Steam needs to stop asking its customers to fix its problems

There was a time when Valve could do no wrong. Champions of PC gaming, undeniably pivotal in the current huge success of the gaming platform, and releasing stunning game after stunning game. When they spoke, the industry listened, and reported with a well-earned reverence. Those times, it’s safe to say, are long gone. Apart from past glories, Valve is now primarily known for Dota 2 and Steam (but for an industry-ignored VR hat), the latter being a monopoly-controlling online store that’s becoming increasingly nonfunctional and dysfunctional, and which they apparently have no coherent idea how to control. And yet so much that’s so wrong with Steam is so easily fixed: it just requires people actually doing something.

The biggest issue with Steam, beyond very many issues with its chaotic interface, even beyond the farcical “Recommended” lists that promote already popular games further burying smaller unknown titles, is the volume of games being released every day. Or, more specifically, how their arrival on Steam is handled.

There are on average 20 to 30 releases a day at this point, and developers are increasingly finding it extremely difficult to have their game see any meaningful front-page presence. I’ve been told by many independent creators that their game can see as little as a single hour on the opening screen of the online shop, before disappearing forever into the mire. Valve’s algorithms appear designed to only push those games that saw/fluked/PRd immediate sales on release, and then keeps pushing them for months or years after.

You know me so well, Steam.

Of those released games, I’d estimate (and I stress this is my own anecdotal estimation) about half aren’t in a fit state to be on sale. I know this because I play so many of them. I scour through the utterly useless and hidden All New Releases list, adding anything that catches my eye across multiple genres, and then work through them whenever I can trying to find unknown gems to highlight on RPS. And wow, there’s so much broken rubbish. This morning in half an hour I got through three interesting-looking games that didn’t have functioning controls. Many times I’ll find that games don’t even launch. And this is it: Steam as a store is so bad, so lacking in visible curation of any sort, that there are games released for it almost every day that don’t even load.

Valve’s solution for this terrible mess has so far been to add a Refund button. This, like the increased reliance on the cruel and arbitrary madness of user reviews, the addition of Steam Curators, and the now-abandoned badly conceived idea that was Greenlight, diverts responsibility away from themselves and onto the customers. And it should end.

The user reviews should be, in theory, a means of communicating how a game has been received by customers so far. We all know this is a flawed system, we all know how it can be abused, and yet we all rely on it when deciding which of several choices to make when shopping on Amazon. But Steam’s is a degree more egregious, despite being so ludicrously easily fixed. At the moment, one single bad faith review sees a game labeled as “Negative”, with an orange thumbs-down logo next to it in the only listing it receives on the store.

Let’s repeat that. A game that a development team may have spent years working on gets barely a front page mention, then in the only hidden, buried location you’re reasonably likely to find it, it’s labelled before you’ve even clicked on it with a big warning sign that it’s bad, possibly because one person didn’t like one aspect for silly or dubious reasons. Click through and you’re likely to read, “I’ve not actually played this but…” A game can be trashed by reviews before it has even been released, leaving a permanent mark on its record.

Most people seem to assume that there’s a barrier before such labelling, that a game would need to get at least 50 or something reviews before the ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ showed up on its listing. But no, Valve haven’t done that. Let alone any noticeable active monitoring of reviews to see if yet another game has been on the receiving end of a bad-faith attack from an online mob. The system is skewed to support malfeasance when even something as simple as a minimum review count could address the problem in part.

This is, of course, crap for developers, but it’s also crap for players. Great games, fascinating games, delightful obscurities or inspired stalwarts don’t find the audience that wants to play them. And so far Valve’s response has been to iterate and tweak its still useless “Featured & Recommended” window.

There’s a term used in criticism to mock the worst of writing in reviews, ones that boil down to, “If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing.” This is seemingly as deep as it gets for Steam’s attempts to present its users with potentially interesting games. “You once played H1Z1 to see what the fuss was about. You now must want to play every other early access multiplayer shooter to the exclusion of all else.” You bought a game with this tag, here are ten other games with this tag.

So what is Valve’s response? Get rid of Greenlight, remove the only broken vestige of curation the store had left, and replace it with, er, nothing. A system is being removed, but there’s no clear sense of what will replace it, if anything. Valve report they want to use a fee for every game released on the store, but even on announcement they haven’t figured out what it should be. Numbers as disparate as $100 to $5000 are mentioned as if the two are either side of a coin toss, with no apparent notion that such barriers are no obstacle to perennial exploiters of the store, and will only give greater access to those who want to abuse Steam, and greater exclusion to those who will struggle to make back the fee thanks to the atrocious lack of exposure they’ll receive for their money.

This is, in effect, charging money to be sold in a shop that then won’t put the product on their shelves. “Oh, yeah, your games are in this cardboard box under the counter. No one seems to want to buy them though.”

And the solution, if I’m so clever? Humans. Human beings. Actual people.

If I can get through three games in half an hour, and discover that none of them should be on sale, at the same time as doing my bloody job, Valve can employ people to play the games that come out on Steam to at least check they load. I’m not talking about selecting games based on whether Valve thinks they’re good or not – god knows if I’ve learned anything in twenty years on this job it’s that people are desperate to pay money for terrible games – I’m talking about the most basic level of quality control. Does the game launch? Do the controls actually work? Does it crash after 30 seconds? Is it what it says it is in its own store description? Are the screenshots representative of what you actually see? The simplest things determined in just a few minutes.

It’s a task that could be completed by a team of ten. Game is submitted to the store. Human plays game, finds it doesn’t work. Human emails developer and says, “This game doesn’t work, fix and resubmit.” Done. Even here, developers could benefit as well as people buying from the store. In some cases, they might avoid that first flurry of negative reviews, sparked by poor first impressions. Curation might not be the the greatest job in the world, but it isn’t carrying rebar or cleaning prison toilets. Hell, it’s a way into Valve. (And no, I have no time for the nonsense about no job titles – even if it were true, they damn well need some.) They currently have a submission process, where in theory before games are released games are checked, but while we’ve heard from developers who have found this a useful process, I know from the crap I churn through that it’s a process that absolutely isn’t working. And there’s no sign that checks are occurring after release.

Every solution they mention is always outward focused, about getting the community to “crowdsource” the fix, about shifting the responsibility further away from them in the guise of “opening it up to the users” or whatever ridiculous phrasing might be used. This isn’t a beautiful democracy, this is one of the richest corporations in the industry outsourcing their responsibilities to their customers. We don’t know why it is this way, whether it’s due to errant policy or dysfunction, but so far there doesn’t appear to be any plan to change that aspect of the store.

Steam needs curation, and yes, guess what, that will be boring work. But at this point, boring work is the only thing that will fix the problems.

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250 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    There’s no greater indictment of the broken state of Steam right now than the fact that “Bloody Boobs” is a real game on Steam and not a joke someone made up to make fun of the state of games on Steam.

    • anevilyak says:

      I take it you’re not a fan of Genital Jousting either. ;-)

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      Why? I think it’s proof that Steam is doing its job. Personally I even think Steam should allow full on erotic games to face with optional control options per user because an open and free market with CONSUMER choice is in my opinion a good one. I don’t enjoy being told what’s too extreme or crass for me any more than someone slapping a diet coke out of my hand at the local market and telling me they won’t ring it up for me because they think aspartame is bad for you.

      Just like in an open and free country however that also means you have to take the bad with the good whatever you opinion of a topic is, hence all the uneducated or poorly executed “movements” in the US right now.

      I think this article was over the top. There are some stuff Steam could have and can do better, but it’s hardly cracking at the foundation. Amazon reviews are themselves problematic and hey, there’s another juggernaut. Besides, Steam reviews seem to be used as mostly a judging tool surprisingly, because despite its Steam reviews Total War Warhammer is usually in the top 50 most popular Steam games. If nothing else the reviews provide you some good information as to why people dislike the game and whether or not it matters to you is dependent on, well, you. Just like it should be.

      Steam only needs to really do one thing anyway and that is to offer a stable, consistent market where one can purchase and track games easily, which it does. Yes, that means sometimes shit games get thrown in there, but so what? Free market. Kickstarter, EA Games, random-indie sites, ect are filled with them too. Heck, even Gamestop has heaps of trash games that still got traditionally published and made it to a brick and mortar store.

      The bonus is Steam’s famous discounting as well, though I won’t call that a necessity but a perk. Aside from that anything Steam does is accessory and unimportant, so they’re free to experiment as they please.

      Calling Steam continuously dysfunctional is hyperbole worthy of an eyeroll because it still does its primary job as well as it ever did which is which is why it’s still the undisputed lord of digital gaming marketplaces.

    • Avolition says:

      Who gives a shit? So iTunes or Spotify are doomed because there are shit albums? You’re retarded.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        No, but the creative industry/community that spawned those services is doomed. Or was, since it pretty much died 10-15 years ago.

        The one nice thing about physical media for entertainment products was that there was a barrier for entry. The one bad thing about pure virtual media (or whatever you want to call it), a media which I think is otherwise good for independent creators, is that you’ve basically said “here is all of the shit, unless it has a multi-million dollar marketing campaign behind it good luck finding it”.

    • SamD says:

      To echo what a lot of people have said here I really don’t expect steam to do as much as other people seem to and would actually say I quite like the service it provides.

      I use steam as a shop to buy and download digital games and choose what I buy based on word of mouth and excellent sites like this. I’d never actually browsed randomly for a game on steam before but I did try it after reading this and it’s certainly not fantastic but as I never expected to use it for that it doesn’t bother me.

      From my perspective steam lets me download and play games, patches them for me, lets me access mods for them and does most of this in a relatively painless manner.

      I am from Birmingham originally though so there is the chance this is just my total lack of expectations in most things shining through.

  2. Kodaemon says:

    Steam doesn’t have problems. Steam *is* a problem. I’ve been saying this since 2004. It’s an incredibly toxic anti-consumer system at its core, and that the entire PC gaming world depends so much on it is a cause for concern.

    • syndrome says:

      That’s exactly the case!
      Steam is becoming very dangerous for the gaming culture as a whole.
      Please find my post somewhere below, where I explain it in more detail.

    • Laurentius says:

      Well said, I totally agree that Steam is the problem on itself.

    • SaintAn says:

      It’s a cancer. It’s even killing modding now and making mods exclusive to Steam and some games even allow mods to be sold (Rust, TF2, DOTA2, some others).

      TW Warhammer has a big mod focus and lots of mods on the Workshop but the Nexus and ModDB for it only has a couple mods it launched with. That’s not the only game where mod sites like Nexus/ModDB are barren, it’s most new games that have Workshops. And we’ve been losing mods on the Workshop whenever the horrible Steam community annoys the creators enough they pull their mods which causes everyone with the mod to do an uninstall update on their games or not be able to play, and almost always breaks game saves.

      And Wallpaper Engine hording animated wallpapers in Steam Workshop so others can’t use them outside Steam. It’s fucking horrible.

      • Nucas says:

        you can’t blame steam for where content creators want to release their content.

        “gasp! mods are *even being sold!*” is hardly within valve’s purview. people aren’t necessarily modding games as a free value add for you or the developer, and this complaint is the apex of entitlement.

        • Emeraude says:

          you can’t blame steam for where content creators want to release their content.

          “gasp! mods are *even being sold!*” is hardly within valve’s purview. people aren’t>/i>

          Actually you can when Valve is willfully setting up an ecosystem that aims as much as possible at tying up both user and modders to their platform, while being the number one force pushing for a forceful transition of modding from an enthusiast hobby based on sharing and mutual aid to a semi-professionalized competitive market.

