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Steam Labs' new experiment tries to solve the tagging problem

What's in a tag?

Steam Labs is back with another experiment and this time Valve are attempting to solve discrepancies in human communication with computers. You know how Steam do. Humans can't ever seem to agree on how to classify games. What exactly is a "soulslike"? How about a roguelike or a roguelike-like? Is Stardew Valley a simulation? Not really, but we call it one. Steam is teaching its computers some logic so that it can give you better results when you search by tags.

Valve wrote a ton of words on the subject today as they're wont to do but really it all boils down to this: users and developers both get to assign tags to games but nobody can ever agree on an exhaustively correct list when there are so many redundant tags in Steam's system. Lots of games are tagged as "RTS" but not all of those are also tagged with "Real-time" and "Strategy." Steam now knows that if you ask for "Action-Adventure" you probably also want to see anything which is tagged with both "Action" and "Adventure".

Valve say it most succinctly with a baked goods metaphor: "when you ask for peanut-butter flavored snacks, we don’t forget to include peanut-butter-and-chocolate cookies (but rest assured, we won’t return any chocolate snacks that don’t also have peanut-butter)."

It seems like sort of a bandage over the gaping wound of ineffective human communication and mutually-agreed-upon categories but I suppose Valve can't invent the cure for that. They say this is just the first step in improving their tag system and they'll be monitoring results before they begin combining it with other Steam discovery tools like browsing and recommendations.

Look, I just want to find more games like Stardew Valley. As it is, I run several different searches with various combinations of "casual," "farming sim," and "life sim."

You can find the new tagging experiment in the Steam Labs section of Steam.

By the by, Valve also published their list of top releases for March but there aren't really any surprises to be had. Just about every new game you've heard of from last month is on the list (Half-Life: Alyx, Doom Eternal, Mount & Blade 2: Bannerlord, etc) and many, many more that you haven't did not make the cut.

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Lauren Morton