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Steam data reveals impact of Discovery update

More games reaching more customers, more often

Data released by Valve highlighting the impact of its recent 'Discovery Update' has shown that the changes are creating an increasingly democratised and effective marketing stream, exposing more games to more appropriate users. As a result, product page views are up, more games are being seen by customers and the process of marketing on the service's home pages has been democratised.

Beginning in September last year, the Discovery Update was, as its name suggests, an attempt to help players discover new games which they may otherwise have not come across. The changes came at a time where the number of both users games on the service was proliferating rapidly, with 1,004 games added between January 2014 and September alone - a huge leap from the 304 for the same period a year prior - bringing the total to 3,700. Valve claimed that 25 million active accounts were also added during this period.

Whilst that's great news for Valve's bottom line, concerns were being raised about curation. With so many games appearing, especially through Greenlight and Early Access, many were simply being lost, getting no exposure to potential customers through the limited real estate of the Steam front page. So, as detailed in this post on Reddit, taken from the SteamworksDev group, Valve decided that users needed to see a more personalised flow of titles, one based the personal preferences indicated by their buying habits. Perhaps not the most revolutionary marketing idea, but certainly an effective one.

"Prior to the Discovery Update, products only showed up to customers under specific circumstances; being manually featured by Valve admins, being present on top sellers/new release queues, or via direct search results," writes Valve employee Tomg. "As a result of that limitation, we were able to highlight only a small selection of broadly popular titles that we knew would appeal to the majority of customers. That is no longer the case."

The main way that users are exposed to new games on the store is the rotating carousel at the top of the Steam app's homepage. This, says tomg is known internally as the "main capsule". By changing what was displayed there from the guaranteed hits and big-selling blockbusters to smaller, more targeted games, Valve increased the number of products being advertised by an astonishing amount.

"The titles featured there are a mixture of manually curated titles, personalized recommendations, popular new releases, and top sellers. We also provide filtering tools to customers, to make sure Main Cap impressions are as meaningful as possible. Prior to the Discovery Update, the Main Cap could only show 10-20 games per day to every user, regardless of what those customers owned, what they played, and what they liked. As a result of the changes introduced with the Steam Discovery Update, now over 4,000 unique titles are shown and clicked on via the Main Cap every day."

Not only is there more variety, the targeting has increased engagement. 25 per cent of all clicks now come from the 'main cap', up from 21 per cent prior.

Also having a big impact is the introduction of the discovery queue, an extended list of tailored content which flows from the bottom of the Steam homepage. Tomg continues: "Customers are exposed to a broad variety of titles, and Steam learns a customer's tastes and preferences to make better recommendations in the future. Customers browsing their discovery queue now account for 16% of all product page views. The Steam Discovery Update as a whole resulted in a sustained 30 per cent increase in views of product pages across Steam, and the discovery queue has contributed almost 75 per cent of that total increase in page views.

"Thanks to the Discovery Update, customers appear to be getting better and more personalized information, and acting on it," he summarises. "In addition to the raw increases in traffic, we've also carefully monitored sales data to make sure we're growing the size of the pie, rather than just adjusting the size of the slices. Steam's overall growth doesn't just come from the biggest hits (which continue to see great success), but also from the smaller titles that are now better able to reach the audience that is right for them. To look at smaller titles, we dug into revenue for all apps outside of the 500 top sellers. Within that subset, total revenue has increased 18 per cent and daily earnings per app have increased by 5%, even with 400+ new apps joining the store since the Discovery Update."

However, the concept of Steam Curators has had a less impactful result. Whilst curation pages are immensely widespread, they don't actually account for much of the flow of custom.

"There are now over 6,000 curators on Steam with at least ten followers, and a total of 1.3 million users follow at least one curator. The exact impact of curators is difficult to measure, and something we're still looking at. For example, when a curator appears on a particular store page, it is difficult to measure the contribution of that curator to the customers' decision to purchase the title. Did that quote from PCGamer help the customer decide to purchase the game? Or was the customer already determined to buy the game?

"We do know that 3.1 million unique users have found their way to a store page via a curator, which means they were browsing the list of curators, or they saw the curator's recommendation in their activity feed. Unfortunately, the day to day interactions are not as high as we'd like, and we know we need to make some changes to better expose curators."

Has Valve reached a solution to the curation problems associated with such a busy marketplace? Should these practices be adopted by companies like Apple? Have your say in the comments below.

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Dan Pearson avatar

Dan Pearson