For the past couple of weeks PC Gamer has had access to a 'pre-beta' of Steam's upcoming new Curator features. They aren't publicly available just yet—Valve says they're coming after "at least a couple" more weeks of closed beta—but when they are they'll significantly expand the Curator program.
Anyone who uses Steam can become a Steam Curator, allowing them to assemble a collection of recommended games which can be viewed in a list, as well as populate the storefront of followers. The program was unveiled as a human alternative to the data-driven discovery features on Steam—though Valve hasn't wavered on its commitment to the latter. If you'd rather avoid "biased, opinionated human beings," writes Valve today (update: the word "biased" was omitted from the final blog post, but appeared in a draft provided yesterday by Valve), it's also working on "significant improvements to the core recommendation engine which algorithmically suggests games for all Steam users."
But if you do enjoy getting recommendations from filthy, unrefined, emotional and imperfect humans, here's what's coming soon to the Curator system:
- Video reviews made by Curators will be embedded alongside their recommendations, so "when you click through a recommendation, or when you browse a Curator's page on Steam, you'll be able to watch their videos in-line." Steam will initially support YouTube, nicovideo.jp, youku.com, and bilibili.com.
- Curators will have the ability to create themed lists, eg, 'The best RPGs.'
- The 'Recommended Curators' list will now recommend Curators based on what you've been playing.
- Curator recommendations will begin appearing in tag and genre pages.
- Curators will gain access to statistics, showing them how their recommendations have affected game page views.
Another big addition is a new program, called Curator Connect, which allows developers to "search for appropriate Curators, and then send a copy of their game directly through Steam."
It's a formalized, proactive system for PR, essentially. Developers will "be able to search the listings of Steam Curators, narrowing results by name, OS, language, or tags that the Curator indicates they focus on." Once they find a Curator who might be interested in their game, they'll be able to browse any linked social media accounts to "help verify that the Curator is truly who they claim to be" before sending a copy of their game through Steam. Curators can then accept or decline the game, "no need to mess with keys or e-mail."
For developers who've been burned in the past by fraudulent email requests for review copies, I can imagine that directly contacting Steam's largest curators will be helpful. Because no keys are involved, there's no chance of the game going to the wrong person and subsequently showing up on a key selling site.
For Valve, it's another step in the same direction as usual: building Steam into less of a store, and more of an autonomous ecosystem for publishing, promoting, criticizing, and buying games. Like every change to a platform as big as Steam, there's surely some unforeseen way in which it could go wrong, so we'll have to see how it plays out.
Starting today, "a few dozen Steam Curators of different sizes, niches, and languages" will be invited to the closed beta of the new Curator features. They'll be rolled out publicly within a couple weeks, if all goes well.