Valve Outlines Changes to Address Increasingly Unwieldy Steam Store

Upcoming update allows users to set more preferences regarding what they see on the Steam home page.

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Sep 25 2016, 3:47pm

Image: Leif Johnson.

With around 125 million users, Valve's Steam Store has been one of the dominant forces in PC gaming for over a decade now, so any change to the platform can have huge implications for players and developers. And in the coming weeks, Valve recently announced, it'll be getting a few significant tweaks.

On Saturday Valve updated its Steamworks community page with a post outlining plans for a coming update that builds off 2014's Steam Discovery Update that highlighted personalization and recommendations, and the post soon made its way to NeoGAF. It's all "subject to change" based on feedback, but most of the changes look welcome.

A new option to set "Global Customer Preferences" could turn out to be the most significant. Steam's dominance on the PC and its relatively open nature means its home page regularly gets flooded with "Early Access" games in the initial stages of development or virtual reality games, which comparatively few Steam users have access to. This is a problem with Steam in general: so many new games are added to the platform every day, players have a hard time finding the games they want to play.

The update would let us weed all that out of the Steam home page (along with other non-gaming categories like software or videos) and "on a couple other browse pages." Options like this already existed to a degree with filters, but only with specific sections.

At the same time, the post makes it clear Valve thinks it "can do better" as regards getting users to see new releases by aiming their visibility at a "smaller, but better targeted group of potential customers based on their preferences and tastes." The same approach will apply to game updates as well. Previously Steam apparently focused on mere numbers, allowing one million impressions for new titles on the home page and 500,000 for updates, but these methods were "too broad for effectively reaching interested customers." Valve will also add a new section for games "that have reached the top sellers list."

The post also includes three headings pertaining to Steam Curators, which are usually organizations not affiliated with Valve who compile lists of game recommendations for their own followers. The new update would allow recommendations from curators that users follow to appear in the main capsule banner and as highlights elsewhere.

As part of the update, Valve will give curators the "tools to indicate whether their post is recommended, not recommended, or simply informational" since some curators were using the feature to "provide valuable information about games, while not necessarily recommending the title. Some of the most popular curators use the service in this way, such as the 113,000-follower strong Framerate Police, which catalogues "games that are locked at 30 [frames per second] so you can see them at a glance."

The post includes information about other coming changes, such as an overall refresh of the home page to "remove some visual clutter," the addition of new navigation links such as "top sellers" and "new releases" for the home page's left column, and a "prominent" new section showcasing which games your friends are enjoying the most.

By and large, these look like smart changes that improve the user experience while still allowing Steam to host and highlight the tons of games that make it to its storefront each week. It's worth noting that the post says nothing about giving developers more control over what's being said about them and their games, which no doubt troubles one developer in particular.