Steam's new store update has already had a big impact for one games studio, although it's too early to say how it will affect sales.
The PC retailer has overhauled its home page with the intention of helping customers discover games that are relevant to them. It's the follow-up to its original Discovery Update that was launched back in 2014, which was designed to help studios in the face of an increasing number of new PC releases.
That 2014 update introduced elements such as the Discovery Queue (which made recommendations based on purchase history) and the Curator system (where players were able to follow individuals or organisations who put together their own list of recommendations). This new update doesn't add new systems but rather refines previous ones, nevertheless, the update is a significant one.
"A recent update to our title Soul Axiom has seen a significant increase of over 600 percent in Click Conversions from store page visibility since the redesign."
Ben Tester, Wales Interactive
The changes include a page devoted to new Steam releases, improvements to the Steam Curators system, and a queue customisation option that lets users deselect or select what appears in their 'Discovery Queue'. For countries that have very different tastes to what usually sells around the world, Steam will now display a 'local top-sellers list' as opposed to a global one to better reflect their taste.
The new-look homepage also allows players to scroll through more recommendations that are based on purchase history, what their friends like and their wishlists. Players can also view their friends' latest activity (via a 'trending' section), as well as personalise practically every element - which will remove games that users are either not interested in or they already own.
There have also been tweaks to how user reviews are displayed and how gamers are notified about titles on their Wishlist. The changes are part of the same package that included rules on what constitutes a 'screenshot' on the store, as revealed last week.
Valve says the new system is smarter and 'uses new logic to determine what to show based on playtime, friends recommendations and curators'. You can see a breakdown of the changes here.
Early signs are good, too. Ben Tester, the communications boss at indie developer Wales Interactive, says the firm is already seeing a significant increase in people finding its products.
"The Steam store update is a welcomed redesign of what was becoming an underwhelming discoverability platform," he told Gamesindustry.biz.
"It was somewhat of a monotonous experience seeing the same games on the front page time-after-time. However, the update is great news for customers and developers with a more personalised experience, meaning fewer relevant games will go under the radar.
Discoverability has always been 100 percent in the hands of the developers and publishers.
Dan Marshall, Size Five Games
"The new system has already had a huge impact on our product discoverability. A recent update to our title Soul Axiom has seen a significant increase of over 600 percent in click conversions from store page visibility since the redesign. It's too early to say how much of an impact this has had on sales but it bodes well for smaller studios looking to stand out in the overcrowded PC game market."
Mike Bithell, indie developer behind Thomas Was Alone and Volume, added: "I dig it, seems to be more slots for games in general, and each one is presented in a way that'll do a better job of introducing and explaining the experience. Putting a focus on content and screenshots is great for players, but also great for devs who only get the briefest of moments to explain what their game is.
"Customisation and focusing features always take a fair amount of time to weigh up, as you want the player who'll love your game to find you, but you also want someone new to your genre or game to be discovering that you exist too. Looking forward to seeing how that side of things plays out."
Dan Marshall from The Swindle developer Size Five Games agreed that the changes are an improvement, but suggests it's not Steam's job to help studios gain visibility: "I've always said I felt Steam's old system of personally curating each and every game was the best solution for gamers, devs and Steam itself, but it clearly became completely unworkable.
"Getting hold of Steam as a dev was always notoriously difficult, so I really feel for the team that they're constantly trying to find ways of making a computer program do what is really a job best done by a real life human. I think the steps they're taking go a long way in the right direction of what is an impossible task. Steam has so much data on each and everything that passes through its store, so it is best placed to make the decisions about how stuff runs.
"All that said, Valve seem to be constantly under fire for games being undiscoverable on an increasingly-crowded Steam when the reality is that discoverability has always been 100 percent in the hands of the developers and publishers. It's our jobs to make great games that people want to play, and to get them out there and do all the marketing. It's not Steam's job to handle your game's discoverability, and I think people are too quick to forget that."
"Any redesign of Steam pulls the rug out from underneath us and somewhat takes us back to the drawing board."
Tim Woodley, 505 Games
Although the early signs are that the new changes are preferable, it will nonetheless create some challenges for publishers and developers who have grown accustomed to Steam's previous system.
"Certainly any redesign of Steam pulls the rug out from underneath us and somewhat takes us back to the drawing board in terms of how we master the discoverability," said Tim Woodley, SVP of Global Brand and Marketing at 505 Games.
"For a while now we've been treating Steam as an app store, which is mostly about chart position and driving that to ensure more organic sales than we could ever afford.
"We've done quite a bit of consumer research in the past about how people browse Steam. Some of this is still valid, some will need to be redone or at least reinterpreted in light of these changes... but only in a few months when it's bedded in."