your main way to discover games is through Steam, then you can only discover games that are on Steam, and you can only discover games that Steam’s algorithms believe are good for you. This is not, as you noticed, worse than relying on GoG, or, or any other store; this is because the concept of relying on one single store is absolutely bonkers, like shopping at Walmart for anything you want. I believe Artist, like myself, looks to a variety of different sources to find new games, and as such Steam is mostly useless because it tends to find only games we are already aware of from other sources, and sometimes even own on other storefronts, before they were even accepted on Steam.

  4. mattevansc3 says:

    The Discovery Queue has brought more games to my attention but the system is still to “dumb” to be useful.

    I’ll mark games as being “Not Interested” on the discovery queue but they’ll still cup up in the carousel at the top. To a lesser extent the same happens with games I’ve put on my wish list or followed. Once I’ve stated my preference it should only appear on the carousel if there’s a product update or price cut.

    It also doesn’t learn from my choices. I’ve yet to mark an MMO as anything but “Not Interested” yet it still puts them in my Discovery Queue. I also can’t easily find options to specify my interests (under customise I only get the options for Released, Early Access, Not Yet Available, Windows, OSX and Linux).

    I’ve followed RPS as a Steam Curator but I honestly haven’t checked your list once.

  5. DantronLesotho says:

    I haven’t picked anything from the recommendations yet, but they are typically about 60% of what I’d be interested in. I’m with the commenter above; I’ve never had any interest in MMO’s but they still keep getting recommended to me ad nauseam.

    I’ve heard from many indie game devs though that the curation and recommendation system has helped them out a lot. Many games to whom there was no more sales tail have seen a general increase in sales, which is great for everyone.

    I think the system is almost there, but not quite. As a prospective game dev, this is very exciting for me :)

  6. SuddenSight says:

    Here are my personal statistics:

    I have 35 games on my Steam Wishlist right now. All of them were added after the Discovery Queue update.

    Of those games, 21 were added because I saw it on the internet (sites like RPS, let’s plays, etc…).

    14 were added due to browsing in Steam. Of the Steam games, 5 were found while browsing “new releases.” 4 were added by checking out “More Like This.” 5 were added because they appeared on a queue.

    No games were added based on looking at a curator’s page, but I have followed the “recommended by curator” links and they help me find reviews from well established sources. I always read the Steam reviews before buying.

    I quite like the Discovery queue. Besides the 5 games on my wishlist I have found maybe 1 or 2 more that I have already bought. That is about a 20% increase in my games finding/buying, which seems to line up well with Steam’s own stats. While I typically look at ~50 – 100 games for every game that makes it on to my wishlist, small improvements are still improvements.

    Steam has gotten a lot of criticism for its store front, but I think it primarily attracts that criticism because it is so dominant. In all honesty, the Steam storefront is the best storefront out of all the major digital game retailers. The only system I think is even close is GOG’s (especially the GOG lists).

    While they are not perfect, Steam Discovery Queues are a step in the right direction and I am happy they exist. Hopefully digital storefronts will continue to improve in the future.

    • eggy toast says:

      Your wishlist is very small.

      • kalzekdor says:

        Seconded. Mine has around 180 items. But, then, I also use IsThereAnyDeal. It links to my Steam Wishlist, and is set up to send me emails whenever a game is in a bundle, or is on sale for a price lower than any previous price. A lot of times I see a game that make me think “Oh, that’s interesting, I want.” But, I look at the price, and then think “Meh, not for $20 I don’t.” So I add it to my wishlist, and I’ll eventually get it for $5 or so.

  7. Koozer says:

    My big problem with the discovery system is that there’s no middle ground between ‘add to wishlist’ and ‘not interested.’ How about a box for ‘might consider when bored, when I’ve read a few reviews and it’s on sale’?

    • DantronLesotho says:

      ^^^^same. I would also like an option to follow the development studio/publisher instead of the game itself. For games that are released, most of the time there’s no reason to follow it unless you REALLY like DLC.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I want an “absolutely not, what were you thinking” button. All the personalised recommendation system seems to show me is 1) popular triple-A top sellers that I’m well aware of and haven’t bought because I couldn’t be less interested) and 2) freemium ingame purchase free-to-play titles, which I have no intention of even considering. I see significantly less titles I’m interested in than I did before.

      • drewski says:

        Yeah, it needs to learn what you don’t like from the tags on things you’ve hit Not Interested on.

        Doesn’t matter how many MOBAs, F2P games or MMOs you “discover”, Steam, I’m still not going to be interested.

    • DanMan says:

      That’s what I use the “Follow” button for.

    • Frank says:

      Yeah, if they let you set a priority when adding to the list, like Amazon does, that would be handy. As it is, I open up my queue and drag the stuff around so that I can remember which games were most interesting.

  8. caff says:

    The discovery queue led me to “Hand of Fate”, which led me to the RPS review, which led me to buying it, and then subsequently sinking almost 30 hours into it. I think it’s a good thing, and I’d encourage others to try it.

