Steam - Big Data, Crowdsourcing, Explorers, & Curators


Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Tuesday , April 04, 2017

Have you ever used Steam to shop for a new game, when you did not know exactly what you wanted to buy, and found its way of organizing and sharing information with you a bit archaic? Me too! John Bain, aka TotalBiscuit is Steam's top "curator," and he has some information on changes coming to Steam, hopefully soon.

Valve to Utilize Big Data and Crowdsourcing in New Steam Explorers Initiative

The Steam Store has changed vastly since Valve opened the store to all developers with the Steam Greenlight initiative. Previously game developers had to go directly through Valve to be granted access to selling titles on the Steam Store. Nowadays it is a Wild Wild West of great games hidden in a sea of mediocre titles and scams, such as asset flips and trading card money laundering schemes. John Bain, "aka" TotalBiscuit on YouTube, details his six-hour meeting at Valve headquarters recently in the 1 hour video below, that sheds light onto upcoming Steam Explorer updates and how "Big Data" will be shared with customers.

We spent a good amount of time with the video yesterday and wanted to compound John Bain's thoughts here along with a lot of the changes he outlined and we will hopefully be seeing in the Steam Store soon as these changes will surely be impacting the "average" HardOCP reader as well. Full credit for the information collected here fully goes to TotalBiscuit on YouTube, and I fully suggest you go and check out his gaming content. He has been an [H] staff favorite for a long time.

Bain thinks that Valve feels that its current Steam Discovery system does work, but could certainly be improved. Valve is using data driven algorithms with the Steam Discovery system, but now it wants to be more transparent with its customers as to why certain games are being recommended for purchase. Valve wants to share its "Big Data" access with its users. Valve’s "Big Data" currently will disclose that a game is being recommended due to several factors such as:

  • Tags

  • Curator recommendations

  • Games your friends played and highly rated those

  • Discovery queue

  • You played games like this in the past

  • Game is ranked high in a genre that you enjoyed

"Big Data" in the future will add the ability to see where the source of the impressions for the Steam Store page recommendations are coming from and how many impressions the page had at that time. Valve wants to show you that it’s not Valve presenting you bad games, but external sources such as videos, tweets, or forum posts that are linking to bad games making fun of those or showing just how horrible those are. Valve also wants interested parties to make tools to analyze its "Big Data" and report on it. For example, TotalBiscuit expressed a desire to know how many people are reading his reviews per day as an incentive for him to create more. Valve wants users to have data overload with a strategy of transparency. This should create Steam recommendation pages that are unique to the individual Steam customer. The solution Valve came up with to fix this problem is to crowdsource its "Big Data" with the "Steam Explorers" update.

The new way that Valve is changing the Steam Store is through a program called Steam Explorers. Steam Explorers is a program where regular users, can assist other users in finding overlooked diamonds-in-the-rough by helping expose those games to the community. A title such as this might be a new game that went through its first 2 weeks on the Steam Store and didn’t reach a certain level of success, but possibly "should have" according to Steam Explorers. With Steam Explorers, regular users will be allowed to sign up for access to the program to generate a community of like-minded individuals; a club of sorts. These users will have special forums to discuss titles that they feel should have gotten more attention, but for whatever reason fell into obscurity instead. Games that are perceived to be worthy of praise will be filtered back onto the front page of the Steam Store, gain an increased presence in the Steam Discovery queue, and increased recommended game presence with tags.

Steam Explorer advocates will still have to purchase their games like any other customer would, but there will be a once weekly refund perk where they can get their money back for a single purchase. This refund doesn’t count against them regarding their regular Steam refund limit and the number of hours played during that week is irrelevant. Valve wants a system where Steam users that love to discover new titles, play multiplayer in games that have low player counts, and share with the community can hangout and thrive. The average Steam user likely isn’t interested in this type of work, so Valve is going to reward those that are active in the Steam Explorers community. These rewards haven’t been disclosed currently.

Steam Greenlight Didn’t Work and Curators is Getting an Overhaul

Valve wants more filtering of bad games to occur by reviews generated by the Steam Curator system. The Steam Curator system is a recommendation system implemented by Valve to allow individuals, companies, groups, etc., to create meaningful reviews and recommendations for games on Steam. Valve defines curators as, "Gamers, fans, critics, journalists, developers, artists, industry types, managers, environmentalists, designers, or really anyone that wants to help other gamers discover new favorites." These individuals and groups aren’t paid for their work, but they can link back to their websites, YouTube videos, etc., that may generate web-traffic and/or revenue. To become a Steam Curator, a community group must be created and the person wishing to curate titles on Steam must be an officer or moderator of the group. Steam Curators are held to the same standards as other reviewers and must disclose any money accepted for writing a review.

