Games developers have found an exploit that enables them to keep their titles on the front page of Steam -- and an indie publisher is calling for Valve to put a stop to it.
Mike Rose, founder of Descenders and Not Tonight publisher No More Robots, took to Twitter to reveal how Steam's Popular Upcoming list is "a (sometimes accidentally) manipulated mess".
The root of the issue is how the list is populated: based on a release date set by developers in the backend, and then listed in the order they are coming out. Steam also uses wishlist numbers to boost more popular forthcoming titles and ensure they get a place in the list.
However, as Rose points out, the date developers set can be different from the actual release date listed on a game's Steam page and can be changed multiple times.
"You can set a date, and let it go by," he tweets. "Then you can set another date, and let it go by again. Setting this date has no meaning -- except for appearing in the Upcoming list."
This creates two issues. Some developers, Rose alleges, manipulate the system so their game regularly appears in the list. He offers the example of Eugen System's Steel Division 2, where the backend date had been set to this week, despite the store page clearly stating it won't be out until April 4.
Secondly, some dates may accidentally set a date, forget they've done so, miss their release date but their game still shows up in the Upcoming list.
"All of this leads to titles which are actually coming soon to be bumped from the list on the front page."
Rose admits highlighting this issue is a little "selfish" as he is gearing up for his next release, Hypnospace Outlaw. Despite being out within the next week, it is currently the bottom of the second page of Upcoming games -- beneath other titles that are listed as 'Q1 2019', 'Incoming 2019', 'Coming Soon' and 'TBD'.
Valve's Tom Giardino, a member of the Steam Business team, responded to Rose via Twitter, assuring that this is a "big topic of discussion" at the company and "it frustrates us for the same reasons it frustrates you."
"But it's also super important that devs get to control their own release timing so we don't want to mess with that," Giardino wrote.
"It's hard to talk about [work in progress]. I'm very wary of making promises or setting incorrect expectations, but: We also care about this and are trying to fix it in a way that makes Upcoming Releases more valuable without hurting games that wish to shift their release date."
Rose later called out Cooking Simulator developer Play Way, claiming their title has appeared on the Upcoming front page four times in the last month, despite its official release date listed as 'Coming Soon'. Play Way has yet to respond.
UPDATE: Eugen Systems has since replied to Rose's allegations via Twitter, stating: "We didn't manipulate the system. The release date has been set on Apr 4, 2019 in Steam backoffice for a long time. We have no idea why "March 5th" is still poping. We're obviously in touch with Steam about this matter. Please double-check before writing this kind of stuff."
The developer also pointed us towards a SteamDB log that shows it changed the date to April 4th, rather than March 5th, a month ago.