Back in February, Valve made the notable decision to kill Steam Greenlight. The company would be switching from Greenlight to Steam Direct, which involves a publishing fee. At the time, Valve hadn't determined how much that fee would be, but today in a blog post, the company explained how it arrived at a $100 charge.
"We've seen a bunch of great conversations discussing the various pros and cons of whether there should be an amount, what that amount should be, ways that recouping could work, which developers would be helped or hurt, predictions for how the store would be affected, and many other facets to the decision. There were rational & convincing arguments made for both ends of the $100-$5000 spectrum we mentioned. Our internal thinking beforehand had us hovering around the $500 mark, but the community conversation really challenged us to justify why the fee wasn't as low as possible, and to think about what we could do to make a low fee work," Valve wrote.
"So in the end, we've decided we're going to aim for the lowest barrier to developers as possible, with a $100 recoupable publishing fee per game, while at the same time work on features designed to help the Store algorithm become better at helping you sift through games. We're going to look for specific places where human eyes can be injected into the Store algorithm, to ensure that it is working as intended, and to ensure it doesn't miss something interesting."
The human element is key here. Feedback that GamesIndustry.biz has received from numerous developers indicates Steam has become a very difficult place for discovery. It's why some indies actually prefer smaller, more highly curated storefronts. To that end, not only will Valve be "injecting human thinking" into the store algorithm, but the company has vowed to "closely monitor the kinds of game submissions we're receiving, so that we're ready to implement more features like the the Trading Card changes...which aim to reduce the financial incentives for bad actors to game the store algorithm."
Furthermore, Steam is updating its Curators system. "Unfortunately, while we shipped the Curator feature in the first Discovery update, it hasn't received the attention it needs to be a good solution. So recently we've spent some time talking and listening to members of both sides - the curators using the system to provide commentary on the Store, and the players using the system to inform their decisions. In both areas we've identified a set of work that we believe will make it more useful," Valve said.
"We're expanding the kinds of content that Curators can create, allowing them to provide more information to players who are thinking about buying a game, and improving the tools to allow them to easily manage all their recommendations."
Curators will now be able to more easily show content they created on YouTube or to show off personal lists of games recommendations, whether just generally or more specifically, like the body of work from a certain developer, a certain type of design or games in a Curator's weekly Game Club. Additionally, Valve noted that both Curators and developers wanted to ensure that Curators can more easily get their hands on pre-release access to upcoming games. "We're building a system that will make that a painless process for everyone involved, which means that you should see more useful curations coming out of the Curators who like to explore newer titles," the company explained.
Overall, the role of Curators is taking on a greater importance for the Steam storefront, as they will now have "more visibility throughout the Store as a whole, so if you're following a Curator, you'll see their thoughts in new places, and with higher prominence."
It'll be very interesting to see just how much changes to the store algorithm combined with more prominence for Curators will affect discoverability for developers. Valve said it will address the sunsetting of Greenlight and the exact timing for Steam Direct in its next blog entry.