A lot happened with Steam in 2018, for better or worse. While unsurprisingly skirting around the worst of their problems, Valve’s Steam Blog breakdown of 2018 here makes for an interesting read. The company are clearly proud of the enormous tonnage of data they’ve distributed (15.39 exabytes), and go on to further chart the growth of gamepad usage on PC. Valve also showcase some of their new technologies; Steam TV, a reworked Steam Chat system and new content filtering systems to help navigate their vastly more open platform. Most importantly, they break down some of their plans for 2019, including (to nobody’s surprise) more algorithms to help make sense of the sprawling store and its 30,000 games.
For all their changes and improvements, there’s a clear sense of dissatisfaction with how much Valve are charging for their services. A 30% revenue cut on all but the most successful games is a lot, and according to Operation Tell Valve All The Things (an anonymous poll of developers, organised by independent developer Lars Doucet), only a small percentage of developers believe Valve is earning their keep. These numbers are down very significantly compared to 2017.
Valve’s proposed changes for Steam in 2019 probably aren’t going to win over those dissatisfied developers. Top of their to-do list is a new recommendation engine “powered by machine-learning”. Given the trouble caused even recently by Valve’s over-reliance on algorithmic curation, I’m a little sceptical. Valve also plan to roll out the store officially to China, and have partnered with MMO giant Perfect World in order to do so.
One of the more static pieces of Steam in recent years – the library panel – is due for an update, say Valve. The new system will be “built on top of the technology we shipped in Steam Chat”, whatever that means. Just so long as it doesn’t make launching games any more of a hassle, I’ll be content. There’s a new events system on the way, enabling users to highlight tournaments, streams or in-game challenges. Hopefully better than the current clunky pop-ups.
There are plans to open up Steam TV to “support all games”, making it sound a bit more like a Twitch competitor. Steam TV started big with the recent Dota 2 International tournament, and later was used to showcase Artifact. Steam Chat is also due an upgrade on mobile, adding animated GIF support. A minor change, but nice. Valve are also expanding the Trusted Matchmaking system from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to all games, which should help keep cheaters out of casual match-ups. Hopefully.
Lastly, perhaps of more interesting in Asian territories (I’m unaware of even a single internet cafe in this part of Wales), Valve are rolling out a new Steam PC Cafe Program. I feel that China is going to be a vital market for Steam over the next year or two. The seemingly overnight success of Chinese games and mods such as Bright Memory and Dota Auto Chess suggests that demographics are changing for the formerly American-centric store.
None of these changes sound bad on paper, but it seems like their plans are, as always, centered around more automated systems that Valve expect to run themselves. Not surprising, but I doubt it’ll help them earn back the goodwill they lost over the past year, especially with Epic and their new store throwing their weight around, and major publishers such as Ubisoft looking to take their leave entirely. It feels like Valve should be doing a lot more in 2019, but they still seem to be adjusting at their own glacial pace.