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Steam's Discovery update is making things worse for some indie developers

(Image credit: Valve)

Valve released a Steam update last week that aimed to show people more relevant games and fewer that were already popular. It claimed the changes would result in a more diverse selection of games appearing in the the Recommendation Feed and elsewhere. The impact of the changes isn't immediately obvious when looking at Steam, and some developers claim that it's having the opposite effect. 

My own recommendations are as random as they've ever been, though that's not surprising given that I've got nearly 1,000 games in my library. It's a diverse selection, I guess, at least in terms of genre, but they're almost exclusively well-known games, and the closest things to an unreleased indie game is Risk of Rain 2. The bottom of the homepage, meanwhile, recommends the massively popular Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Gears 5 and House Flipper because of my interest in stealth. 

Several indie developers have noticed a drop off in wishlisting since the update and claim that it's still largely promoting popular released games over lesser known fare. Flying Oak Games' Thomas Altenburger believes it's even more focused on big games than ever before, noting that the studio's upcoming roguelike, ScourgeBringer, effectively vanished after Valve made the changes. 

"The new Steam algorithm is not better, it's a catastrophe," he wrote on Twitter. "We're getting reports from many devs that their daily wishlisting dropped considerably."

Other developers have reported similar issues, both on Twitter and on Valve's blog post that detailed the update, though the latter is only visible to Steamworks partners. Some developers haven't noticed a difference at all, however, while others have actually received a boost. It's inconsistent, which makes it hard to see what impact Valve's tweaks to the algorithm have actually had. 

Developers already have a pretty contentious relationship with the algorithm and if the update has had unintended consequences, it wouldn't be the first time. Last year, an update introduced a bug that made indie games harder to find. Valve fixed the bug, but by then it had already cost developers potential sales. 

On Friday, a Valve representative told us that it was monitoring the changes and reviewing feedback, but that it was too early to say what changes would be made. New features are "always likely" after an initial release, however, so expect some tweaks. I've reached out to see if Valve has any more details. 

Fraser is the sole inhabitant of PC Gamer's mythical Scottish office, conveniently located in his flat. He spends most of his time wrangling the news, but sometimes he sneaks off to write lots of words about strategy games.