Valve pledges to open up about Steam’s inner workings

Ben Parfitt
Valve pledges to open up about Steam’s inner workings

Valve has pledged to work directly and transparently with the Steam community as it continues to evolve PC gaming's largest marketplace.

In a lengthy blog post, Valve has tried to explain why serving the interests of such a large and diverse group of consumers is a very tough task.

One of the reasons it's so hard to make a good store - one of the reasons we've been working on it for years, and one of the reasons we think we still have years of work left to do - is that it has so many jobs,” Valve said. It has to serve so many players whose tastes and interests are not only different, but sometimes complete opposites.”

Then, of course, there is the fact that any changes made to Steam have to be implemented with developers in mind as well.

We believe that a successful store would be one that [treats] both players and developers in a manner that they would consider fair,” the company added. Unfortunately, these groups often have competing interests, so it's important to understand that if we're not doing exactly what one group wants, it's probably because we're trying to weigh it against another group's interests.

It might seem obvious that developers have some competing interests, but it's also true on the player side - some players specifically enjoy exploring Early Access titles, while others never want to see them.

Valve also realises that, ultimately, all the tech and algorithms come to a head in what remains one of Steam's biggest challenges – what should a user see when they first load up the store?

The Store is constantly trying to balance all the different interested groups of players and developers. It knows that it has a limited number of spaces it can use to show games to a player,” Valve continued.

It has some knowledge of the player, if the player is logged in and has a purchase / play history. It has some knowledge of the game, based on what the developer has told it and what previous purchasers of the game have said & done. It chews on all that data, and finally, decides which games it should show the player in all the various sections of the Store.

The problem with black box algorithms like this is that it's hard to know when they aren't working as intended. Did we not show a game to a player because the algorithm correctly guessed that the player wouldn't be interested in it? Or because there were other games it thought the player would be more interested in? Or just because of a bug?”

The conclusion? Valve says that it has recognised parallels with the struggles it had with the Dota 2 matchmaking system. In that instance, things improved when it opened up about the background tech, as players were then better equipped to recognise and report when things were going wrong. That, Valve says, is the reason why it now intends to be more transparent about Steam's inner workings.

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