On September 23rd, Valve released it's the Steam Discovery update for its digital distribution platform with the aim of making finding the increasing number of games on Steam easier for the consumer.
The update includes new curator lists, a queue system based on the user’s taste, and a revamped tagging system to find games based on specific criteria.
Reaction from users has been largely positive, but what about developers?
Boneloaf developer James Brown says in the days following the launch of the update his studio’s game Gang Beasts saw a sharp rise in the number of visitors to the store page, but a decline in the number of sales.
You can view the statistics for Gang Beasts below:
The number of visitors reported are:
Monday 22nd vs Monday 15th - 46.69% lower
Tuesday 23rd vs Tuesday 16th - 100.99% higher
Wednesday 24th vs Wednesday 17th - 91.97% higher
Thursday 25th vs Thursday 18th - 9.57% higher
The comparison of sales from the same dates were:
Monday 22nd vs Monday 15th - 14.8% lower
Tuesday 23rd vs Tuesday 16th - 3.079% lower
Wednesday 24th vs Wednesday 17th - 8.75% lower
Thursday 25th vs Thursday 18th - 33.91% lower
Brown was quick to point out however that, based on statistics for the month, the impact may have been negligible overall as sales and visitor numbers have followed no specific pattern in the past. He suggested that the biggest impact on visitors and sales were external factors such as popular YouTubers playing their game and promotional events.
SFB Games’ Tom Vian presented similar results, revealing daily views for its title Haunt the House: Terrortown more than doubled following the update, while another of its titles, Detective Grimoire, increased slightly by around ten per cent.
Sales however fell after the update by as much as 40 per cent, though picked up following the Eurogamer Expo (during the period we asked for statistics). Following the show, numbers dropped off again.
Impact of new features
Vian also broke down the sources of game page visits for the two titles, with the highest share of visits for Detective Grimoire (25.9 per cent) coming from the tag page. Curator lists however make up just three per cent of visits to the titles.
“A further 23.7 per cent of views (for Detective Grimoire) are coming from the new discovery queue, and then just 11.5 per cent coming from external sites,” he explains.
“For Haunt the House: Terrortown, the biggest source of traffic is external sites at 25.8 per cent, but as I said that's most likely down to having the game at EGX. Then it's 19.7 per cent for the discovery queue, 16.8 per cent for Steam search results (also probably due to EGX), and the tag page accounts for 14.32 per cent.”
Though not revealing specific numbers due to the effects of a sale for Shattered Planet in the same period, Kitfox Games’ Tanya Short says the new analytics platform within Steam was a great addition, as inter-Steam views “used to be completely opaque” to developers, while the new system enabled creators to see sources of traffic from within the Steam ecosystem.
Short is confident however that visibility is now far higher than it was previously.
“I feel optimistic that we’ll do better overall,” she says. “I ran our fourth ‘visibility round’ over the weekend and it was over five times more effective than our previous rounds in terms of clickthrough.
“Since we used the same art and similar copy as a previous round, some of that success is undoubtedly due to the game being on sale, but some of it must also be due to the new algorithms accurately identifying customers that were more likely to be interested.”
Short says that overall, the changes to discoverability on Steam have been positive, and believes there is a greater chance for good games to be found by audiences, though she is unsure about the current setup of the Curator lists.
“Since the Curator recommendations have to be so pithy, it’s a shame Curator recommendations are displayed above player reviews on a game’s Store page, which are often very well-thought out, full reviews,” she says.
“Also, this is something of a minor complaint, but I feel there should be more freedom to flag abuse or misuse of recommendations. Curators have started springing up that only ever release scathing, hurtful ‘recommendations’ of games they don’t like – and if they do this specifically to games that you like, they’re more likely to be Curators the system thinks you should follow. Which means the system is essentially suggesting that you follow trolls who vehemently disagree with you – the opposite of the system’s intent.”
Danny Goodayle of Light developer Just a Pixel is also positive about the changes, and thinks the new features are a step in the right direction. He says the update means Valve can no longer be perceived as biased toward one game or another and the new features give more freedom to the consumer.
“With the new system implemented users can easily follow their favourite critics, of whom they share similar interests with,” he says. “By de-cluttering the front page of games that the user most likely wouldn't have brought anyway and placing games that interest the player, I think that games will begin to see increased revenue purely from the new store’s "word of mouth" style system.”
Vian however believes the changes could cause problems for small development teams based on the early data.
“It's very early days yet, and our data is clouded quite a bit because of EGX,” he says.
“It does look like sales dropped right after the update, and they're falling back towards those same numbers post-EGX, but it could very well be down to random fluctuation and might settle back with more time. As a consumer, I think there are some great changes in the update, I just hope it hasn't been at the expense of tiny developers like ourselves."