Developers who want to change their game’s internally scheduled release dates on Steam will be required to get in touch with Valve, the company have confirmed. Previously, the dates could be edited at will, which caused confusion and potentially manipulation of the store’s list of upcoming releases. In terms of helping visibility on the platform, this update feels slightly like a candle in a heavy fog, but hey, every little helps.
The change first gained attention thanks to a screenshot shared on Reddit by a user called HeadlessIvan. “Your intended release date is currently set as “Sep 19, 2019”. If you need to make changes to this date, please contact Valve,” it reads. Developers will apparently need to provide a reason for the new date, and be “pretty certain” that it’s the day the game will actually be released.
In confirming the change to PCGamesN, Valve also said that they would be sending reminders to developers two weeks before their games’ planned releases, to check whether they’re still accurate.
HeadlessIvan’s post is titled “Finally the end of release date abuse in Steam.” This is a reference to a problem surfaced in March of this year regarding the platform’s “Popular Upcoming” list, which is supposed to show games that have been often wishlisted and will be available shortly. However, developers could state that their game was coming out whenever they liked. Theoretically, they could repeatedly push back the date, keeping their game in the list despite it actually being far-off.
Mike Rose, founder of publisher No More Robots, detailed the issue on Twitter, sharing concerns that it would push actually upcoming games off and/or make Steam users disregard the list. At the time, Valve employee Tom Giardino responded that “it frustrates us for the same reasons it frustrates you, but it’s also super important that devs get to control their own release timing so we don’t want to mess with that.”
This update does mean developers are still technically in control of their release dates, albeit with an extra hurdle. If it’ll have an effect on the Popular Upcoming list, it’ll probably take a while to show, as previously scheduled release dates go by. Many of the games currently listed are indeed due to release next week, like Zachtronic’s visual novel Eliza. However, top of the list at the time of writing is Valhall, an early access stab ‘em up that’s been in early access for a few months but doesn’t seem to be launching in 1.0 imminently.
Keeping people from gaming the system and potentially giving more games the chance to appear in the upcoming list is good, albeit not a fix for the platform's discoverability issues. But of course, release dates change for all kinds of reasons, and developers whose games inaccurately ended up in the Popular Upcoming tab weren’t always intentionally gaming the system.
Plus, all of this refers to internal data. Developers very often make their store pages before knowing when the game will be completed, and can be as vague as they’d like in their outward-facing date, so it seems strange that they need to be more specific in the timings they give to Valve in the first place. Or, it does until you remember that we are all of us toys to the capricious whims of the algorithm.