    • moebius_rising says:

      It’s a bit of an oversimplification that it’s solely Steam that is the problem for PC gaming, EA (for instance) couldn’t give a damn if their Origin client is slow, buggy and prone to failure on a weekly basis.

      • Kodaemon says:

        It’s not about whether Steam, Origin or whatever else storefront-married-to-DRM system is better than one another. Thing is, there wouldn’t even *be* an Origin if Steam hadn’t introduced the cancerous idea itself.

        • BooleanBob says:

          You really don’t think any other company or publisher wouldn’t have had the idea? In all this time?

          Frankly, I’m glad that it was Valve who thought of it first. Steam could be better, but in another universe we’re all shackled to Games For Windows Live.

        • Coming Second says:

          That’s every bit as ridiculous a statement as the fellows who used to smash Spinning Jennies.

      • Underwhelmed says:

        Except, that Origin’s store front works just fine. Nevermind that Steam has been plagued with major technical issues (please see the half dozen recent cases in which there have been major security breeches involving the client and customer account data) so I’m not sure that the claim “but Origin is too buggy” really flies anymore if you are comparing it to Steam.

        And speaking of storefronts, On Origin, GOG, and even UPlay new releases get some focus, older titles get some focus, and for the most part the store functions just fine. All three have a much smaller catalog, this is true, but the point is that it is curated by actual human employees. Steam on the other hand, has had its storefront managed by an array of crowd-sourced half-baked idiocy that is increasingly punishing developers arbitrarily. The thing is, this is hurting Valve. If they don’t fix it, they are going to be left with the mound of bad boobie games while every other developer is going to start featuring their wares elsewhere.

    • Cinek says:

      I concur. It’s great that Steam lures AAA on PC market, but slowly the price we pay for that appears to be just… too big to be worth it.

      I also don’t get all this extreme fanboism Valve gets from places like /r/pcmasterrace or heck: even some random colleges of my. As if they’d be the savors of PC gaming. BS.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      The issue is not Steam itself though, but rather the inevitable monopolization of the Internet thanks to the network effects and in the absence of external forces (like regulation by an hypothetical worldwide government). See also as examples : Facebook, Google, Amazon.
      Might we have avoided it if somehow we had enforced open standards for things like updates, matchmaking, communication (“friends list”), instead of developers relying on Steamworks?

  3. Kitsunin says:

    I can’t even fathom what they are thinking with regard to how they handle this. It would take hiring less than one damn person to completely fix their massive problems. It’s completely freaking inane that they keep trying these ridiculous “inventive” solutions, goddamn.

  4. Gothnak says:

    As both a player of many games on Steam and a developer soon to release a game on Steam i think this article is pretty much bang on the money.

    I get the same games pushed at me for weeks on end every time i log in. Nope, still don’t want to play any online shooters irrespective of if they are ‘Top Sellers’ or not. Also don’t fancy playing Refunct because one of my friends (who has different taste to me) liked it at some point, even if you suggest it every week for 2 months…

    i would like to know the new releases that i won’t have heard of that are good, but it never tells me about them, just the stuff i already know about. Nope, don’t want to play For Honor, if i did, i’d have already bought it obviously.

    • frightlever says:

      There’s a “not interested” button you can click.

      If you don’t click it they don’t know whether you’re interested or not.

      Sure the algorithm could take your disinterest in clicking that button as a sign that you’re not interested, and show you a fresh selection but your relentless ennui with their previous offerings surely suggests you’ll treat a fresh batch with equal contempt.

      It’s an impasse, you and Steam balanced upon the edge of razor, both aggressively resistant to change.

      Frankly, I suspect they’ll wait you out.

      • Someoldguy says:

        But that button works for just the one damn game. If it’s got it into it’s head you like indie survival games, it’ll throw every indie survial game at you, plus all high selling indie games of any genre and survival games of any quality even if you tell them you don’t like the next 50. It never goes back and revises it’s first assumption that you’re into these games, or ever challenges you by floating a new, less well known game past you of a category you’ve not explicitly said you liked. That’s awful design.

    • Shinard says:

      I completely agree. Except for you saying you don’t want to play Refunct, that game is a masterpiece.

      It costs slightly more than a pint (and I’m from the North, we have very cheap pints). It takes an hour to completely experience. And it’s a really calm, relaxing, fun experience. If you ever find yourself in that weird ennui state of “My backlog’s massive, but I don’t really want to play any of these right now…”, trust me, put down the couple of quid and put aside an hour. You will not regret it.

  5. MiniMatt says:

    Suppose I’ve always seen Steam curation, indeed the curation of any medium, as an external exercise. Ie. I visit RPS to look for games I might be interested in looking up on Steam.

    In the same way I don’t really expect the library to tailor book choices to my needs, but rather rely on book reviews, word of mouth etc.

    Anything the store front can do to better tailor its suggestions to my tastes is wonderful, but I suspect my primary interest will always come from hearing about a game from some place like RPS

    (another, more honest, way of writing this: I can’t be arsed wading through reams of games and I want you to do it for me!)

    • John Walker says:

      And this is half the problem. We can’t successfully wade, and still have time to cover the worthwhile games. Every day I play at least one or two new games that barely function, wasting my time, time that then isn’t there to play more. The problem is so bad now the press can’t do their QA, AND provide the service you describe.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Ahh yes, replied as much below at same time, major benefit of better store front is to journalists rather than customers, but this benefit has a practical trickle down benefit to the game devs and game customers.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          One of the few times that trickle-down is a real thing that exists.

          • MiniMatt says:

            Do you share my nervous twitch whenever it’s applied to economics?

          • Josh W says:

            Interestingly, trickle down economics is incompatible with neoclassical economics, which tends to use the system of “representative consumers” in order to get it’s supply and demand equations to be solvable.

            In other words, there’s no trickle down, because there is no up and down, every person in the market acts in exactly the same way.

            This is because people changing their purchasing decisions because of varying amounts of money in their pockets causes feedback loops that mess up the simplicity of the equations, resulting in something called the “aggregation problem”, which is that an economy of 100 rational, optimising people doesn’t necessarily turn into a rational optimising economy. The solution is to model it with one person who sells all the goods in the economy to himself, or maybe a few sectors.

            Assuming that it’s possible to rigorously define the effects of expanding or contracting the income of certain groups in society is class based analysis, something that neoclassical economics specifically rejects.

            If they were willing to actually define some mathematical framework behind it, they would not only leave the standard framework of free market economics behind, but they might actually find that the exact opposite is true, based on the different savings rates of the rich and poor.

        • April March says:

          It could be argued that, if a better storefront allowed costumers to more easily find games that they enjoy, it would decrease the need for a journalist to direct them to games, and therefore be better for costumers in general and worse for journalists.

      • bedel says:

        You could scale up also? find a few people not to write reviews, but just to say. This game is broken, doesn’t install etc.

        • Premium User Badge

          Nauallis says:

          This is true, but it’s just treating a symptom, and the real problem still exists. Arguably your suggestion is actually even worse, because then the end consumer / reader of RPS would go to even more trouble to read the articles that RPS posts saying “this game sucks.” And ultimately I personally would probably just skip those articles.

          I can’t speak for anybody else, but I prefer to read work by journalists who actually enjoy what they are playing, because it’s more interesting and it tends to bring better analysis – I’d rather be aware of and frustrated by “too many high-quality games with coverage” than be annoyingly aware of all of the crap that’s available.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          But that’s externalizing costs for Steam. It should be Valve’s job to ensure they sell functional products. Good games? That’s subjective. Whether the game starts and has workable controls and fits its description? That’s something you can evaluate, and it shouldn’t be the journalists’ job.

          • rochrist says:

            No. It isn’t. They aren’t publishers. They’re a distribution platform. Do you have any conception of what it would take to put together a QA team that could vet 30+ new releases a day across the zoo that is the entire pc platform? Then you add in multiple OSes. No. They people responsible for the games (either developer or publisher) are responsible for that. It’s not something that it’s practical for steam to do.

          • Hypocee says:

            From the numbers given in the article it would take TWO. TWO people, ah ah ah.

            That may just lie within the bound of human endeavor.

          • April March says:

            I’d say one person for each OS, but let’s not kid ourselves – Mac and Linux could be comfortably handled by one person.

      • frightlever says:

        90% of my new (non-AAA) game discovery is coming from Lets Play videos on Youtube. eg Raft, which you were writing about last week, paulsoaresjr was playing a month ago. If anything that’s where the real curation is happening. Hundreds of Youtubers making Lets Play videos, ferreting out new and unusual games whether they’re on Steam or not.

      • rochrist says:

        How is this any different than Amazon and Kindle books. You can’t have it both ways, either someone is curating what you see for sale (in effect acting as publishers do) or you remove the gatekeepers. People screamed and screamed about the big book publishers acting as gatekeepers and how awesome it would be when anyone could publish anything. Then they got their wish and everything is buried under a pile of crap 10 miles high.

      • AngoraFish says:

        But, and I say this genuinely and with no intended sarcasm, you guys can also outsource some of the selection process.

        You are not the only gatekeepers in the system. There are no shortage of players recommending games in RPS comments and forums. Many of these games are excellent and many haven’t yet been covered by RPS for various reasons.

        Further, as hard as this might be to believe, there are other gaming sites out there. Some of these are going to stumble onto some of the gems RPS misses and the game is going to get coverage that way. Savvy readers might, heaven forbid, find two or three PC gaming sites or YouTubers with similar tastes to their own to scan regularly and this will also cover a few more gaps.

        Not to mention that store fronts like Humble and GOG are also curating and giving different games prominence, and this also has some additional effect in assisting to generate buzz across the board and (ultimately), onto Steam.

        Sure, a few good games are still going to slip through the cracks but it was ever thus. Nobody expects perfection. I don’t disagree with many of your criticisms of Steam but the opportunities to sort the wheat from the chaff aren’t as narrow as you imply.

    • MiniMatt says:

      And I suppose other counterpoint would be that whilst I accept entirely your point that there’s a metric crap ton of broken rubbish on the store, even if that were all removed, there’d still be “too many” good games on the store for me to ever play through.

      Of those 20-30 games released per day, if only one of those would be a 6/10 or higher, that’s still way more games than I can ever hope to play in one lifetime.

      So I’m still going to be treating the likes of RPS as my primary curation.

      None of this is to say that Steam shouldn’t be improving their half baked store front, just that I suspect the practical impact on customers might be low. But then it would help game journalists better find and better highlight the useful stuff, which helps decent and half decent game developers, which in turn I guess does mean better games for us customers.

      • John Walker says:

        Yes, but in that scenario, we’re doing our job as well we ought.

        • MiniMatt says:

          Oh yep, agree entirely. As a punter I want a steady stream of articles on worthwhile games from an excellent team of writers who have broad, identifiable, differing areas of interest. Which is kinda why I’m here :)

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Have you seen some of the books/cds/videos in stores? This “problem” is not going away any time soon.

          (Quotation marks as for Steam/Valve it’s means more money, and is a problem only for us consumers. :( )

    • thedosbox says:


      Suppose I’ve always seen Steam curation, indeed the curation of any medium, as an external exercise.

      That’s certainly a valid approach, but given the craptactular state of the steam store, it’s the *only* viable approach.

      Though to be fair, discoverability in general across online stores is pretty poor. The google play store suffers from similar problems. Both companies appear to think they can solve the problems purely through software, yet have failed to do so.

      • MiniMatt says:

        I think it’s essentially a problem for all mediums really. John’s core points of out-right broken games and unfair weighting applied to one bad review are bang on.

