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Steam Discovery update personalises video game shopping

We interview Valve on the biggest shake-up to Steam in years.

Valve has today changed Steam in a bid to personalise video game shopping with a new, smarter home page that shows you what you'll likely be interested in.

A new Steam game page.

Valve has redesigned the Steam home page, added a "Curators" system and enabled user customisation in what is a major shake-up to the digital platform.

The hope is Steam's huge audience, which has now grown to 100m active accounts, will find it easier to discover games they're interested in even as the number of titles available on the platform swells. This year alone over 1300 games have released on Steam - a huge jump on 2013's total figure - which has caused what many gamers and developers have called a discoverability issue.

Now, the Steam home page will offer recommendations based on past purchases, recent playtime and recommendations by friends. Steam search has been updated with a raft of detailed filters, and the Curators system allows anyone to become what Valve calls a "taste maker" and build a following.

Eurogamer discussed the problems caused by Steam's huge catalogue of games in a recently-published investigation titled "To curate or not curate?". In it DayZ creator Dean Hall called discoverability "the most talked about conversation I've had with developers over the last few months".

Valve said the Discoverability update means there are more ways for Steam users to find games, but there is an emphasis on prioritising "interested customers". To help developers work out where their games are shown on the platform, and how many times their games are viewed, Valve has introduced a new traffic data analytics tool.

Valve recommends, however, that developers try to build up excitement for their games before they're released, and reiterated its policy of not letting companies pay to let more users see their games.

Meanwhile, Steam Curators is a new system designed to hand over part of the job of curating the platform from Valve to the community.

Anyone can be a Steam Curator, but you need a Steam Community Group before you get going. From there you can start making recommendations. Once you make 10, your curator will show up in lists shown to those looking for curators to follow.

In an interview, below, Eurogamer quizzed Valve's Alden Kroll about the changes and how they affect the Steam user experience.

First off, what were the motivations for revamping Steam in this way? What were the issues with the way it worked before?

Alden Kroll: In the past nine months over 1300 new titles have been added to Steam and we see no signs of that volume slowing down. With so many new titles coming, the old format did not offer enough placements on the front door and throughout Steam to expose the growing breadth of offerings to customers. In addition to the pure number of placements, we have also done a lot of work to make those placements "smarter" by building algorithms and customer-driven parameters for what to display in the new areas.

A Steam Curators page.

Are the changes in part an attempt to hand over the job of curating Steam to the community?

Alden Kroll: Certainly the Curator section is exactly that. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful and the ability for gamers to share their opinions with those who have similar tastes just makes sense. Beyond that, though, we also wanted to put the power of what's being shown in the customers hands by giving them the ability to designate their interests based upon their tastes and activity on Steam.


I've spoken to many developers who have expressed their concern about a discoverability issue on Steam. How will the changes improve the chances of their games getting noticed?

Alden Kroll: That is obviously a huge concern for us, and these changes have come about as a result of our conversations with developers, publishers, and customers. The changes in this update will help improve visibility in a number of ways. First, there are more placements, so Steam can deliver much more inventory in terms of impressions to customers.

Next, and perhaps more importantly, it is designed to put relevant titles in front of customers. Making more targeted recommendations to customers should help create more sales. The goal is to give them both more exposure and more conversions. And, to check our work on all of this and expose it in real time to developers, we have introduced the traffic data analytics which will allow them to monitor the marketing of their title(s) on Steam.


What's your advice to developers who want to get their game noticed when it launches on Steam?

Alden Kroll: Nothing has really changed in this area. If developers are making great games and spreading word to the community, on Steam and elsewhere, their products should be successful. There's no new requirements introduced for them with this update.


Does the home page default to anything, as it has done, such as best-sellers? Or is it now popular new releases?

Alden Kroll: If customers do absolutely nothing to customize the feeds on their Home page, they will still see best-sellers and new releases mixed with recommendations. The Home page will also make recommendations in the new areas, such as the Recommendations Feed and Discovery Queue. These will be based on what they're playing, what they've purchased, what their friends are playing, etc. So, nothing is required of the customer to get an updated, smarter Home page. And none of the categories they currently enjoy using as criteria for shopping are going away. We're simply adding to it and attempting to make it more targeted and more robust.


How do you determine what's on the carousel at the top of the store front?

Alden Kroll: By default, the carousel at the top is a mix of top-sellers, popular new releases, personalized recommendations, and popular DLC for games you own. By default, it also excludes showing you titles you already have in your library, which frees up space to show you more other titles you may be interested in. But customers can customize that area (and many other areas) to exclude or include specific categories of products.


How will Steam sales work with the new store front?

Alden Kroll: The regular recurring sales like Weekend Deals and Daily Deals will behave in the same way as they have. Additionally, developers can still specify their own promotions or opt in to the Weeklong Deal listings. Moving forward, we plan to take what we learn from this new personalized store and apply what we can to other events we run and updates we make.


What's your long-term vision for Curators?

Alden Kroll: Every time we raise the involvement of the community in anything we do we realise tremendous benefit. Some examples include the community content creators making new items for Team Fortress 2 and those participating in the Compendium for The International. We're not sure, exactly, where it will lead long term. But we're certain that word of mouth is extremely powerful in driving purchase decisions among gamers, and gamers have very strong opinions. So, we're very interested to see where it leads and we strongly believe it will serve as an overall benefit to the Steam shopping experience.