Curation, as Itch.io explained in a recent blog post, "is the act of selecting games to highlight and present to customers." Different platforms do it differently: Steam, for instance, relies heavily on algorithms to handle the mass of games it offers, with sometimes mixed results. But Itch.io, content director Spencer Hayes explained, is "not super-interested" in taking that approach.
"An over-reliance on algorithms typically narrows down recommendations to only the most 'profitable' games and has historically worked to the detriment of marginalized groups. We don’t want that," Hayes wrote. "Reliance on algorithms also allows bad actors to game the system. We also don’t want that. So we do things the old fashioned way: most of the content on our front page at any given time is hand-picked by someone on staff."
Itch.io content director Spencer Hayes:
"An over-reliance on algorithms typically narrows down recommendations to only the most 'profitable' games and has historically worked to the detriment of marginalized groups."
Hayes acknowledged that it's a major undertaking, and that there are no hard-and-fast rules that govern the process. The goal is simply to "highlight creative works that resonate with us and (hopefully) you, whatever that means." The site turns the spotlight on three games per week with brief writeups for each on its blog, and also maintains a "featured games" section on the site's front page.
"We spend more time than we imagine anyone else would so we condense some of what we’ve found onto the top of our front page," Hayes explained. "This is one of the fastest moving areas of the site and I think the most approachable way of beaming our recommendations right into your computer."
Despite the hands-on approach, Itch.io does rely on automated processes to cover some bases. It's not Steam, after all, but there's still a lot going on. "We’ve got 100,000 projects on our site now and while we look at a lot of games every day, we can’t look at all of them. That’s where our robots come in. There is a portion of our front page under the Recommended For You header that is just games that our robots think you’ll like based on what you’ve downloaded and played in the past," Hayes wrote.
"We’re really pleased with the amount of curation that we do on the site, but we know we can keep improving. Curation is a bit like swimming upstream and while no method is perfect we hope you find some games you’ve never seen before through our efforts."
"No method is perfect" is certainly true: Valve overhauled Steam's curation process last year and continues to tweak the system to keep its recommendations relevant, and GOG had a recent stumble with Opus Magnum, an exceptionally good puzzle game that was somehow rejected, although that decision was later overturned. Hands-on curation across the board obviously isn't possible for digital storefronts of any size, but it's equally clear a little personal attention is never a bad thing.
The most recent "Itch.io Recommends" roundup includes Chuchel (which we also recommend), a game about "a young queer woman exploring their gender and struggles through the lens of late 90s technology and fandom culture" called Secret Little Haven, and H.V.N.T.E.R.S., a four-player co-op roguelike.