        It was a Rob Fearon piece which argued the problem isn’t too many bad games on Steam so much as too many good games on Steam which may or may not appeal to our individual tastes:

        “Not every game made will interest us, a fan of only dense role playing games may have little interest in a visual novel about romancing a salmon or a walking simulator about a boy called Timmy who steals ducks.”

        John’s argument that there are so many flat out borked games on there which cut into his time available to write on the good ones is compelling. Anything to remove the flat out borked games is great, but we still want Steam to be a place for that niche game about a boy called Timmy who steals ducks.

        • Gothnak says:

          Does the salmon romancing game have a lot of complex stats that you need to balance? You might get me (The dense RPG player, is that an insult…) interested then.

    • KingFunk says:

      This kinda matches my point of view as well. I guess it comes down to attitudes to shopping. I don’t want or need Steam to inform me of things I could/might buy any more than I want Amazon to (even though it does). As far as I’m concerned, Steam is simply a place I go to when I already know what I want to buy. Similarly, this is how I shop for food, clothes, pretty much anything. I just don’t have the time or money to make regular impulse purchases so I research carefully using the likes of RPS and play only a small of amount of the myriad titles released each year.

      I appreciate that the current Steam situation may be to the detriment of smaller developers looking for exposure, but there are other ways to publicise your game. I guess Valve’s proposition to these guys is based on the potential user base, rather than any attempt at marketing or actively improving exposure. It feels a little like people are attributing responsibility for these things to Valve, when I’m pretty sure they’re specifically not doing that.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Amazon is a really interesting comparison. The way we use places like Amazon is different to the way we perhaps expect to use places like Steam.

        (and the recommendation system on both is freaky as hell)

        • Optimaximal says:

          Nah, I’d say they’re most definitely largely the same beast.

          Both outlets exist just to push as many products as possible whilst creaming commission off the top. Their storefronts are essentially deep unfathomable buckets of products, catapulted into view by algorithms that try to consider many irrelevant factors in order to ‘decide’ what you want.

          • Bury The Hammer says:

            Agree largely with this. Amazon ends up working out because you go on user reviews. With anything with few reviews, it’s buyer beware. I probably wouldn’t touch a steam game with fewer than a couple of dozen reviews.

            Does the multitude of games make the job of journalists hard? Sure. Does it make your job as game curators and recommenders WAY more important? Definitely. RPS is one of the few places I trust for decent games.

            Every industry has this problem. Books are mostly mediocre at best, so is music. No human on earth can read every book there is, or listen to every album. We rely on other people to sift through it for us. And the sifters are probably better at finding genuinely great stuff?

            Not to say Steam doesn’t have its part in this. But good QA is expensive (I’m a developer in test), and I doubt Steam wants to hire an army of QAs. What MAY be useful is some sort of certification scheme. A big old badge certifying it’s been through a basic QA scheme, partly funded by the devs themselves. And a way to report clearly broken games, with similar massive warnings on them.

    • Sin Vega says:

      In the same way I don’t really expect the library to tailor book choices to my needs, but rather rely on book reviews, word of mouth etc.

      This is standard practice for any library though (whether they can actually afford to get in what the local people need is another matter). Some I’ve worked at even do it for specific members, and that’s not counting the constant staff efforts to retain important books and display things that people might not see otherwise. Part of the job of a public librarian in particular has always been managing stock to fit what people want and introduce things they may like but not know about.

      And we get asked to personally recommend things all the time – just ask any library manager about what their regulars like to read. Even when just doing shelving, many of us are constantly nosing at books just so we know what’s there so we can keep displays interesting and know what’s available if someone asks.

      • MiniMatt says:

        You’re right, it’s a viable analogy but not one without holes.

        Suppose I was thinking more of the “100,000 books on shelving, fiction broken down into historical, romantic, science” – sure you could browse the whole lot but you’re more likely going in with an idea of titles or authors, or yes, personal recommendations from the librarian.

        Libraries are clearly moving forward. And backward as funding cuts take away their librarians. And their books. And their libraries.

    • Don Reba says:

      It does not seem quite fair, then, that Steam should get 30% of all game sales, and RPS eke out a living from ad revenue.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Was going to post this. Complaining that Steam doesn’t find stuff you like for you is like complaining that the supermarket doesn’t select a brand of butter for you. Steam is ultimately a content delivery system, not a content curation system, notwithstanding that they have some curation/review type features.

      As for this:

      “farcical “Recommended” lists that promote already popular games further burying smaller unknown titles”

      That’s got to be about your games list or something. My recommended queue is usually about 80% half arsed indie junk that I have no interest in, with very few mainstream games included. Plus it’s not exactly shocking if Steam suggests very popular games to people who don’t already own them, is it? If they are popular, they are probably quite good, and if a person doesn’t have a quite good game then it’s a reasonable thing to recommend to them.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      a.) libraries are curated and b.) publishing a book in physical form is a barrier to entry that filters out a lot of trash before it reaches the point of being curated

  6. Kodaemon says:

    I have hundreds of games in my Steam library (I won’t say I own them, because you don’t actually own anything on Steam), but if some day the entire system blows up, I won’t be one to weep for it.

  7. lglethal says:

    Spot on, John. The problem is Valve dont want to spend money. If they can outsource the solution to “the crowd”, then they dont need to spend money and they would call that a win.

    What they dont seem to realise is that if someone came out with a “Steam-like” that worked well, and removed all of people’s dislikes about Steam, Gamers would jump ship in droves. Consumers in this day and age are rarely loyal. They’re lucky that they’re current competition are not up to Standard – Uplay and Origin only sell their own games, and GOG is hamstrung by not having as good a series of Releases (and arguably the Store is no better than Steam’s).

    But if someone finally does create a GOOD Steam competitor, Valve would be in serious Trouble…

    • Sin Vega says:

      I disagree, honestly. People are stubborn and habitual, and infamously so when it comes to Steam specifically – “I’m not interested unless it’s on steam” isn’t as common as it used to be, but it’s still a common sentiment.

      It’s not quite the same, but think of something like Facebook or Twitter too – however terrible they get, anyone who does the same thing better will face a near insurmountable opening battle to get out of their shadow simply because people are heavily invested in the existing one.

      • Premium User Badge

        subdog says:

        Yep. This is the pretty classic problem of the “walled gardens” of online retail. In theory, without physical constraints, customers have more freedom than ever to move around and explore competitors.

        In practice, customers commit to an ecosystem and only jump ship when a real tipping point crops up.

        For Steam competitors, peeling off customers who have hundreds of games already in their Steam libraries is nearly insurmountable. GOG is making a valiant effort with GOG Connect, but they’ve barely scratched the surface.

        • Archonsod says:

          There’s nothing stopping me having a few hundred games on Steam, another hundred on GOG, a few on Origin, fifty on Gamersgate and a couple on U-Play. Back in the grand old days when there were multiple high street retailers of games I didn’t buy all of my games from the same store; the only thing that’s changed today is I’ve eliminated a lot of inconvenient travelling from the equation.

          • JonWood says:

            While you may not have bought all your games from the shop I’m going to hazard a guess that you kept them all in the same house. Its a poor analogy, as most analogies of physical things to digital ones tend to be, but for me having a game on UPlay is roughly the same as keeping it in storage on the outskirts of town. I’m not going to see it, and so I’ll forget it exists – maybe at some point I’ll go in there to get something else and be reminded of it, but when I’m sitting down and wondering what I’d like to play next unless its in Steam I probably won’t remember I have it.

      • Baines says:

        YouTube may be a better example than Facebook or Twitter. Plenty of controversies, terrible service, plenty of “I’m leaving YouTube” threats, and yet it still chugs on. Uploaders can’t afford to go elsewhere, because their viewers are all attached to YouTube, while viewers remain attached because the uploaders all remain.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      “Uplay and Origin only sell their own games”

      False.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I disagree. The other service would have to be phenomenal to get people to switch over. When you’ve got 100+ games locked into Steam with no way of porting to another store/platform, you’re not going to uninstall Steam. You’d have to permanently use multiple stores, and a lot of people seem to hate the very thought. I’ve had numerous people flat out tell me they’re never installing any other store software because they only ever want to use one.

      Steam’s got tremendous inertia that’s almost impossible to break, and the DRM means you’re always going to need Steam to play the games you bought there. It’s the perfect lock in.

  8. Asurmen says:

    I think you vastly overestimate the amount of QA 10 people can achieve with the amount of games released on Steam.

    Not saying it isn’t a problem, just your solution isn’t actually one.

    • John Walker says:

      Yet again, *I* am capable of getting through three or four games and recognising they shouldn’t be on sale *at the same time as doing my actual job*. So no, ten people could damn well check the next day’s new releases with no problems.

      • sneetch says:

        Not to mention the fact that the only reason there are a metric fuckton of new releases flooding Steam is because of the lack of any quality control: once people realise that their shoddy games aren’t going to get on Steam the amount of shoddy games being submitted will drop (especially if submitting games has a cost). That will allow them time to start sifting through the games already on Steam.

      • Faxmachinen says:

        You’re not a QA person and as such don’t know what you’re talking about. By your logic it should take NASA no more than two man-minutes to inspect their rocket engines, because that’s about how long the car salesman took.

        • Sin Vega says:

          They don’t need full QA, but a basic “is this game functional and physically playable” system is hardly much to ask. Other online shops seem to manage it just fine (gog comes to mind).

        • FriendlyFire says:

          John’s never asked for full QA. Try again.

          • Faxmachinen says:

            Well, I was hoping it would at least be a little more involved than “works on John’s computer”. Otherwise I may as well go judge the game by its single up/down-vote.

        • John Walker says:

          I’m not going to defend against arguments you’ve imagined I’ve made. I was extremely specific, talking about games that don’t include an executable, games that don’t have any working controls. I am NOT talking about proper QA, no matter how much you pretend I am.

      • Archonsod says:

        “Yet again, *I* am capable of getting through three or four games and recognising they shouldn’t be on sale *at the same time as doing my actual job*.”

        If you consider part of your job to be to scour Steam for worthwhile releases to write about though it could be argued those ten people are now doing part of your job …

      • Asurmen says:

        No you’re not, because for every problem you encounter, others don’t. Game doesn’t load? Checked different hardware, OS and drivers while supposedly doing your job? Bet you didn’t.

        Very basic QA problem you’re not acknowledging.

        • Baines says:

          There is a very basic problem you aren’t acknowledging. When John mentioned a game not even having an executable? That wasn’t a one time occurrence. I’ve heard that story multiple times, with different games, where the developer and/or Valve had bodged the set-up and failed to include an executable.

          There was one game I recall where an update removed the Linux executable, and it went months without being fixed. (I don’t actually know if it ever was fixed.)

          Mind, this arguably isn’t a curation issue. It does remain a Valve issue though.

          Which doesn’t even get into the issue of games that just don’t run, or fail to run in an acceptable fashion.

          • Asurmen says:

            John mentioned a lot of things, some of which I’m calling out as him not understanding the scale of the problem. Not once did he mention missing executable. He simply said failed to launch.

            He needs to be clearer in his writing.

    • gunny1993 says:

      30 games a day, 10 people, 3 games a a person in say a 7 hour day, 2 hours per game.

      Like sure, that’s not enough to do anything in depth, but to check if it meets a few low quality standards it seems fine.

      • stuw23 says:

        Given that 2 hours is the timeframe for Steam refunds, this works rather well as an example of how much Steam could do with so little, rather than all risk and onus being placed on the customer.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Hell, they could even use use that principle and infrastructure to do their beloved crowdsourcing again.

          Send people who opt in free keys that disable themselves after two hours. People have to report whether the game works or not. Sure, you’d get slip ups, but you could crowdfund that to thousands of players rather than 10 QA people, and I can guarantee you many Steam users would be delighted to “test” games for Valve.

