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Valve offers explanation for October drop in Steam traffic

Indie complaints prompt run-down of algorithm shift, unintended functionality of promotion tools

After a number of indie developers took to social media and Steamworks to complain about a loss in October traffic to their games, Valve has offered an explanation for the sudden drop.

The concerns are outlined best by Jake Birkett of Green Alien Games in a blog post a few days ago, though they've been echoed by a number of other developers across Twitter. Birkett says that in early October, some sort of bug in Steam's discovery algorithm kicked in, causing it to only recommend big name titles instead of relevant, smaller games. As a result, traffic to his games took a hit, and Birkett says the lower traffic has persisted since from sources such as "Other Product Pages" and "Home Page."

Then this evening, Valve published a blog post explaining what the issue was. Per the post, a change on October 5th intended to give sales and wishlist activity more weight when answering search queries had the unintended side effect of "de-boosting" games in the "More Like This" section of Steam. The algorithm would show games with only one tag in common rather than a large amount of tags, meaning the most popular games were always shown.

Though the issue was fixed on October 9th, other factors over the course of the month including an experiment in the More Like This section of the store and a need to increase tag similarity weighting caused the lower traffic to persist for the rest of the month for a number of games. Valve concludes that traffic recovered around October 19th and "has stabilized since."

"In general, we're always trying to show games to customers that we think they will enjoy, no matter who made them, what the budget was, when they came out, etc," the post concludes. "We're constantly exploring ideas and trying new things to try to figure out the best ways to do this. The fact is, traffic is going to shift whenever we do this work; it may go up or it may go down for any individual product. However, not all impressions and views are equal - in the end, what matters is that we show customers games that they find interesting."

Unexpected traffic shifts aside, Valve is already earning criticism from indie developers following its decision to swap to a revenue share tier system that offers games that earn more money a greater share of their profits.

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Rebekah Valentine avatar
Rebekah Valentine: Rebekah arrived at GamesIndustry in 2018 after four years of freelance writing and editing across multiple gaming and tech sites. When she's not recreating video game foods in a real life kitchen, she's happily imagining herself as an Animal Crossing character.
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