With Valve's new Steam Direct system charging developers a $100 fee for each game they publish on the Steam storefront, there were some concerns that the store would be flooded by junk. One such concern was put to Valve's Alden Krol in a post-session Q&A segment at Unite Europe 2017 last month and posted online by Unity this week, but Krol downplayed the audience member's concerns, pointing to a handful of discoverability updates Valve has made in recent years.
"All of these changes have given us a lot of confidence that when a lot of games are coming through the system, they're actually able to reach the right customers. And if there are games coming through the system that nobody's actually interested in, they actually end up not showing up to very many people."
Krol said they repeatedly test that idea, running experiments by boosting titles that seem interesting to them but not necessarily to the discoverability algorithms.
"It turns out the system seems to be working roughly the way we expected," Krol said. "When we boost it to more people, we actually don't see a very big increase in the number of people buying it because it had already reached the number of people that the system had figured out were appropriate for that game. So that gives us more confidence that a bunch of low effort, low quality games coming into the system are actually not having an adverse impact on the high quality and really thoughtful and creative projects that are being created."
Regardless, Krol said efforts to improve discoverability are ongoing. He covered a few such changes in the main portion of his talk, saying Valve wanted to expand personalization options for users to customize the store to their liking, and talked about a major rewrite of the site's recommendation engine, though he noted more needs to be done beyond that.
"The automatic recommendation system can only go so far," Krol said. "It's great for figuring out what games similar players have enjoyed and being able to make recommendations based on that, but we've also heard from customers that there's a strong desire to have humans involved in curation."
That led Krol to discuss upcoming tweaks to the site's curator system, including a desire to integrate curators more deeply into more pages. For example, Krol said Valve wanted to make it easier for curator-created content (videos, livestreams, broadcasts and the like) to surface front and center for any users that follow them. The company also intends to roll out new ways for curators to create lists, perhaps compiling noteworthy titles in a specific subgenre like multiplayer survival horror games, or more detailed lists like five RPGs to play in a specific order to get an overview of the genre's evolution over years.
That's not the only way Valve wants to more deeply integrate curators into its storefront, as Krol said developers will soon be able to distribute keys directly to game creators through Steam itself.
"If you've shipped a game on Steam, you've probably gotten a ton of emails from people claiming that they're YouTubers that have millions of followers and you should send them keys for your game," Krol said. "Most of the time, we've heard that's not actually true. Those people aren't who they say they are, so we're trying to solve the problem by putting a bunch of that into the Steam system itself so that curators can come on board, do an authentication with their YouTube account, their Facebook account, whatever their major social media accounts are, so that as a developer, you can look through a list of curators, sort and filter them, search for who you think curates the kind of games you make, and then be able to verify that this person has authenticated their YouTube channel."
Krol said there was no definite ETA on that feature, but Valve hope to roll it out in the next couple months.