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Valve Explains Steam's Game Recommendations, Design Challenges

Valve published a blog post explaining how it approaches Steam's development. It's the first in a series of three posts related to the marketplace's goals, how some have exploited the store, and the publishing fee game studios will have to pay when Steam Direct goes live some time this Spring.

Steam is all but ubiquitous in PC gaming. Consumers and publishers alike rely on the platform to buy and sell games. That means every change Valve makes is scrutinized by many people--which is probably why the company is publishing these blog posts. Steam has changed a lot in recent months, whether it's by adding native support for various controllers, requiring developers to use in-game screenshots on store pages, or restricting the gifting system. The replacement of Greenlight with Steam Direct is bound to shake things up even more still.

Hence this post. In it, Valve explained that it needs to serve many disparate groups with Steam, even if they have opposing desires. Here's the company's list of the types of players Steam must keep happy:

Players who are highly connected to the online game community & conversations, and players who are totally unconnectedPlayers who browse the store looking for a game, and players who arrive already knowing the title they're looking forPlayers who come to the store once a month, and players who visit multiple times a dayPlayers who just want to buy the latest AAA title, and players who want to search for hidden gemsPlayers who want to play titles earlier in their development, and get involved in their evolutionPlayers who want games with specific attributes, such as a type of gameplay, support for a specific technology, translation to their local language, etc

That's a lot of disparate groups. Steam also has to appeal to various developers, from AAA publishers making games that appeal to many people to indie studios targeting a specific niche. Balancing all of those needs in a single place would be no easy feat. It's kind of like expecting a store to be Walmart, a mom-and-pop shop, and a novelty store all in one. Yet that's exactly what Valve wants Steam to be, which is why it's made so many changes in recent months, and why it will continue to change Steam until it's finally cracked whatever code allows it to be all things to all people.

But the post wasn't just devoted to explaining how Valve approaches Steam's development. The company also announced a new feature meant to make the store's recommendations a little easier to understand. Instead of just knowing the store thinks you'll like a game, now you'll know why it thinks that, thanks to a small box listing the "reasons you might like this game." Factors include a title's similarity to games you've already played, how well users have rated the game, whether it's recommended by curators you follow, and how many friends own or want the game themselves.

"This section will let you see inside the black box, and understand what the Store is thinking," Valve said. "We hope it will be useful whenever you're exploring the Store, but in particular, whenever you've navigated from an external web page directly to a specific game's Store page. In those cases, this section will help you understand whether or not this game is something the Store would recommend to you. In other cases, you might be more or less interested in something the store recommends if you know exactly why it's recommending it. For instance, knowing that a particular friend or curator likes or dislikes a game might make it clearer whether you'd like it. Finally, if the store recommends something you know you're not interested in, you'll be able to see where its decision making is going wrong, and tell us about it."

Valve said its next post will cover how "bad actors have been gaming the Store algorithms to create revenue for themselves, which confuses our algorithms enough that it starts serving customers less effectively" and discuss "some changes that we believe should tackle the problem." The third post will relate to Steam Direct's publishing fee and how the company "approached this decision." In the meantime, Valve said that it hopes these blog posts will inspire discussions among Steam users, so you can let the company now how you feel about its decisions.

Several people have already let Valve know that they want to change Steam gifting back to its previous iteration, which allowed you to purchase games as gifts and give them away whenever you wanted. The new system requires you to give the gift right away, which means you can't buy a game on sale to give away as a birthday gift later in the year, for example. Suffice it to say that many people aren't happy about this change to the gifting system.

  • Xenophage2112
    Steam has come a loooong way from its first versions. I used to hate Steam, now I consider it indispensable, and by far the best online gaming and digital distribution platform in the world. From mod support, to community tools, to the giant library of games, to movies and productivity software, to live streaming, etc. - Steam rocks, and Valve rocks for making it.
    Reply
  • KirbyKirby
    I love Steam, though if I can get the same game on GoG for about the same price I'll get it there since it's DRM free. Steam's DRM isn't too bad though.

    My only problem with the Steam storefront at the moment is I spent a lot of time playing one sandbox survival game with some friends and then it started showing me non-stop zombie horror recommendations, which I can't stand.
    Reply
  • RomeoReject
    Same here.

    Hey, you have a survival game in your inventory that you've never even bothered to play. Clearly you love survival games, so we'll recommend 349457840 more of them to you.
    Reply
  • targetdrone
    Steam really needs to do something because their current recommendation system is total garbage.

    If I click "Not Interested" on 8 War hammer 40,000 games, That means I'm not interested in the 9th or 10th game!


    BTW: I don't have nor have I played ANY Warhammer game!
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    19665440 said:
    Steam has come a loooong way from its first versions. I used to hate Steam, now I consider it indispensable, and by far the best online gaming and digital distribution platform in the world. From mod support, to community tools, to the giant library of games, to movies and productivity software, to live streaming, etc. - Steam rocks, and Valve rocks for making it.

    And even though they have had a few mess ups, like Greenlights first iteration, you can tell they do try to focus on gamers in many ways.

    19669183 said:
    Same here.

    Hey, you have a survival game in your inventory that you've never even bothered to play. Clearly you love survival games, so we'll recommend 349457840 more of them to you.

    What about people who would be interested in those and just might not be playing it yet? I have plenty of games I have not played yet but plan to eventually play and similar titles wouldn't hurt.

    For example, I enjoy Terraria and did play it a lot. But I got Starbound and waited till much later to start but was suggested 7 Days to Die which I also enjoy.

    19669232 said:
    Steam really needs to do something because their current recommendation system is total garbage.

    If I click "Not Interested" on 8 War hammer 40,000 games, That means I'm not interested in the 9th or 10th game!


    BTW: I don't have nor have I played ANY Warhammer game!

    It goes based on similar genres not game title. That's why you keep getting the next Warhammer game, its genre is the same.
    Reply
  • RomeoReject
    19672471 said:
    What about people who would be interested in those and just might not be playing it yet? I have plenty of games I have not played yet but plan to eventually play and similar titles wouldn't hurt.

    For example, I enjoy Terraria and did play it a lot. But I got Starbound and waited till much later to start but was suggested 7 Days to Die which I also enjoy.
    I haven't even played the survival game, I got it with a bundle. I also avoid multiplayer like the plague. So it's really batting a thousand in my case.
    Reply
  • mlee 2500
    I couldn't agree more with Xenophage...spot on.

    We can however be forgiven for initially suspecting, many years ago, that Steam was just another DRM related scheme in cahoots with the publisher and which, even worse, required you to be online/connected for no conceivably good reason...and what's with this agent I have to have installed!?!! No thanks I'll stick to my physical media.....

    I'm glad to have been proven wrong, they have been an advocate for Gamers, kept the developers and publishers honest, and added immense value.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    19673474 said:
    19672471 said:
    What about people who would be interested in those and just might not be playing it yet? I have plenty of games I have not played yet but plan to eventually play and similar titles wouldn't hurt.

    For example, I enjoy Terraria and did play it a lot. But I got Starbound and waited till much later to start but was suggested 7 Days to Die which I also enjoy.
    I haven't even played the survival game, I got it with a bundle. I also avoid multiplayer like the plague. So it's really batting a thousand in my case.

    Again it goes based on genres and tags. If you have a game with similar tags/genre it will suggest it. Much like if you google "socks" your adds will all of the sudden become sock related.
    Reply