          Slap a 50% discount on buying the game (or hell, give it away for free, I doubt the hit would be problematic) if you actually do the test to entice people further.

  9. aircool says:

    Totally agree. It takes a lot of patience to trawl through ‘all new releases’.

    My biggest gripe is seeing something interesting and then noticing it’s Early Access. There doesn’t seem to be an option to filter out Early Access games.

    It’s why a lot of people rely on you RPS folk to dig out the gems, but I’m guessing there’s just not enough hours in the day for you to do that, along with the refund issue and no try before you buy demos.

    Here’s a few of the games that I would never, ever have found without RPS featuring them:

    SpaceChem/Infinifactory, Steamworld series, FTL etc…

    Most of the new releases/popular releases etc… seem to be those strange cartoon games where you date girls dressed as cats or something.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Whilst I’d advise against totally excluding early access as the term has become more arbitrary of late, worth noting you can now exclude early access from your store front – click your account name (top right), select “preferences”.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Which is if anything another point against the store. What the hell kind of backwards shop demands that you sign up and log in before even letting you choose what you see? I already have an account and I resent having to dick around with that (for one thing I can never remember my password, so logging in on the browser I use would be a total ballache). If I was new I definitely wouldn’t want to waste my time with it. And I wouldn’t even know it was an option anyway.

        The complacency of steam as an online shop is embarassing.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          Uh, you realize that you have to log in to buy anything, right?

          • Sin Vega says:

            But first I have to find something I actually want to buy, which I won’t if I can’t even browse properly. And that’s assuming I have an account at all.

            User experience: actually affects things.

          • jezcentral says:

            You don’t need to sign into the Steam website, to see stuff.

          • Sin Vega says:

            No, but you need to in order to select basic filtering options that make it possible to actually browse properly.

            Are you even reading, or what?

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        Holy crap! I didn’t realize this was even possible. Thanks, kind commenter!

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Yeah, it’s a shame. “Early Access” seems to get special treatment as categories go :
      link to reddit.com

  10. Auldman says:

    I’ve felt, of late, that buying and playing games on GOG and Origin has been so much easier, smoother, and intuitive than Steam which has proven less reliable and harder to navigate. Competition will force Valve to reform. I’d suggest before buying games on Steam you check if the same game is available on GOG and make your purchase there instead.

    • aircool says:

      Origin has slowly given me some faith in EA again and their subscription service is at just the right price level to be forgiving should you go on to buy the full/deluxe version of some of their games when on sale (for example, whilst Star Wars Battlefront (Standard issue) is available on Origin Access, I picked up the top tier edition with all the DLC in a sale for about £22.

      The days of demo’s are long behind us, but with Origin Access, you do get trial versions of new games.

      I also seem to be the only person to have had great customer support from EA, covering everything from technical issues to price issues, discounts and returns. However, Steam is becoming more and more of a headache, but they do offer a lot of games.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I’d be interested in knowing how you navigate titles on Origin or GOG (specifically the latter) because all I get when I try to find something interesting in their storefronts is a long scrollable list of games.

  11. thenevernow says:

    I think they (probably Newell) have this abstract ideal in which a combination of automation and user contribution create a perfectly functional and smooth system. They don’t want to consider the possibility that the model is inherently flawed, they just think “they haven’t got it quite right yet”.

    On the other hand, if they want to be the famous “network API”, so be it. Steam is not a place to buy games, it’s a place to activate keys. Fine with me.

    • Baines says:

      I’ve said before that Valve appears to operate inside a world of fantasy; they don’t appear to comprehend or understand very basic realities.

      I’ve seen the defense that Valve believes in iterating to a successful solution, but that undersells just how broken Valve’s approach is.

      Valve starts with an idea. The first problem is that Valve never fleshes out that idea, they just implement the skeleton. The second problem is that Valve’s initial idea gives zero thought to basic human nature. The third problem is that Valve will launch a “solution” before they’ve even finished implementing the bits that they *did* think about.

      Upon launch, their half-thought out, half-implemented, fantasy world solution immediately fails. And this reveals the final nail in the coffin. At this point, Valve seems flummoxed about what to do.

      Valve never bothers to finish fleshing out the initial idea, nor do they really bother to finish implementing it, nor do they even really ‘increment’ their design. They may push out a few band-aid ‘fixes’ or they may even over-react with a “baby and the bathwater” response. And then they just lose interest, abandoning the whole thing to its half working fate.

      • thenevernow says:

        I think your post is spot on (and more elaborate than mine). They seem to operate according to what I’d call an ideology and to be unwilling to even consider that it’s… wrong.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        I assume that Valve are still making money hand over fist, so from their point of view, they’re not doing anything wrong.
        When pretty much every PC gamer is queuing up to throw money at them, there’s no incentive for them to change.

      • JonWood says:

        My gut feel is that this is a side effect of their famous policy of letting their staff do whatever they feel like doing, moving from team to team at will. Everyone wants to do the glamorous work of finding a solution to a big problem building it out and then releasing it to the world, sadly far fewer people want to carry on after that point when it turns out their assumptions were flawed and need to be reexamined – at that point its far easier to unplug your computer and wheel it over to whichever team is starting work on designing Half-Life 3 again.

    • Shuck says:

      The problem is that Valve don’t seem to expend any effort trying to imagine what kinds of problems their systems will have before they implement them. Greenlight, for example, had a lot of very easily foreseeable, fundamental problems on launch. The appeal of ditching that to jump to this new system is clearly because they haven’t imagined the problems it will have while being very cognizant of the problems that already exist with Greenlight.

  12. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    It’s almost like designing a company where anyone can do whatever they want encourages a situation where most people latch onto the most profitable projects and everyone studiously avoids the unglamorous, not-directly-profitable nuts and bolts work.

    • kalzekdor says:

      Replace “profitable” with “interesting and/or fun” and you’ve pretty much nailed the major problem with flatland. There are a lot of activities that are profitable in the long run, such as basic customer service, but are about as fun as chewing rocks.

    • sneetch says:

      Yeah, I never bought Valves “but people don’t want to do it so we don’t do it” nonsense. I mean; who cleans their toilets? Which of their artists loves doing the payroll every month? If the download centre in Berlin goes down which developer hops on a plane to fix it?

      You hire people to do jobs, not everyone has to be a “creative”; hire someone to manage this part of the business and give them a budget.

  13. Benratha says:

    Between this and Mr Newell commenting that Valve are re-considering the idea of paid-for mods i am beginning to worry that the whole organisation has just become a money-gathering snowball.
    I actually like the idea of paying for mods which are good/ or supply a missing level of functionality, or even total conversions. But again, if Valve/ Steam are considering a charge and some % is going into their pockets then perhaps it wouldn’t be beyond expectations for some form of check/ QC (even at the most cursory level) to occur?

  14. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    You should really read or watch some of the things Valve has said on the subject (eg Steam Dev Days: link to youtube.com). Whether you agree with their approach or not the statement that they “have no coherrent idea” is clearly false as they demonstrably have a plan that they’ve consistently stuck to with varying degrees of a success. The goal was always to reduce the amount of work Valve had to do on their side and to open Steam to more developers. Greenlight was an intermediate step on the way and now they’re moving to the next step, which will no doubt change and improve as it goes along. However flawed, even the store itself seems to be gradually improving to handle the exponentially increasing volume of games (a trend which they obviously have no intention of reversing).

    So if you’re asking Valve to basically 180 on their core goals and philosophies frankly I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’re just going to keep testing and iterating…

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      “… see as little as a single hour on the opening screen of the online shop, before disappearing forever into the mire. Valve’s algorithms appear designed to only push those games that saw/fluked/PRd immediate sales on release, and then keeps pushing them for months or years after.”

      This is becoming less of a problem with recent updates according to data Valve have released (source: link to gamasutra.com ).

      • Baines says:

        I recently spent a period where I wasn’t playing anything through Steam, but had happened to take a close look at what Steam was recommending me on the front page.

        I noticed that as long as I wasn’t playing anything, Steam didn’t bother recalculating its recommendations. The top page “Featured” box would contain the same games for a week, with the only exception being that every day or two one title might get bumped by a new/popular title. The endless page scroll at the bottom never changed at all; it was always the same “Recommended because” with the same games.

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          I haven’t systematically prodded the different versions of the Recommendations feature, personally, but I have made good use of the new negative tag filtering which (previously much more limited) now allows me to ignore anything with zombies, MMOs, crafting, anime and other things I’m not interested in. This is a marked improvement.

          Recent glances at the store have mostly produced games that, were I lacking new games to play, I would be interested in trying. It might be that the recommendations algorithm itself has improved but mainly it seems to be down to filtering out the things I definitely don’t want.

          Evidently there is ample room for improvement with Steam across the board, but it would be inaccurate to suggest no progress is being made.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      That said I agree a minimum number of reviews before assigning a rating would be nice.

    • John Walker says:

      I think you’ve rather ignored the word “coherent”.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        I don’t believe I have. You could label it any number of things to indicate you disagree with their direction but “incoherent” it is not. What they’re doing is both clear and consistent.

        You can make the argument that their core assumptions are flawed – personally I don’t think they are, for the most part (at least for their purposes) – or that their execution is lacking in various places – hard to deny that one – but if you look at their stated intentions and what they’ve done over time to implement those plans it’s all pretty fully coherent.

  15. haldolium says:

    Interesting enough, pretty much exactly that article crossed my mind on sunday.

    I could almost swear (almost) that there once (2 years ago?) *was* a barrier for showing an overal negative icon with less then X reviews. Maybe I’m wrong though, but it is bad and frequently misleading. Sometimes just want to download the game and give it a positive review to cancel out the dumb one liner spam (but also vice versa since “popularity” has sadly nothing to do with quality and thats just another issue right there).

    I never particular liked Valves “mystery” handling of information, but with Steam it has become really bad and damaging for the market as a whole, as they now either make hasty descisions no one ever asked for (like the Skyrim mod debacle) or as you wrote, give up responsibility entirely to other people instead of trying to create a functional system under their responsibility.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      And indeed there *is* a minimum number of reviews needed to get a specific rank (regardless of the % of the upvotes you get) :
      500 votes to get “Overwhelmingly Positive”.
      50 votes to get either “Very Positive” or “Very Negative”.
      link to docs.google.com
      But I guess that the issue is that as long as a game gets a global red “negative” “thumb down”, no-one is going to bother with it, and therefore care about the difference between “Negative” and “Very Negative” (or even “Mostly Negative”).

  16. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Well said, John. Valve’s laziness would be comical if it wasn’t so utterly pathetic. And combined with supernatural levels of greed.

    I miss the old Valve so much.

    • John Walker says:

      It’s NOT laziness, and it’s very inaccurate to take that from what I’ve said. I don’t believe for a second that anyone working at Valve is lazy.

      My guess, and it’s a guess, is that there’s a mix of uninterest in solving this problem, and dysfunction at the company that prevents its being addressed.

      • kalzekdor says:

        Being uninterested in doing something is pretty much the definition of laziness. At the very least, it’s the exact definition of apathy, and that’s close enough. Dysfunction just means there’s systematic apathy from those in charge. Which I guess is just Newell, because flatland.

        • Archonsod says:

          Depends on the kind of interest. I’d assume Valve get more money from people buying $60 AAA titles than they do from those buying $6 indie games, so the ‘problem’ is simply that it’s not in Valve’s best interests to ‘fix’ the issue. More than likely the only way Valve can actually make money on the smaller titles is if they sell proportionately more, so having a ‘sink or swim’ environment for that end of the market is probably the only viable economic model for a distributor of Valve’s size.

