In recent discussions about how the world’s largest PC gaming platform, Steam, places games before their players, Valve business team member Erik Peterson has made a compelling case about why visibility on storefronts should be determined by game quality and not by the depth of a game developer’s pockets.
The insight into the promotion of games on Steam, while aimed towards developers and publishers, can also satisfy the curiosity of players who might be wondering about the reason behind Steam's recommendation engine. Peterson reiterated Valve’s commitment to make sure that every game advertised to players is both relevant and interesting.
Peterson also stressed Valve’s refusal to sell placements in the store. He argued that doing so would mean that Steam becomes “pay to win,” which goes against their aspirations of creating a level playing field where games are promoted based on their merit, instead of the financial power of the publishers or developers.
Interestingly, Peterson shed light on unexpected gaming hits that emerge on PC more regularly than on other platforms. Notably, the new and trending tab shown in Peterson's presentation featured Pseudoregalia, a Metroidvania hit, and Dave the Diver, a popular summer release formerly featured on the front page of the Steam store.
The process through which these games get promoted is well recognized. Steam uses an algorithm that recommends games based on player behavior and patterns, as well as global and regional trends. The algorithm also promotes games that fit the documented interests of players, usually associated with the games they play or have shown interest in.
Peterson broke down the algorithmic system, stating that there is no singular magic algorithm employed by Steam. Instead, there is a combination of algorithmic visibility and curated features, which result in a personalized recommendation system. Despite the reliance on algorithmic systems, Peterson noted that curated featuring is still driven by player interest.
Despite the push for transparency, there were factors that Peterson pointed out as irrelevant from Steam’s standpoint such as store page traffic, review scores, wishlists, and Early Access release. At the same time, he noted language localization as a driving factor for the visibility of games due to its capacity to provide an immersive player experience.
To illustrate, Peterson mentioned that ordinarily, the introduction of a game has the most significant impact. However, the system does not hamper older games and ensures the opportunity for correction and improvement to game developers in case of an unsuccessful launch. He also debunked popular misconceptions, stating that increasing store page traffic does not equate to improved visibility and that Review scores do not impact visibility provided they are at least 40% positive.
Furthermore, wishlists only affect a game’s 'popular upcoming' section before its release, and the number of wishlists does not impact visibility. Early Access release, a popular point of intrigues among players, does not influence visibility, as it is a development tool, not a marketing one. Lastly, lack of language localization can negatively impact a game's visibility, as Valve is unlikely to recommend a game that doesn’t support the language of the player.
The in-depth explanation provided by Peterson has in many ways demystified the process of game promotion on Steam, leading to greater transparency which can only help to build a symbiotic relation between players, developers, and the Steam platform.
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