How would you change Steam?

If you were running Steam, how would it be different? Wait, that's probably too broad: it'd be GOG but with every game ever published, wouldn't it? Scratch that. Let's try it this way: What's one thing about Steam you wish Valve would change?

Being the leading digital distribution platform, Steam gets a lot of (fair) criticism of just about everything it does. Is it too lax about its standards? Or too strict? Or too inconsistent? And why doesn't it have X, Y, or Z feature? We can't answer those questions right now—not precisely. But we can complain about them (it's astounding that in 2018, Valve still hasn't implemented whatever X, Y, and Z are) and make suggestions. So for this mid-week Q&A, we asked our writers how Steam should change.

We always like to read your answers in the comments, so please do share them with us.  

Jarred Walton: Fancy downloading

I realize this is a very niche problem, and there are other ways around this (eg, building a proxy caching server, which I will probably do some time in the next month), but I'd love for Steam to be intelligent enough to know when one of the other PCs on my local network has downloaded a game and/or update and not go over the Internet again. When you have more than a dozen PCs that might decide to download a 10GB update, it can add up. 

Wesley Fenlon: Version history

This is a point we've harped on before, but I think it's the single best feature of GOG that Steam doesn't have. On Steam, there's no way to download an older version of a game. I think patches are generally thought of as universally good "fixes" that improve games, rendering older, unpatched versions obsolete. But that's not always the case! Maybe they "fix" something that had fun aesthetic value, like a dramatic moment of slowdown. Maybe they "balance" a weapon that let you play the game in a certain way that no longer works post-patch. Maybe a big update renders older save files unusable. For any of those reasons, Steam should keep a repository of older game builds available so we can install whichever version we like. 

I also think it's important from a preservation perspective. As more and more games are released digitally without a physical copy, archiving them becomes more difficult, and more crucial. I don't expect Steam to last forever, but while it exists, shouldn't the biggest PC game platform in the world serve as the most complete archive—within reason—for those games? If GOG can handle it, Steam definitely can, too.

Tyler Wilde: The thing we're all talking about

This is an obvious one, and the biggest topic of the day regarding Steam: clear and consistently-enforced content policies. 

I don't agree with those who argue that Steam should be a free-for-all with no rules regarding taste whatsoever (I'm certain that even they have a limit they're not sharing), and I don't think that's realistic anyway. Valve is going to have some say in what's on its platform. The problem is that the rules are enforced erratically, and aren't clear. Right now, Valve says that "pornography" is prohibited, but does not elaborate on how it defines pornography. The result has been a lot of confusion. (In the end, I think Valve will have to accept that Steam is a platform for erotic games.) Meanwhile, it is not hard to find examples of Steam's rules against hate speech and copyright infringement being ignored.

I'd like to see Valve spell out the rules more clearly, and have real people (as opposed to computer people) make judgement calls on borderline cases more often. I'd also like to see attention focused away from sex and onto other issues of taste and quality. Again, with people making judgment calls, not just the hope that terrible games will be algorithmically weeded out or pointed out by the public and press quickly enough that they can save face by removing them.

Chris Livingston: Forget my history

This goes for every single website that sells stuff: stop recommending things based on my history. You're bad at it. Just because I played a game about taking care of a baby doesn't mean I want to play a game about being a sperm. Just because I played one survival game for a half-hour doesn't mean I want you to spend the next six weeks flogging every single half-assed Early Access survival game in your cluttered, uncurated closet. It's like when I bought a smoke detector from Amazon a few months ago and now every time I visit it's like "Hey Chris, here's 100 more smoke detectors since that is clearly your thing! You love smoke detectors, right?" No. I needed one, I got one, I'm set for the next 15 years. Maybe by then you'll have an algorithm that outputs something better than 'more of the same.'  

Evan: Better 'looking for group' features

Steam needs a more robust "LFG" feature. Right now it's passive to the point of not being useful—I can flag that I'm generally "Looking to Play" on my friends list, but I can't indicate what game, or when I want to play, or indicate that I want to play one game while I'm playing another. I have plenty of moments when I'd be up for jumping into Rainbow Six Siege, or CS:GO, or Rocket League, or whatever, but only if I had a friend or two to jump in with. Tracking down people and scheduling games is tough—I don't want to start up 10 private messages fishing for friends and trying to wrangle people into a game.

Discord's handy for rallying people together, but Steam knows more about what your friends are up to and could do a lot more to make this data useful. It'd be nice to be able to easily broadcast all friends who own a game, or certain games, that I'm looking to play. 

PC Gamer

The collective PC Gamer editorial team worked together to write this article. PC Gamer is the global authority on PC games—starting in 1993 with the magazine, and then in 2010 with this website you're currently reading. We have writers across the US, UK and Australia, who you can read about here.