        • John Walker says:

          “I’m working really hard on this, because I care about this and not that,” is not laziness.

      • Premium User Badge

        basilisk says:

        I didn’t mean to imply your article claimed that. Apologies if that’s how anyone reads my comment, as it was not intended.

        And no, they’re probably not “lazy” lazy, it’s more like unwilling to use human labour, because their employees have better things to do (which they probably do, even though from the outside it really doesn’t look that way) and because they refuse to hire anyone to do this because… I honestly don’t know.

        They clearly want to set up a zero-maintenance system because they don’t want to maintain the system. Even though the system is bringing them ridiculous amounts of revenue every day, they can’t be bothered. You may not want to call that lazy, but I will.

  17. syndrome says:

    This is all fine and I’m glad that you John, are stepping forward to address this mess, but the true issue here is Steam itself.

    What does it do to earn so much money? What exactly is worth 30% of the revenue? I think somebody forgot that money should be earned, and had to be earned at some point in its past?

    Why do we need such a marketplace in the first place?

    I firmly believe that games are like people: mingle them all together and put them in a room with a cake, and you get a school full of irresponsible people while the cake is gone. “Who ate the cake?” you might ask. Silence.

    No.
    Games should be responsible for their own sake. This is the true marketplace mentality. When you encounter a stand that has bad inventory for sale, you simply go to another stand. It is not required that the market itself has some rigid rules in place, to prevent this. In all actuality, the market itself should not stand in your clear way to see the reality for what it is, it shouldn’t recommend nor compare, it shouldn’t make discounts whenever it thinks it would earn the most just from having this sort of monopoly, it shouldn’t take away anything from your transaction, just for organizing the place, it should not be the king of the school!

    This is all just the 90’s shopping mall mentality we all have to crawl out of.

    John, what is really detrimental for the state of game development is that Valve has so much impact on the value of labour that’s needed. What you’re seeing now is not only an unregulated mess that needs sorting out, but an economic necessity arising from the oppressive time management. If the game sells anyways because it’s worth 1 pound, who gives a fuck that controls are bad? Valve certainly doesn’t. It’s a flock mentality they keep catering to, it’s the Niagara Falls of money and they’re just lying around, like lazy lions, waiting for their next million to chute down in a barrel.

    No, the next step is Itch.io and its Refinery. It’s the Bandcamp of indie games, the next important milestone for gaming. And I don’t work for them, I just believe that Steam is too slothful and too unmotivated to turn itself into the future. I am very grateful for its existence, but what’s enough is enough. I find it sloppy and with its business practices, very ethically unsound, to say at least. I think we all wish for a more dignified way to discover, enjoy, buy, and share our games, as tokens of sheer human endeavor, NOT JUST PROSAIC ITEMS OF ENTERTAINMENT.

    It’s the global mentality that will change, and I have no doubts about it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      You lost me at value of labor, Aristotle.

      • syndrome says:

        Welp, you shouldn’t try to understand me, I’m just Aristotle. Don’t mind me. However, I can give you a pretty neat way of finding proper explanation just around the corner.

        For example
        Open up Google Search, and just type: “sales hurt”
        But don’t hit Enter yet! Wait for the suggestion “steam sales hurt developers”, which will be the fourth item on the list. Click on it and then try to digest the 1,240,000 various articles that explain the topic a bit further, my dear Millenial.

        I hope that helps you to understand my point much more clearly as if someone has opened up a door on your cell and you can see the Sun for the first time.

    • JonWood says:

      > What does it do to earn so much money? What exactly is worth 30% of the revenue?

      Off the top of my head: payment processing, DRM customers willingly accept, handling refunds, file storage for your game content, bandwidth to get it to customers, analytics on what how customers are playing your games (that’s what achievements are really for folks), multiplayer matchmaking, some degree of exposure to a pool of customers, a uniform build target to support Linux versions, and countless other things I can’t think of off the top of my head.

      • syndrome says:

        That’s all nice and sounds quite fair, even though things like refunds weren’t actually there until recently, while that 30% cut was like that since the Moses’s tablets, and it is, in fact, called AN INDUSTRY STANDARD. You know, the Industry of the big entertainment companies which clearly define their own standards, like Electronic Arts, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. They all simply agreed on this standards, much before you came around to answer my question with services that weren’t as such at the time those standards came about.

        But anyway, if that’s the case please try to elaborate the following business model, and how it can be sane.

        link to itch.io
        link to itch.io

        Most marketplaces have a fixed rate applied to all transactions. For most online distributors the standard has become 30%. When itch.io launched, it took a 0% cut of all transactions.

        Since March 2015, itch.io has an open revenue sharing model. Sellers can now apply the pay what you want model towards itch.io: the revenue split between the seller and itch.io is configurable by the seller. Set it to 10%, 30%, or even 0%.

        Learn more about open revenue sharing

        You might be thinking “that sounds pretty risky, what if everyone sets it to zero?” That’s a risk we’re willing to take in the spirit of encouraging the generous and supportive community that’s already developed around itch.io.

        I think you might be a victim of someone’s false rhetorics.

      • syndrome says:

        And btw, you are clearly not a developer, because if you were, you’d understand so deeply, that there is nothing Steam does that’s worth 30% of your labour while working on a game for a couple of years. Not only they aren’t helpful, they even don’t do things you expect them to do for the money they receive, and that’s exactly how Greenlight came about.

        Not to mention that the 30% cut isn’t the only one. There’s a mandatory US tax, AND your own home country tax to top it off. After they’re all done with siphoning your merits, the person who actually did it all, pouring their time, energy, and enthusiasm into navigating the legal and Steam-alike labyrinthine process without any help in the way, you get 30% net revenue for the price that is ALWAYS DEEMED AS TOO MUCH, and everyone will undermine it by buying everything on a sale.

        So that’s the case here, Steam practically partners up with customers who are also misers, preferring quantity over quality, while fucking up quality developers in the process, making them piss blood, all while generously favoring those who make them earn their 30% in vast numbers by featuring them promptly. And you can just look at the Steam Charts here on RPS to attest that. Bullshit upon bullshit, all they care about is that they roll in the dough without doing anything about their services people actually care about. Until they get the negative headlines, then they change a bit. But only just a bit.

        In the meanwhile, STEAM IS FUCKING DESIGNED TO PROMOTE GAMBLING. And there are numerous examples of this, but nothing as unambiguous to nail them with proper words, because they’ve made it like that, so they can always say “we didn’t know people would use it like that”.

        FFS is all I can say really.

        • BernardoOne says:

          The 30℅ Valve takes provides muchore than any other digital store in existence.

          You don’t need to pay the bandwidth for you game
          You don’t have to pay to use steam for matchmaking
          You don’t have to pay to support cloud saving
          You don’t have to pay to generate any amount of steam keys for your game that you can sell elsewhere and get 100% off those sales, not paying Valve a cent
          You get access to a huge potential user base
          You don’t have to pay to integrate user content on the platform and you can allow for your users to upload any mods they want. Valve automatically processes all refunds for you (you will never get hit by terribly costly chargeback fees), you will be able to make thousands of dollars at least just by including steam trading cards and backgrounds and more.

          You can’t get a better deal than this anywhere.

          • syndrome says:

            … Or in other words: you preemptively pay 30% to get access to a network no other network is comparable to.

            And there we go, we already have a name for that and it’s…. You guessed it: MONOPOLY!

  18. PseudoKnight says:

    It seems almost anything Valve does with Steam is met with an avalanche of the harshest criticism, but that’s mostly because it’s an important pillar of PC gaming. Greenlight was partly in response to community criticism that Steam was too difficult to get games on. Now the bed’s too soft. We made this bed, but rather than lay in it and do some retrospection, let’s get the pitchforks. If there’s one constant, it’s Valve’s fault and why oh why can’t they do this “easy” thing oh god.

    “increasingly nonfunctional and dysfunctional” made me laugh, as Steam is the most functional it’s ever been for me. The hyperbole in that first paragraph is amazing.

    But yes, there’s a ton of garbage on Steam Store now. The barest of evaluation could eliminate so much of it. And.. it turns out they’re already working on it. Who knew. Oh right, we knew.

    • Baines says:

      That’s not entirely fair. Both developers and the community had complained for some time that Steam’s review/vetting process was broken in multiple ways. Pretty much everyone agreed it could be fixed with more man-hours and an enforced set of rules and standards.

      Valve’s response was that they did not want to put more man-hours into the task. From the start, Greenlight’s purpose on Valve’s side was to create a vetting process that would process more games without increasing Valve’s workload. (Valve also continued to refused to be more public about its processes.)

      Once Greenlight was put into place, Valve apparently didn’t even come through on its original promises. The initial description was that the crowdsourced part would simply pick which titles Valve would put through its traditional vetting process. However, despite Valve’s refusal to explain how the system worked, people quickly started to realize that Valve’s part of the approval system appeared to simply be to rubber stamp the top-voted titles. As time passed and complaints grew against Greenlight, Valve would respond with “fixes” that appeared to further reduce Valve’s work load, rather than to be serious attempts to “fix” Greenlight.

  19. Amake says:

    I’ve never expected Steam to do anything more than distribute games over the Internet. It has a database of games, a store front to buy them and broad, stable pipes with which to download them; that’s the absolute limit of what I need it to do, and I’d say it works pretty well.

    Make getting a game on Steam cheap as dirt, I say. Make it a catalog of all the worst garbage games in the world. Build up communities by the thousands and hundreds of thousands who do their own curation, build their own wikis and search engines to find and track the games that they like, make recommendations for every conceivable taste and temperament and occasion. Everyone can get everything they want. Like democracy.

    • Palimpsest says:

      This is my thinking, too. Of course it would be nice if Steam was all clean and tidy but we can’t demand that of Valve, can we? Aren’t we giving Valve a little too much power by assuming they should control the quality of the games on their platform for us, but not asking any other games store to do the same? John, you feel obliged to trawl through games on Steam, but I’m sure you don’t feel and act the same way about the endless games that go online each day outside Steam. Maybe it’s a case of holding Valve to a standard that we, the righteous ones, set for them.

      Also, if a developer is so confident about the quality of their game, why would they just stick it on Steam knowing it would be buried after an hour? Surely the onus is on them to do the marketing and get the product in front of people’s eyes.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      My thinking, too. There’s this bizarre assumption amongst many of the proponents of the “free market will solve everything” philosophy that an actually free market is not cutthroat, not uncaring, and will not give equal opportunity for garbage to be sold alongside gems.

      As if the ideal free market will only satisfy their own preferences. I mean, ideally, theoretically, it will, just not exclusive of everyone else’s. I find it confusing that people miss that point so often.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        In the real world, a completely free market ends up with a monopoly (or a cartel). And that is what we are getting.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      This could have been achieved with a customized torrent / versioning client. But Steam would never have become the dominant distributor with that alone. Steamworks and its DRM is why it did.

  20. varangian says:

    >Many times I’ll find that games don’t even launch.

    And games that do work can suddenly stop working, about which Valve apparently gives no fucks whatsoever. A couple of weeks back I was playing Darkest Dungeon on linux – an RPS article inspired me to give it another go – and I was getting on okayish. Finished playing one night and next day Steam (not DD) updated its client when I went to resume dungeon crawling. From that point on the Steam refuses to go anywhere beyond claiming its going to launch the game.

    Since neither DD or linux had updated it was pretty easy to figure out the source of the problem but Valve do their best to avoid allowing you to actually raise a support ticket, kept on getting steered to useless FAQs or told it was the developer’s problem. Eventually I found a way to raise a ticket to which the response was ‘meh’.