  9. Dizzard says:

    The size of my steam wishlist has ballooned ever since I started using the discovery queue. I’ve definitely discovered some interesting titles by using it. For example did you know there’s a Dog Sledding simulator game in early access?

  10. Philopoemen says:

    My Discovery queue keeps trying to show me Hotline Miami 2, which of course is banned in Oz, so Steam has the helpful ” This product is unavailable in your country”, but then you’re unable to progress to the next title, so since HM2 came out my Discovery queue has sat undiscovered.

    • Camerooni says:

      Hey Philopoemen,

      You can fix this by modifying the URL string (remove the slash on the end) to add the following ?cc=us.. this will force steam to show the us page, allowing you to click ‘NOT INTERESTED’, and then you browse to the next one and reapply ?cc=au and all is right with the world again.

      This is my bugbear with STEAM and the australian store, because it’s not an australian store, it’s just the US store with inflated prices in a lot of cases.. it doesn’t use australian currency and i can guarantee you that that they’re not paying australian taxes so there is no reason for them to charge us more.. for all intent and purposes we are buying from the us site.. urgh..

      • drewski says:

        The reason that they charge Australians different prices is that publishers force them to do so as a condition of putting games on Steam for release in Australia. The reason publishers force Valve to charge Australians higher prices is so that online doesn’t undercut retail, which might annoy EB to the point that they stop stocking console games from that publisher.

    • drewski says:

      You can go back to the store frontpage and click on your queue again and it’ll jump to the next game.

  11. drewski says:

    I don’t think I’ve added anything from the Discover queue that I didn’t already know about from other sources, so I’m not sure it’s necessarily working for me.

  12. April March says:

    Good for you. My discovery list seems to consist of four things:
    1) Here’s this game you own elsewhere!
    2) Here’s this game you already have on IsThereAnyDeal and is waiting for a nice price drop!
    3) Here’s this game you have no interest into that happens to have a similar marker to games you played recently, like ‘single player’!
    4) Here’s an AAA game!

    Although, to be frank, the prevalence of 1 and 2 means the system is technically succesfully finding games I’m interested in.

  13. ThatFuzzyTiger says:

    Hmmm. No. But that’s because I tend to be a long way ahead of the curve, most of my purchases sit well within the Early Access or early releases area, so they don’t have time to hit the discovery queue. Either that or I get sent codes to help test and debug games in progress, and the full version is the fruits of my labour.

  14. melnificent says:

    I quite like the idea of the curators list. If it’s updated alongside a site….
    so for example RPS really likes Game A, and adds it to their curator list on steam.
    I read the impresssions on RPS on mobile/not at home device So it goes nowhere.
    When I’m on steam, I flick through my curators list (RPS, etc). Spot Game A and buy it/wishlist it. As well as Game F, G and J that I had forgotten about.

    In reality, RPS dropped curating back in January. I check it every so often but it’s dead :(

  15. JohnnyPanzer says:

    It’s working very nicely for me, I’ve discovered lots of games (mostly indie titles) through the discovery que. I don’t use curators though.

    The only problem is that it has bloated my wishlist. I like to keep it below 20 titles, to avoid getting side-tracked, and thanks to the discovery que I sometimes add at least that many titles to the que in a single week. The older i get, the more easily distracted I’ve become when it comes to games and it’s actually a pretty big problem for me right now. I tend to constantly jump between games, playing half an hour here, ten minutes there, never getting any real enjoyment out of any one of the games. As a result, I’ve deviced this system where once a week I go through my wishlist and remove the least interesting titles untill the que contains less than 20 games again. When I’m in the mood for a new game I’ll sort the wishlist by lowest price and then I might pick something up if it’s on sale.

    But there’s no doubt that the discovery que has brought some very interesting indie titles to my attention. When I’m browsing manually I tend to never leave the early access category, so I’d miss out on a lot of games without the que.

  16. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    Like most here it seems the curators section doesn’t interest me, I don’t think I even had the curiosity to look up RPS’ page to see what the UI looks like (sorry RPS!). I’ll be my own curator thank you, or something. The Discovery queue is all over the place but it did throw a few surprise finds that made their way onto my wishlist, although the algorithm can only struggle with a 500+ games library that includes many half-assed bundle additions.

  17. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    When I look on Steam (which is rare for me) I do like I can look up curators I know (like rps) and see what games they list. I’m less enthusiastic about the discovery queue as it’s generally filled with things I’d never consider purchasing.

  18. Frank says:

    I’ve used it a lot; viewed almost 1000. There’s a ton of stuff I’m not interested in (visual novels and racing games come to mind), but I’ve added dozens of games to my wishlist (which started off at around 100 items) and had at least one impulse buy (a game called dig or die).

    • Frank says:

      Followup (wish there was an edit): I wouldn’t have realized Talos Principle had a demo if not for fhe queue, nor run into Warmachine Tactics, Mordheim, Smallworld and many others now on my wishlist (or not until later, anyway).