TotalBiscuit, as the number one curator on the Steam platform, expressed his displeasure in the current curator system. He said that it lacked basic tools such to generate such things as a "games of the year list" or a "top 10 games to purchase during a Steam Sale." Editing a review after a game received a patch is very hard as there is no search function! Everything is listed in order of posting so a curator must cycle through pages of reviews to find a game. Also, basic functionality such as the ability to state that a link is to a video review instead of a written review is nonexistent. He thinks that a curator exclusive tagging system should be implemented so that a curator’s viewers can better understand what type of game genre that the curator is interested in reviewing. He gave the example of the Action category encompassing so many types of games that it was irrelevant as a tag on a Steam Store page, and we very much agree with many of his points.

Because the curated recommendations are only shown to the users that sign up for a specific curator, most Steam users never see those recommendations. For example, if a customer signs up for the TotalBiscuit curator group and not the PC Gamer group, then they will only see TotalBiscuit reviews. Likewise, if a user never chooses a group then that user will see zero recommendations from a curator! He wants a system where you no longer are required to sign up for a curator’s group to access their recommendations. For example, when you look at the Steam page for a game there would be PC World reviews, awards received, etc., that customers can’t turn off or block. So why not allow some Steam curator comments to be automatically shown on the page also?

In the new update curators will be rewarded with levels to denote their participation in the Steam community. Curators that don’t write reviews but perform other tasks such as create or find English dubs and subs for games will be rewarded also. Valve wants a lot more crowdsourcing with the curator system by enticing smaller channels to join in the work. One of the biggest perks that TotalBiscuit mentioned is the Steam key mailer service.

Participation in the Steam curator system may unlock perks such as the new Steam key mailer service. This service will allow developers to directly send game access to curators using the Steam platform. No longer will a developer have to fall for phishing schemes while attempting to get their games out to reviewers. Many dishonest people pretend to be game reviewers to get Steam keys and then sell those on shady key reseller websites. Game developers have been known to create giveaways of thousands of keys at a time to generate exposure, when in fact sometimes these free keys are resold on the black market.

The new system will give developers a direct channel to curators so game developers can get the desired messaging, communication, and exposure to the curators. In exchange for the free key, the developer has the right to send a short sales pitch to the curator that will be reviewing the game. Screenshots and embargo dates are some of the things that may be shared via the Steam key mailer system. Curators will be able to filter out types of genres that they aren’t interested in. Smaller channels that specialize in games such as the 4X strategy genre’ ("eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate") for example, will ultimately have a better assessment of a 4X game than a reviewer that covers more mainstream Triple A shooter titles. By getting those keys into the right hands, Valve hopes that the "bad" games will become much less visible on the Steam platform. Badly reviewed games will hopefully have no chance of front page Steam Store exposure.

Finally, Valve is ready to fight against developer abuse, such as copyright strikes against a channel for writing a bad review of a game. They also want to create a system where a certain number of units of a game have to have been sold before Steam Trading Cards can be added to the game. There seems to be a lot of money laundering that occurs with the current Steam Trading Card system. Nefarious one-man game developers are creating games in a day using off-the-shelf assets from engines such as Unity and then selling these for 99 cents on the Steam Store. They are then using the trading card system to launder funds.

The Bottom Line

In the end these new Steam platform system changes and updates seem to be a great start in making Steam a more valuable tool for the gamer. Anything that can be done to bring more exposure to "good" games and less exposure to "bad" games will likely be welcomed by most of us. Valve doesn’t want to be viewed as stifling competition, but at the same time it wants its customers to have a great experience on the Steam Store. Selling customers the right game that they enjoy is much more important than selling the customer multiple titles that cause disinterest in the Steam Store and PC gaming altogether. We think that this update and transparency regarding Valve’s usage of "Big Data" should create new tools that allow customers to find that gem they were looking for, or better yet, had no idea that they were looking for.

Our thanks again to TotalBiscuit on YouTube for sharing this information and his experience with us. If you are looking for a bit more computer hardware-centric videos, check out HardOCP TV.