    I used to rate Steam and Valve fairly highly but I have to agree with the John’s argument, Steam has turned into a sprawling mess that Valve can’t or won’t manage properly.

    • RobbieTrout says:

      This is the reason why I make the effort to stay away from Steam and similar game sources. If I pay for something, I want to own it. Steam might be cheaper than buying outright, but all you get is a rental licence — the right to access the game for as long as Steam offers it, is up and running, and is a going concern. If Steam goes out of business (and all companies do eventually, tech companies faster than most), its users will be left with nothing.

  21. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    The problem with Steam is Valve.

    Valve is famously organized as a place where everybody gets to pick the problems they want to work on. Manually reviewing dozens of (mostly crappy) games every day in the hope of finding a few that are worth recommending is the kind of dull, grinding work that nobody would pick for themselves to work on.

  22. Snargelfargen says:

    Steam is angling towards becoming a 100% content-driven platform – like facebook, or imgur for example. So the point is to get users (and this includes game developers) to generate the content themselves. That’s right, game developers are considered users of the platform in the same way as somebody who just buys games. With this, comes a push to get the user to spend more time on the platform – the more ways they can interact with the content and other users, the better. This is also why the game forums are deprecated in favour of the rather harder to navigate community pages, and why Valve have been experimenting with paying modders to generate content for games like CS GO and Skyrim.

    Much like Facebook, there is no quality control beyond the absolute necessities and the algorithms that select content are unyielding (although amusingly far behind Facebook’s so far).
    Valve is following in the footsteps of other, bigger platforms. A backlash has been generating slowly against content-driven platforms as their flaws become more apparent. See the fake news on Facebook, and the bi-annual youtuber freak-outs about changes to the recommendation algorithms. I think there will be a sea change as Facebook and others implement some degree of moderation and fine-tuning. It’s going to take time though and I can promise that Valve won’t be leading the charge. Their approach to Steam isn’t innovative, it’s incredibly orthodox.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I recently got a lovely present from the folks at work as thanks for 10 years of service: a load of Steam store credit.
    Yet it’s sat there untouched for a month now, as I honestly don’t know what to spend it on, thanks to the amount of crap being spammed on the store at the moment.

    That and I’ve been trained to wait for the sales.

    And this is even taking into account that I have used the storefront preferences to filter out Early Access and Pre-orders.

  24. Optimaximal says:

    Valve are never going to fix their curation problem because that involves employing and paying people to do it. About the only company that still does it is Apple – a practice I only believe they still do because they’re so fantastically wealthy, such money on wages is but pocket change.

    Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Spotify – all companies that have ditched human curation (read: jobs) because they think their systems can do better, for less money and thus more profit.

    In pretty much every case, (real) human beings very quickly work out how to game the systems in question – the big names know the solution to fake news, trolls, illegal/fake products, fake adverts, fake jobs and fake listens (yes, it’s a thing – link to motherboard.vice.com) is to employ people to actively prevent it, but they won’t.

    Pure greed and corporate profit trumping (hah!) all, once again.

    • John Walker says:

      As busy as Steam is, it’s a fraction of a percentage of what’s on Amazon. Amazon simply couldn’t be meaningfully curated at this point. Steam very, very easily can. And don’t underestimate Steam’s cashflow!

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        It seems obvious Valve is aiming for precisely that kind of scale in the long term, where meaningful curation is impossible. In fact they tend to argue they’ve already passed that point.

      • Premium User Badge

        subdog says:

        There are also the realities of managing a physical global supply chain that make the problem very different from a service that sells only digital goods. Even the lowest possible barrier to entry for the former requires possession and transport of a physical good.

      • Optimaximal says:

        I’m certainly not under-estimating their cashflow. It’s actually very clear they don’t want to dip into their war chest to solve the problem.

        Come on John, remember how Facebook culled it’s human curation teams in lieu of algorithms, which were then gamed to create the fake news phenomena that they had no reason to tackle until it started undermining the democracy of the western world?

        Same fundamental problem. Valve don’t want to admit their algorithm has major problems re: product discoverability.

        It clearly relies to much on simply what’s popular and how much you use the Discovery Queue system to actively say ‘stop showing me this crap!’.

        Heck, I only managed to expunge the majority of the crud from my Store front page by actively blocking the tags ‘Visual Novel’ and ‘Early Access’. Yep, I no longer get shown potentially good titles because so much shit was poisoning the well – something that could have been dealt with if a human sat back and thought ‘yeah, there’s lots of these things & they’re popular but maybe not everyone wants faux Anime porn’.

  25. davi817 says:

    This article is a good read and does give me a good thermometer reading on how poorly Steam is doing in some areas.

    However, I think the article title is misleading. The title’s premise is only handled in the penultimate paragraph.

  26. slerbal says:

    For what it is worth John, I 100% agree with you.

  27. Zhiroc says:

    I think Steam should be thought of as a storefront, and nothing more. It is not their job to curate or promote a product. They could promote something, but only if, like any other store (online or not), the producer pays them to do so. If a company wants their game to be promoted, they need to do it the way every other product does it–by marketing it themselves, whether that be through Steam or elsewhere.

    And frankly, it’s not their job to audit games for quality, at least for initial release. Sure, “defective” reports can later trigger a “recall” of a game, but I don’t see why they should take any time to vet a new game. And sometimes a “bad” game is not defective–it’s just bad. And I don’t want them or any other store making value judgments on that. In this day and age where games can be researched online to the degree where you can even watch most as a playthrough, gamers need to do their own research.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      A storefront that makes it hard to find quality products is not a storefront that can sustain itself in the long run.

      • hungrycookpot says:

        But Steam DOESN’T make it hard to find games. There’s a little search box at the top of the page, you type in the title of the game you’re looking for, and it appears in the dropdown almost instantly. Then you can buy the game with 2 more clicks, without having to pull out your credit card, or research the website you’re putting money into to see if it’s a scam, etc.

        You’re confusing “make it hard” with “not putting the all the games I don’t even know I want right in front of my face with a single click”. Steam has a pretty decent algorithm for recommending games that you might like, as long as you are good at wishlisting or following games that you like, and “not interested”ing games that you are not into. They can never programmatically tease out all the nuance and details of personal taste, and I don’t think they need to waste their time trying if they don’t want to.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Except it’s NOT “a storefront, and nothing more”. The whole reason why Steam succeeded is that there were significant software services associated with it in the form of Steamworks, the most important aspect of which was DRM (for the big, critically important publishers).

    • BlueTemplar says:

      EDIT : Woops, double post! Eh, I’ll just leave both of them…

      Thinking of Steam as a “storefront, and nothing more” – is a bit like thinking of Google as “the developers that made Android” and nothing more, forgetting about Google Services, Play Store, Google Maps, Google Search, Alphabet…

      The reason for Steam’s dominance is Steamworks :
      link to medium.com

  28. Urthman says:

    It’s a task that could be completed by a team of ten. Game is submitted to the store. Human plays game, finds it doesn’t work. Human emails developer and says, “This game doesn’t work, fix and resubmit.” Done.

    I can’t believe a PC gaming website wouldn’t recognize the actual slippery slope here.

    “What do you mean Valve only tests games on NVIDIA cards?”

    “Can you believe Valve only tests games on Windows 10, when the store clearly says they support Windows 7 and above!”

    “It’s ridiculous that Valve only plays a game for 90 minutes before claiming it works.”

    “Valve completely rejected my game and I have no idea why. It works on every PC I’ve tested it on, and they refuse to give detailed specs of their test machines lest those become the default industry hardware standard. As a developer, I’m completely screwed.”

    • John Walker says:

      No, because like I said, it wouldn’t be about that. It’s about checking the game comes with its own .exe (you’d be amazed). Just basic checks, not actual QA.

      • kalzekdor says:

        So, Windows games only, then. *Makes notation.*

        Less snarkily, this article (or perhaps more so your replies to comments) really comes off as ranting because Valve doesn’t make your job easy. You realize that game reviewers existed long before Steam, right? It’s not incumbent upon Valve to make reviewing games easier, nor is it incumbent upon them to ensure viable marketing for new games.

        I think your points are being lost, which is a shame, because they are valid and useful criticisms of Steam as a marketplace.

      • BernardoOne says:

        They already do this ( link to abload.de )
        Issue a correction in your article.

    • JonWood says:

      This is a problem that has been solved for a long, long time in the software world. They don’t even *really* need people for the most basic of checks like “does this game even have an executable”, and “can this game start without immediately crashing”. They can buy a bunch of computers – a few Nvidia cards, a few ATI ones, something with Intel graphics (they have data from their hardware survey to target a range of customers), and then for every game in the store run some automated tests to at least find out whether the game starts and remains running for a more than a few seconds

      They’re also the people who developed Steam streaming, so they’ve got everything in place already to allow a small team of game testers to fire up a game on an appropriately configured machine and try playing it. Maybe it was an exaggeration to say this could be done well be a team of ten people, but we’re also not talking about hiring hundreds to do the job either. Lets say each OS/hardware combination takes 20 minutes to do rudimentary tests that it starts and it’s playable. That’s six and a half hours per game, so more or less one game per person per day. So a team of 30, and that’s to do a reasonably thorough job of this, if you don’t really care whether every game starts on Linux machines with an AMD processor and NVidia graphics you can cut that down.

  29. Urthman says:

    Imagine a music journalist demanding that record stores only stop releasing for sale so much music because it’s getting hard for a single journalist to keep up with all the music released in every genre.

    Whatever Valve’s quality control issues, a world where there are more games than RPS can possibly keep up with is to be hoped for, not feared.

    • John Walker says:

      Er, what?

      If a music journalist complained that a music store sold music that can’t be listened to, that would seem a valid complaint, and one analogous to what’s been written here.

  30. Premium User Badge

    Herring says:

    Steam has had, has and will have problems.

    That said I think the whole “just a handful of monkeys can test all the games coming onto Steam, make sure they work and ensure their screenshots are representative” is a bit naive.

    Make sure they work?

    On what hardware? On what software? On what OS revision and patch level? Do the devs have to publish a minimum spec which Valve have to test against? Then maybe optional specs to get to the shiny screenshots used in the pictures? Valve now needs a huge test bed.

    Maybe the game requires custom hardware. The VR systems (that clearly are a total flash in the pan) are a great example. The Vive is designed to be extendable so 3rd parties can add their own bespoke components. Oculus apparently has massively varying success with varying degrees of hardware to facilitate roomscale. Got 2 cameras? 3? 4? How about a custom USB card to drive it all? USB 2? 3?

    The great strength of PC gaming (that everyone and everything can be catered for) is totally undermined by having Valve as a gatekeeper.

    Plus from a responsibility / legal perspective Valve won’t want to touch that with a 100m barge-pole.

    “But VALVE said this would work! On all hardware! And yet, it doesn’t run [Custom System] or [Custom OS] X!”

    “But VALVE said this would work! But now Microsoft has released HotFix Y [odd situation] occurs!

    “VALVE SUCKS!”

    Etc

  31. frightlever says:

    Third part curation was supposed to fix this. If you follow your chosen curators you’re unlikely to have any broken games recommended to you. There may be decent games that aren’t being recommended, but I doubt there are any GREAT games going unrecognised.

    If Steam was to get involved I assume it would be AFTER Early Access, as a game can’t truly be judged until it is released.

    So this team Steam QA team would look at released games and judge them purely on whether the game “works”? I assume the game would be tested under a variety of different graphics cards and processors, so that team of ten might well be fifty. Still not a huge number for a company like Steam. They could probably pay minimum wage and still have people fighting to do it.

    But, it’s really not going to stop a bunch of bad games getting on Steam. Should bad games be on Steam? Probably, but it does make it so much harder to find the good games.

