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 Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.