THE PCG Q&A
Find all previous editions of the PCG Q&A here. Some highlights:
- Who is your favorite videogame villain?
- What game should let you pat the dog?
- What weren't you allowed to play when you were a kid?
Valve continue their policy of doing everything possible to avoid hiring a human being when they could program three algorithms instead, with Steam Labs hosting the latest experiments. These tools to help people find new games seem more promising than the discovery queue and include six-second microtrailers, an entire automated TV show, and most interesting to us, an Interactive Recommender.
This "machine learning curator" looks at your most played games (helpfully displayed on the left along with a terrifying count of your total hours spent on Steam), and suggests other things you might like. What makes it more useful than the discovery queue is that you can mess with its sliders to immediately alter what's suggested. It can be tweaked to show newer or older games, and either more popular or more niche ones.
Has Steam Labs recommended something interesting to you? Here's what it's shown us, let us know what it says about you in the comments. And if you'd like to share your hours played, feel free!
I'm definitely that guy who puts the Interactive Recommender all the way to "niche." And honestly, its recommendations seem pretty great. I know I'd like Cosmic Star Heroine, an indie RPG that aimed for a bit of a Chrono Trigger meets Phantasy Star vibe. Aviary Attorney might not hold my interest, but I love the gag. Battle Chef Brigade is one of those games I'd definitely play if I had infinite time. It's an indie gold mine in here.
If I put the slider right in the middle, it essentially becomes a list of games I actively want to play but haven't gotten around to out of sheer laziness: Owlboy, Steamworld Heist, Axiom Verge, A Hat in Time. Apparently my Steam habits scream "indie platformers," and I'm not really gonna complain about that. The only thing it really gets wrong (but sort of right?) is when I slide all the way to popular, and it recommends The Witcher 3, The Witcher 2, and a lot of other games I've played, just not through Steam. That's right, Valve. I have other friends, too.
I play a lot of narrative-driven games that mostly fall into the horror and mystery genre, so pushing the slider all the way to 'niche,' while including releases in the last 10 years, gave me about 15 games that immediately piqued my interest. Out of those games, I've already played The Norwood Suite and The Fidelio Incident (thanks to Steam family sharing) and really enjoyed them, so I trust that I'll like Blackwood Crossing, The Works of Mercy, and The Spectrum Retreat. They all seem to have some sort of original edge to them. However, if I move the release date slider to within the last six months, the number of games I'm interested in dwindles drastically.
If I move the slider all the way to 'popular' and set the release date for within the last 10 years, there's only a few games on there that seem interesting. Her Story and Little Nightmares I would buy, as those seem to match my tastes the best, but I look at some of the other games on the list and say, "Steam, why would you think I would like Rocket League or Z1 Battle Royale?" The sweet spot for the popularity slider seems for me to be anywhere between half way and all the way to the right. I will say, though, that I like this system way better than having games recommended to me the old way.
If Steam has any intention of making this more than a fun little experiment, it needs some way to let people flag to it that, 'Hey, I own this game, just not on you'. On the popular end of the slider, I'm being recommended The Witcher 3, Hollow Knight, NieR: Automata, The Witcher 2, and so on... I'm interested in all of these games, so much so that I bought them all—just on platforms that aren't Steam. I'd say it at least suggests the algorithm has a grasp on my tastes, but the rest of the list is filled with free-to-play hero shooters that I have no intention of ever playing.
On the niche end, I'm being recommended games with names like Snakebird Primer and FutureGrind. I'll need to go through and see if any actually take my fancy, but it's a bit weird that most of them—when I check the store page—tell me "This game doesn't look like other things you've played in the past. As such we don't have much information on whether or not you might be interested in it". Show your working here, Steam. The one thing I did immediately snatch up was Zach-Like, a free book from Opus Magnum creator Zachtronics detailing the history and design of the studio's idiosyncratic puzzlers. Steam seems like a weird delivery system for a book, though, and so instead I went over to Itch to download the PDF. This, of course, ensures Zach-Like will remain in my Steam recommendations forever.
Perhaps the most useful function of this experiment is to remind me of things friends have previously recommended. Islanders, Astrologaster and Donut County are all things people I trust have recommended, and seeing them as I played with the sliders reminded me to check them out. Basically: I'm not quite ready to give myself to the algorithm just yet.
Right now, when I slide the bar all the way over to niche, and the date range is as wide as possible, my top two suggestions are the apparently buggy but interesting first-person journalism game The Occupation and laughable FMV disaster The Quiet Man. The latter, I feel, is the tool pointing and laughing at me for some poor past purchasing decision. I haven't bought The Occupation, but I have added it to my wish list after seeing it here.
Weirdly, if I slide the date range up, The Quiet Man disappears, even though it only came out late last year. I guess the recommendation tool has a way to go.
Like Phil, my popular recommendations seem to mostly consist of games I already own but not on Steam. There are also a few games that I have no interest in trying—Warframe, Dota 2, and Path of Exile. Some of those might be great, but I'm definitely not much of a multiplayer gamer these days. The niche recommendations are far more interesting looking, mostly because there are lots of games I've never heard of.
Earlier this week my top recommendation was some game called Hexodius that didn't really look like something I'd play, but now it's The Fall of Lazarus. There's also Planet Alpha, Her Majesty's Spiffing, Headlander, The Deadly Tower of Monsters, and Bombshell. Some of those look at least moderately promising, but the problem with all of these recommendations is the assumption that I don't have any games I currently want to play, and/or that I have time to go try out a bunch of other games.
My pile of shame is deep. It includes things like The Witcher 3, both Divinity: Original Sin games, the Dishonored games, and the last Doom (which I really need to complete before Doom Eternal arrives). I don't need more recommendations, I need more time—or a couple of clones that can play the games for me and then upload their consciousness back into my brain.
The Recommender suggested a bunch of quirky indie games to me, so I thought it had my number. But they turned out to be sad quirky indie games when I prefer the funny kind, like West of Loathing and Butterfly Soup. You don't know me, algorithm! You're not my real Dad!
Underneath those games about distant fathers and depressed roommates was something different—a Warhammer 40,000 card game called The Horus Heresy: Legions. I've read four books in the Horus Heresy series so this is basically catnip for me. As a collectible card game it does nothing new, but it's wrapped in the skin of a thing that I like. Before the tutorial was over I was already commanding troops to get into bunkers before virus bombs fell during the Istvaan III Atrocity. It was a fine way to kill an evening.
Also, it says I have 3,021 hours total spent in Steam games. I don't know how to feel about that.