    Me, I’d charge about $50k to list your game on Steam and gradually pay it back to the developers as copies of the games not only sell, but fall outside the Refund period (ie 14 days after purchase), to get around potential scams.

    Huge barrier for most indie developers, but you have to speculate to accumulate and I’m only suggesting a solution that’ll make my life easier. Once an indie has sold enough copies on Gog (which is a barrier to entry in itself, and not insignificant) or Itch.io or off the developer website etc. and they have the scratch available, then let them put it on Steam.

    I’ve played my fair share of indie games that have gone through the Greenlight/EA process, but usually I’ve bought them off the developers website or another indie store before they were ever listed there because the developer cared enough to have a near complete product before tacking Steam.

    Anyone that’s just dumping their games into Greenlight and hoping for the best, is probably a pretty risky prospect, and the ones that subsequently get through have been doing so by gaming the system with the promise of free keys and fake votes. That’s what happens when there’s a low barrier to entry.

  32. Kefren says:

    Personally, I’m most bothered about how buggy the Steam client is, and how poor Steam help is. I’ve reported a problem to them a number of times. I can’t view the EULAs in Steam that I have to “agree to” in order to play the games. Which makes that whole system pointless. I’ve reported it. Usually there is no response. Occasionally they send me links to whole pages of “things to try” (none of them work). Or they get mixed up with someone else’s reports, and send instructions that are clearly nothing to do with mine. What they don’t do is read what I say, realise that it is fairly easily fixable (integrating certain elements into the Steam client better so that they aren’t blocked by a firewall), then passing that on to the software devs to implement. When basics like that fall apart, I can’t see how they can really do anything well.

  33. Landiss says:

    Personally I don’t think it’s a problem with Steam. It’s the problem with all our new corporation overlords. Similar article could be written about YouTube or Uber. I really don’t think this approach is something Valve is doing without a deep strategy behind it and it’s definitely not about not paying 10 people. I honestly hope the strategy will finally stop working, but it doesn’t look like it.

    I think steam might be at a point that nothing will break it safe a real catastrophe or an action by regulatory offices. It’s so incredibly comfortable to have all your games at one place, ready to be played any time* you want, any place* you want (*”as long as it’s black”). People are not going to leave that service without a good reason.

    • epeternally says:

      And people can shop at Steam’s competitors while still remaining in the Steam ecosystem. You can shop at a more tightly curated store, Humble Store actually kind of already accomplishes this, and still keep 100% of your games on Steam. This makes any new platform a nonstarter, short of allowing people to carry over games ala GOG Connect. At this point nothing will ever separate Valve from PC gaming. I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate, but by allowing developers to freely generate keys, they’ve assured the unbreakable monopoly of their platform, even if that comes at the cost of small chunks of direct revenue.

  34. Viral Frog says:

    While I do agree that Valve could easily do more to actually try to improve the store, I can’t help but be irritated when people expect Valve to fix everything for them. A lot of the problems with the Steam store have risen out of pure laziness on the part of the consumers.

    It is insanely easy to do more research on a title to find out if it’s actually worthwhile. It is stupendously easy to find the “hidden” gems, because all you have to do is click through a list. Whether you find that list from the New Releases, Top Sellers, Upcoming, or Specials tabs from the front page, or search for specific tags.

    I agree that Valve shouldn’t expect us to fix it’s mess but, at the same time, they have demonstrated that they will not be doing anything to fix it anytime soon. So with that knowledge, why be lazy? Why sit and complain about something that won’t change? In the world today, you have access to any bit of information that you could ever possibly want with the press of just a few buttons. You’ll spend more time complaining than looking up gameplay videos, reviews, etc.

  35. radio_babylon says:

    i am on the fence with this issue. on the one hand, yes, there is definitely a problem with discoverability and bad signal to noise in the way games are listed and presented to customers… but on the other hand, i really dont want valve taking on the role of gate keeper, even in a limited fashion (up to and including doing minimal QA on submissions)…

    what is needed is much smarter software on the store. id like to see valve work with (or hire away from) netflix to develop automated preference-based curation. while it isnt perfect, netflix’s recommendation heuristicts are really really good. frightfully good. i find that it is more often wrong on the low end of the scale, in that it may think id 1-star or 2-star something that i turn out to think is 4-star, but on the high end, if netflix thinks i would 5-star something, 95% of the time it is right… even when id have bet a stack of money it was wrong and i would hate what it was recommending.

    it seems to me that the same kind of automated curation and recommendation could work for steam. replace up/down ratings with 5-point ratings, add a brief 3-5 question evaluation survey with reviews for performance, function, etc… then aggregate this information combined with refund rates, user tags, time played, etc to more intelligently present games to users. games that dont work would quickly get pushed to the bottom, and niche games with a narrower audience would have a better chance of being presented to customers that would appreciate them.

    valve has metrics out its ears on how games are played, when and where and by whom and for how long and on what hardware. why it isnt leveraging that data, i will never understand. it would lead to more sales and happier customers.

    • kalzekdor says:

      Interesting that you bring that up. Some years ago I actually participated in an open contest Netflix held (with a substantial cash reward) to develop the best rating prediction algorithm. I didn’t come near the top (some big lab team won, if I recall correctly), but my entry was scoring just under 3% better than what Netflix was using at the time on the test data set.

      Valve might be able to do something similar. Though, Netflix did get sued for breach of privacy, even though the data sets were completely anonymized. Just a number and a series of movie ratings. Even if you could turn that into a real identity, you would have to already have access to a list of known movie likes/dislikes attached to that identity. All you could learn is that they were (at some point) a Netflix customer… I wonder if anything ever came of that suit. *Off to check.*

  36. Slashman says:

    I’m sorry but this article is simply making a mountain out of a molehill. Steam has a huge number of games on it. When indie game development really took off (helped along in no small part by Steam itself), everyone and his brother decided that they wanted to develop games.

    We praised this for a good long while, then all of a sudden we realized what this meant. For every FTL, for every World of Goo, for every Darkest Dungeon there were two or three dozen forgettable garbage titles. The dynamic started to push away from a AAA-publisher controlled world to something where everyone got a chance (worthwhile or not) to put their games out there. It’s what we die-hard PC fans claimed to have wanted. But now that we have it, we want to dial it back.

    At the end of the day, Steam has done more for PC gaming in the last decade than pretty much any one else. And if you ask any seasoned developer worth a damn, they will tell you the same. Saturation of the market is NOT Steam’s fault, it is what we asked for. You, thinking you’re missing some rare hidden gems because you won’t use the myriad sources at your disposal to find games you might like to play (but probably don’t have the time for anyway), is not Steam’s fault.

    You can’t possibly play every great game on Steam in the first place! My wishlist alone is close to 200 items!

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      Agreed, I think it’s as intended. If the game has like 2 reviews or doesn’t even work at the very least Steam reviews will sometimes still warn you. Then there’s just people who don’t fucking care; H1Z1 has had a ton of negative reviews and recreatable consistent issues yet it’s still top 10 in Steam’s popularity charts.

      Half the games you list are from nobodies and look like nobody games. No one in their right mind would look at “Bloody Boobs” and think, yeah, this is going to be a high quality game without issues, but if you buy it and it is you can just get your damn refund and right a Steam review to warn the next person.

      Saying that it shouldn’t be there in the first place is wrong. No one but ME, the consumer, should get to decide that and with the economics of buying power. Like I said in my other posts you don’t get to slap a diet coke out of my hand or refuse to ring up beef because you think chicken is better at the supermarket and the same should be the case for the entertainment industry.

  37. Merry says:

    I wonder about the validity of the opposite extreme—reducing Steam to a service with a comprehensive API, so that anyone can write a shop front or a launcher

    At present, the Steam API is very limited. I would like to be able to create a list of, say, all stealth games in my library that aren’t installed. But the tags assigned to a game aren’t accessible via the API, and nor is the installed status

    Opening up the database and providing for people to write some useful software would seem to be a really simple and cheap way to get a better interface written. Valve could then cherry pick the best ideas if they wished, in much the same way as they generated their list of game tags.

    • Baines says:

      Valve has had that idea for years. I think it would result in a mess.

      We know what publisher-created store fronts would be like, as publishers have their own store fronts anyway. You’d be sacrificing the benefits of the Steam store (where everything is for better or worse together) for no gain.

      As for user-created store fronts, just look at Curators for an idea of how that would turn out. You’d just be spreading the same discoverability problems to the store fronts themselves. Certain store fronts would rise to the top while others would vanish into obscurity. Store fronts would stop being updated as creators lose interest, and new games would be buried even further.

      • Merry says:

        I don’t think Valve has had the idea. I see no evidence of it. The API as it stands is too limited to write anything very useful, and it’s certainly impossible to offer storefront or launcher functionality with the tools as they are

        I wasn’t considering publisher-created storefronts, although I guess they may want to give it a try. It would be easy to write something into Valve’s terms of service that made sure that all Steam games were represented

        I think you’re underestimating rhe capability of users, who are at precisely the right place to know what a useful interface would look like, and many will have the skills to create it; the standard of some game mods makes that evident. Longevity and quality would be assured if the facility is monetised in some way

        I don’t see the relevance of the curator pages, which are just lists of games that those people particularly like

    • Landiss says:

      Valve does not have a business reason to do that. They have monopoly, it’s reasonable for them to fight to keep it like that. Now they control everything, if they put resources to do what you want, they will lose control over a big part of it (what products are promoted, how reviews work, where people go to shop in their store). They have barely anything to gain from that, a lot to lose and it would require expenses to make. No, I don’t see that happening in the current circumstances.

  38. nimbulan says:

    Steam certainly has problems, but it still doesn’t have any real competition. Sure there are a number of other digital distribution platforms which have achieved some amount of success, mostly by acting as DRM for first-party games, but all of them are seriously lacking in features compared to Steam and seem to have shown little interest in expanding their services both to more features and more games.

    • Baines says:

      Steam holds the market, and there is little that competition can do to break that hold. There currently may honestly be nothing the competition can do, short of multiple stores and multiple major publishers uniting against Steam. It is really Valve’s game to lose, rather than anyone else’s game to win.

      Not that the current competition even really tries any more. Amazon was real competition, but changes in management there caused them to effectively drop out of that fight. EA and Origin are restricted by their reputations, and have trouble convincing other publishers to join them. GOG doesn’t have the level of new game support, and the moves necessary to grow also risk the store’s identity. Humble arguably has the support and the reach to now compete, but also has one of the worst digital store fronts online.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        3 major digital distribution channels *did* unite against Steam in 2009, boycotting Modern Warfare 2 because it used Steamworks :
        link to cinemablend.com
        Fast forward to now, and all 3 of them either disappeared, or became just another Steam key reseller.

  39. ResonanceCascade says:

    I averaged buying probably 40 games per year on Steam between 2010 and 2013. Now I buy maybe five.

    (Presumably other people are buying more, because all the user numbers keep going up and Valve is double down instead of backpedaling, but I’d love to know what those people are thinking.)

    Between the shitty state of the platform and the nonexistent state of Valve games that aren’t just remakes of mods, why does anyone even like this company right now?

  40. Sombra says:

    “The problem with your massive book store, is that it contains a vast amount of books, and I, due to some crippling mental deficiency, cannot differentiate between a good book and a poor book.”

    • Buggery says:

      The problem with your bookstore is that it is a vending machine that contains a massive number of books, many of which appear to not contain any words printed on them, and many of which spontaneously combust when you pick them up.

      When I have tried to talk to a staff member about these exploding books there are none to be found and only a suggestions box with which to leave comments.

