As most people’s go-to platform when it comes to buying PC games, Valve’s Steam service is an industry leader. When similar PC gaming services like Games for Windows are being ditched constantly in favor of Steam and publisher led efforts like EA Origin and Uplay have mostly disappointed gamers, their success is set to continue.
But being on top certainly has its downsides. Valve has come under fire on a multitude of issues including their apparent reluctance to give out refunds, the abuse of Steam Greenlight by some developers promoting concepts rather than any tangible gameplay and the confusion surrounding Steam Early Access has led gamers to ask why and how developers are able to charge for in-development code to fund finished products that never see the light of day.
Despite these controversies, Valve and Steam have trundled on relatively unscathed and the service’s user figures have grown into 100 million active accounts. But if Valve wants to keep this support and carry on weathering the storm, they’d have to address the long standing issue of the Steam Store’s layout and now, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The move comes after Steam was recently flooded with new games for users to choose from. As previously reported, in just a few months of 2014 we’d already seen more games released than in the entirety of 2013, while Valve has revealed that over 1,300 games have been added in the past nine months. For contrast, there are just over 3,700 games on Steam as it is, so that figure is massive.
Roll on the Steam Discovery Update then which “delivers a smarter Home page, offering recommendations based on past purchases, recent playtime, and recommendations by friends”. Alden Kroll, User Interface Designer at Valve adds that it gives users ‘more choice’ too.
“We have made great efforts to increase the number of titles we can publish on Steam, which means more choices for customers. This update introduces multiple features and functionality to help customers explore Steam’s growing catalog and find the games they are most interested in playing.”
Head onto the Steam Home page now and you’ll see a plethora of new features. One now allows users to customize which lists are displayed so if you’d rather see new titles than those that are top selling or even if you want to be reminded of the games you already have in your account, Valve will let you change the defaults. There’s also the Discovery Queue feature whereby you can cycle through the pages of games that you might like based on how well they’re selling and your pre-determined taste in games.
Running out of queued games doesn’t spoil the fun though. As users cycle along they’ll see buttons for ‘Follow’, ‘Add to your wishlist’ and ‘Not Interested’ which helps clue Steam in on what to put in future queues and at the end of the queue Steam provides the options to build another based on a specific tag.
Furthermore, Steam Search is now “more powerful than ever” according to its devs and they back this claim up by describing the filter system. Whether users search by description, tag, operating system or features, Steam Search will be able to come up with something specific to what’s been chosen.
That all sounds like good news then but one of the biggest new features, Steam Curators, could prove to be somewhat divisive. Designed to let community groups of a shared interest or video game publications suggest things to users, there’s every chance that it could be abused.
For example, Valve explains that “anyone” can be Steam Curator including “developers” and “industry types” which is potentially a moral grey area. And then, assuming that any conflicts of interest don’t occur, Valve also displays each Curator’s following tally which some would argue will lead to developers and publishers battling (or even paying) for a recommendation from the feature’s most followed users.
[Updated: Just as expected, the Steam Curator system is already being abused in less than a day. Details here.]
There will be kinks that need to be rolled out in any case and morality aside, no Steam-breaking issues have popped up just yet. We can probably expect Valve to have a tinker and an upgrade as a result of any bugs though, so we’ll keep you posted once they do.