Steam lets the internet tag games, with predictable consequences

Tom Senior at

Steam has a new feature. Users can now add tags to games. In theory it gives customers a new way to sort Steam's massive library, and lets the community collectively decide on its own genre definitions. It also forms the foundation of a new recommendation system that offers up tags Steam thinks you'll like. It offered me a "mechs" tag, providing a positive glimpse of how the system is supposed to work.

Unfortunately, almost anything can be entered as a tag, which has granted some corners of the gaming community the opportunity to graffiti store pages with abuse and massive spoilers. Anyone dropping in on Final Fantasy's store page will have a major plot point ruined, as will anyone who clicks to add a tag to Bioshock Infinite. Strategy game Supreme Ruler 1936 currently has been tagged with "the holocoast never happened" and "Jews did 9/11".

When a tag is registered, Steam creates a new page for it using the tag as the title. As much as Valve may wish it wasn't the case, Steam's branding has authority. Sentiments and messages that'd ordinarily instantly be snipped by a moderator, or consigned to a spam folder, are promoted in Valve's house style.

Valve's advice to developers who "don't agree" with a tag is to learn from the experience. "Tags can be a good indicator of when there is a mismatch between how you perceive your game, and how your game is perceived by customers," they say in the Steam tags FAQ. "Often this is simply because there is some piece of information regarding the game that customers feel is missing from the store page."

Square Enix have perfectly good reasons for not spoiling a major plot twist in their descriptive text, of course, and it's hard to know what the developers of Dream would have had to write to avoid being tagged with "Half-Life 3 confirmed" and "indie shit".

In an ideal open system, trolling and abuse sinks to the bottom and can be deleted by algorithm. Online, a completely open system gifts unbalanced influence to organised trolling communities. If 4Chan can take over the Time 100, Steam's seemingly unregulated tagging system is asking to be manipulated.

Valve's faith in the wisdom of crowds is central to their ethos, but it's surprising to see them make similar mistakes after the Greenlight launch, which was also swamped by troll entries. The system's in beta, so we can expect changes. "The initial categorization of items might be a bit off until we see what kind of tags are becoming prevalent and tune the system for the best results," they say. There are a few good tags out there already, like Procedural death labryrinth, the local co-op tag and nanomachines, son. Sadly, even these are easily spoiled by people adding irrelevant entries.

The good stuff doesn't outweigh the damaging, mean-spirited and cruel stuff, though. Can more moderation fix it, or is the crowd too big to control?


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