Valve explains why some indie developers saw a drop in Steam store traffic in October

Valve has responded to indie developers who have reported a drop in traffic to their games’ Steam pages in October.

According to some indie developers, a string of issues with Valve’s digital store, Steam, has driven traffic to bigger, "AAA" games at the expensive of recommending relevant, independent titles. A number of indie teams reported a drop in not just sales, but also the traffic coming to their games’ pages in the first place.

In a statement, Valve says it had indeed "changed the defaults for [its] search queries to factor in sales and wishlist activity more than before" at the beginning of October, but insisted the changes were to address an issue where customers could search for a game and find it listed on the search results page much lower down beneath other, less relevant games.

"This change had the unintended side-effect of de-boosting tags in the “More Like This” section on a game’s store page," Valve’s Tom B said in the statement. "What that meant was that instead of seeing products similar to the game, you saw games that shared just one tag in common, but were effectively the most popular games on Steam. This isn’t how we wanted that feature to work."

To address the glitch, the algorithm for "More Like This" was changed a few days later, albeit modified to retain the changes Valve wanted to factor in regarding "sales and wishlist popularity". A couple of weeks later – on October 30th – Valve tweaked the system again, increasing the weighting of tag-similarity again "based on the results [it was] seeing".

"To compound matters, from October 10-17, we were also running an experiment in the same "More Like This" section to test out a new algorithm which we hoped would be more effective in showing customers games that we think they would be interested in," Valve added. "This experiment ended up showing fewer products to a subset of customers, which led to a decrease in overall impressions in that area."

"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 statement concluded. "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."

Valve insists traffic recovered around October 19th, and "has stabilized since", but acknowledged there had been a "substantial decrease" in overall impressions and views for the "More Like This" section.

The issues come just days after indie developers took issue with changes to Steam’s revenue share policy that enables developers of the platform’s biggest games to retain more profit. Broadly in line with the profit share tiers across other platforms like Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, Valve roughly takes a 30 per cent cut of all game sales published on its PC digital platform. Now, however, Valve has agreed to drop its share to 25 per cent once revenue surpasses $10 million, and then down to 20 per cent for sales over $50 million. The changes – which apply from October 1st, 2018 – will apply to all revenue, including in-game purchases and DLC. 

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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