  41. Caml says:

    I’mma throw in my beef with their text-only Support as well- It took me a week to convince someone via email that my Link was broken, which could have been taken care of with a 15-minute phone call.

  42. Tuco says:

    Sounds like another chapter of “Valve gave us all exactly what we asked and we all found out we don’t actually like it”.

    I remember when the issue was Valve attempting curation, which “given their dominant position makes them the judges of what can sell on PC and what not”.

  43. Snowskeeper says:

    The number of people ready to defend Steam’s right to sell nonfunctional games is sort of confusing.

    • Optimaximal says:

      We currently have entire portions of the population of many countries arguing that broken administrations and economies heading towards cliffs are ‘good things’ because it justifies voting decisions and/or religious & political beliefs.

      Confirmation Bias etc.

    • Buggery says:

      People love to engage with their favourite brands and will chomp at the bit to savage anyone who would critique them. To them Valve boils down to an obese man with a knife collection and a small library of very good games, rather than the increasingly more clunky and unhelpful storefront that he spends his days running.

      For others, Steam is the place where they launch their games and where they once bought several titles for less than a dollar each. There may be some associative bias where they combine the low price with the relative quality of those games.

      Personally my memories are of the frustrating time when Steam was brand spanking new and required to play HL2 – in an age where dial-up was still common. Come to think of it, Steam practically invented the day 1 patch.

  44. Stevostin says:

    The only real issue I’ve got with steam is that I can’t lasso select a bunch of games an move them from one category to another. Steam apparently fails to acknowledge it makes us own so many games.

    Apart from that I’ve designed enough browsing UI to know that there is no magical solution to browse efficiently in a multitude of game. That’s why I rarely make buying decision on steam (aside of reviews oc, especially since you have a latest reviews category). Actually if they were doing a great job, RPS would probably be out of business. I make my buying decisions mainly here. Who else ?

  45. cardboardcity says:

    Yes, but it’s the same story across the Wild, Wild Web, isn’t it? A clever blog post or star rating system is now our substitute for a real person’s discernment over what is good and what is bad, or what doesn’t even work. Look at the cesspool at goodreads for an example. So it’s all reduced to “marketing.”

    There are few curators or editors wherever you look. The reason for this is that outside of “real journalism,” few people appreciate the function of these roles. Consumers assign all the work to creative genius filtered through an algorithm. Being an editor (I was one) or “curator” is hard work, requires real-life experience, and costs money.

    For the time being, until people learn the value of having real-life, expert editors, a lot of this is on the consumer, I’m afraid. I’m extremely skeptical of anything I see regarding reviews of anything. If I see a game (or book or anything else) that has just 1 rating, well I disregard that whether it’s positive or negative. Maybe the lone reviewer is a friend of the family, doesn’t like the genre, or just had gas.

    The big negative of course is that the little guys get pushed out and only the big companies, with big ad budgets and an army of click farmers, get noticed. Steam is terrible at leads (like amazon and goodreads), that why we like RPS.

    And getting the “community” to do your work for free is the ultimate in cynicism. This is a pet peeve of mine. It’s like releasing a game that has known major faults or that is going to require patches and even DLC to work or to satisfy some baseline of being entertaining. This has always been a problem; at the bottom is the evergreen fact that “ad sales promised what production can’t deliver.”

  46. HothMonster says:

    Well surely everyone saw this coming back when people were complaining that Valve was a gatekeeper and were making it to hard for indies to get on Steam so they could get that sweet sweet attention and money. The floodgates opened and the scale finally tipped fully the other way. Getting on Steam used to be a guaranteed payday now you’re just lost among all the other flotsam. Certainly there is something between the pre-greenlight system and today that would actually work but damned if anyone can agree what it is. Though I think we should all be able to agree that someone should be making sure a game actually launches, the controls work and the game is what the store page claims.

    Clearly this is partly Valve’s problem. They “only hire the best” so they don’t want a department of people willing to do mundane work that “the best” would find beneath them. I think this is the same cultural issue that is the bane of their customer service. They don’t want a couple hundred 12$ an hour employees. But they are no longer, and have not been for a very long time, a small developer running a niche digital games store. Sorry guys you have tens of millions of users you need to hire the lowly support guys a business that size should have.

    On the reverse do we demand too much? We want curation so we are not flooded with nonsense but not too much curation that our favorite gem would have trouble getting on there. And of course what some people call nonsense someone else calls their favorite genre. So while what you are asking for isn’t much don’t act like they should have curation has a simple answer. This isn’t a traditional problem, Best Buy doesn’t have too many indie games crowding their shelves because they just don’t stock anything without a major publisher. Even like a local record store at best has a small section of local labels and that band that is old buddies with the owner. If you want floor space you pay someone with the reputation to get you some. Not a decade ago the internet at large decided that Valve was being too stingy with it’s infinite floorspace and so now it is packed with infinite junk. So we want everything to be able to get on Steam except what we subjectively don’t think should be on there, or everything but not so much of it we can’t see anything.

    You seem to imply that just getting on Steam should be advertising, how long it is visible on the storefront. That they have any obligation to sell your game for you instead of having algorithms that support titles that have good external marketing. You sell your game well, people buy it on Steam then Steam will push it to more people. It still needs an external kick start though. It can’t show me every game that has been released or grown popular since the last time I looked at the store. Even if every new game had a big fancy page it would only be there for 24 hours until a whole new heard of games shows up. You shouldn’t be relying on them to make you visible. You need to foster your own audience.

    Personally if I’m looking at a game on Steam I’ve already heard about it. I don’t look for new cool unheard of games. I have too many heard of games that I will never get around to playing as it is. I rely on friends, reviewers, lets plays and general internet buzz to find the things worth finding out there. Maybe the world greatest game ever made got buried in their somewhere and no one ever heard of it and it sitting on steam for 1.50$ waiting for anyone with the slightest amount of outreach to play it but I doubt it, the internet as a whole seems to do a pretty good job of shifting through the chaff.

    • Slashman says:

      Hothmonster has the right of it. Being indie is now no longer any sort of guarantee you will succeed. Regardless of the quality of your game, you need to make sure it reaches people before it hits Steam. How you do that with a limited indie budget is going to determine the success of your title (as long as your game is decent in the first place).

    • 2Ben says:

      Exactly. Marketing must be done outside of Steam, which is just the place where you to go buy what you selected outside, bu hearsay, RPS reviews, advertisement, whatever.
      Sure, when going to buy, you might pick up one or two extra things that were promoted at that moment, like you’d pick up a pack of chewing gum while queuing up at the cashier in Walmart, but saying that Walmart queue should be the main marketing effort for your game is utterly doomed to fail.
      As for tastes, indeed I’m happy with the current openness, and would welcome more. I know Japanese Visual Novels have bad press on RPS, but I happen to like them a lot and I’m very happy to have a good selection on Steam, that a lot here call junk. Try Love Ribbon, CLANNAD, etc. I wish Kana Imouto was there, and many others. Uncensored, please.

  47. virtenebris says:

    I think the main problem is in fact the huge overload on Indie games, most of which, no disrespect to the respective creator(s), are pretty crappy.

    Then you have the release stream of 1/2/3 A titles, most of which create a flood of bad reviews on day one, sometimes because the game is bad, or the developer is greedy beyond all recognition, but sometimes also, because kids nowadays don’t know how to maintain their computer properly anymore; so you get endless complaints, and all it would take would be to update a driver, clean the computer, or just generally realize, that a PC is not a console, and therefore far more complicated due to the sheer endless hardware combinations a game has to deal with.

    So, in part it’s bad games, in part it’s bad content population by Steam, in part it’s AAA titles, that are released too early, often with highly over-estimated system requirements, or poorly optimized.

    I think it would also help if reviews are a little more categorized. I don’t think it is fair for a game to still have a day-one, or week-one negative review as one of the most liked reviews still months into it, when issues have already been addressed, only because initially everyone was agreeing with it.

    Then again, I suppose Steam could be a lot worse, I’ve not really had any issues, and frankly, I don’t buy many games anymore, because I don’t have the time, or I haven’t even played the ones I’m interested in. I also don’t have the latest computer at home, so if I hear a game is poorly optimized, I’m not even bothering.

    I’m not really sure how to better structure Steam, but it seems like an Indie game landfill these days; the sad part is, there are a lot of Indie titles that are good, but they certainly don’t get the exposure.

  48. tslog says:

    It’s unbelievable to me the valve doesn’t have a worse name then it already has.

    They are anti-consumer fuck-ups who have reacted way too late to every problem they have Initiated.

    I’m sick to death of these tech types who have infected themselves with a parasitic of libertarian attitudes that the market will solve it all. It Never has and never will.

    And as for discovery, how many times do I have to see games like dead effect, far cry, solarius, painkiller….. and other old or unworthy trash on steams top page that’s taking vital time and discovery away from much better games.

    • rochrist says:

      Because lord knows,no one should every be allowed to buy Far Cry or Painkiller ever again, amirite?

      • The K says:

        You got it. Only indie games are real games. Everyone who even likes one AAA title is no “real” gamer, of course. As much as i like some indie games, im really sick of the “Its Indie so its gooooold” attitude by now..

  49. level12boss says:

    “the cruel and arbitrary madness of user reviews”

    I had a great chuckle over this line in the piece

    Never has the tyranny of the aggrieved amateur been so well summarized

  50. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Arkham Asylum, shit for most people but flawless for others. Dishonored 2, great for most people but shit for a few.

    Why should Valve do the testing for devs?

    What your asking for is Valve to do the testing for small indy devs on the one hand and shysters on the other. Not what they’re there for. Hope they never do. I can navigate the market myself thankyou very much…if a £2.50 platform game turns out to be shite then boohoo, I’ll live.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Why should Valve do the testing for devs?

      For the same reason that a restaurant owner should taste their food before selling it to customers.

      I mean, christ, why would you NOT want to make sure your own stock actually does what you’re saying it does? Never mind the fact that Steam takes a direct cut of sales in return for its “service” to devs. The least they could do is let a dev know if they’re somehow unaware that they’ve screwed up before releasing the game in a state that’ll get it permanently branded.

      • rochrist says:

        Not remotely the same thing. The restaurant COOKS the damn food.

        • Sin Vega says:

          I didn’t say it was the same thing, I said it was for the same reason: because you’re a business who is selling something to customers and the onus is on you to ensure that whatever you are selling is actually what you say it is.

          Christ.

          • The K says:

            Your analogy is absolutely shite, though. Valve isnt the restaurants owner, and doesnt employ the cook. They just get the food from the restaurant to the door of the client. So, no, its not their job to make sure the game runs well. Its the goddamn developers job.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            First: calm down; Jesus.

            Second: Steam doesn’t employ the cooks. The cooks are freelancers. But while it isn’t Steam’s responsibility to make the food works, it is Steam’s responsibility to not serve up empty plates, or food made of cardboard. This isn’t about quality assurance; this is about functionality assurance.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            Exactly just like the mall tests all the food in the food court every day.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            No, but most malls do try to make sure the stalls they hire are serving actual food, and not piles of cardboard or empty plates. They also make sure that their stalls aren’t likely to kill anyone, as that is bad for business.

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            And no one ever gets food poisoning or an unsatisfying meal in a mall.

          • Snowskeeper says:

            And undoubtedly games that don’t function properly would continue to make their way onto Steam even with people testing them, but the problem is that, currently, nobody is even bothering to check. This is the equivalent of the mall not caring whether their stalls serve raw horse slathered with chicken-based salmonella in their food or not. Which, yes, is significantly more dangerous than nonfunctional games, because there is no real food equivalent of a nonfunctional videogame, but I’m not the one who decided to roll with the food analogy.

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