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Dear Valve,

I don’t know how likely it is you are to read what I have to say, but after stumbling across an issue with your shop, I felt it important to say something on an issue I discovered. So please, read the accompanying letter and think about the ideas therein. There is some self examination as well because I believe that in many ways your role in PC gaming puts it in a situation where we, the people who cover games, need to work with you on doing the best for consumers—something that has generally benefited you as a business in building trust with them. I thank you for your time.

We live in an era where gaming is evolving—it no longer is the same release and move on process that had once dominated the industry. The ones that didn’t just “move on” were doing expansions that came out a good while later, but effectively built on top of the product in one big dose. That’s very different from the model we see today—games release and are patched, tweaked, modified, and release smaller content updates for free, or paid.

Downloadable Content, aka DLC, is a contentious topic in many ways because of how its been abused in many cases. There is times where good DLC has greatly improved a game over time and cases where it’s flagrantly abusing the system and consumers’ goodwill. There are all sorts of cases in between, and DLC has often ran the gamut from meaningless overpriced and useless things like Horse Armor to giving out basically an expansion in several DLC releases such as Fallout: New Vegas’ main DLC, which included things like Old World Blues.

So DLC has done some good and bad, and it has helped contribute to the long tail of games, where a game keeps selling for prolonged periods with, ideally, a mixture of free content as well. Games like Hyrule Warriors have mastered this mixture that has made it a success for Nintendo and keeps drawing people back with new content and large packs of DLC that people happily buy knowing it has tons of content. Indie devs have embraced the long tail as well in many cases, providing free content patches often and then the odd paid DLC that is generally pretty good bang for your buck.

Where DLC has been more problematic is when its overpriced, misrepresented, badly done or any other numerous issue. In particular, some AAA developers have become infamous for this, and pitiful DLC that overcharges, and don’t care what users think mostly, as they have already bought the season pass,  which has in some cases been canceled or indefinitely delayed.

What this says is the ability to recommend DLC, especially more expensive and expansive DLC is important. In fact, you let users post reviews, so obviously you realize the ability to curate and discuss how good the DLC is, is important to users. You built the curator system to help with discoverability for companies, as well as to help consumers know more about the games. While the curator system hasn’t led to a great deal of extra discoverability, it does seem to have helped people feel more confident in purchases and provides greater information in many cases to the user.

As an industry, we need to get better at covering post-launch support, and I know at TechRaptor it’s something we’re working on doing. Part of the issue is that there is a great volume of games out there. and it’s essentially impossible to cover all of them, but on the ones we do cover, we want to do a better job of covering them after their launch—to look at the DLC, to look at the patches, the expansions and different things that change a game post-launch so people can hear and see what the status of the game is.

I think, however, you also need to play a role in this Valve. Let curators recommend DLC that is good and make it visible so users know that. Expansions get grouped into that same area, as do outfits, and they all should be given scrutiny. Are they well-made, does it look good, how much does it add to the game, are they priced appropriately? These are all things to consider and things that people can share in a highly visible location with the curator system. The review system helps some but we have to have a talk about that another time on the things we can do to improve that, and I need to talk with your users a bit there first (hint: please, take the time to review games honestly and mark funny as funny not as thumbs up).

But let’s acknowledge that these are products that should be treated similarly to other ones. They need to be given greater rigor by all aspects of this great industry we are in. We need to do a better job covering them, you should make it easier for people to view opinions on it, and some developers need to stop abusing it. There’s no reason we should be able to recommend or not a $4 game, but not do the same for a $7 expansion or even pricier ones.

Also while we’re talking about curators, Valve, I’d like to ask you to let us put a bit more than a tweet’s length there. Please, we can’t get much in the way of nuance and there are tons of users on Steam on a wide variety of things. A game might be something that is good for its genre or a certain type of player but not for others, and it would help if we had more than 150 characters to put that along with a quick take of the game.

Thank you for your time,

Don Parsons

Editor for TechRaptor and guy who updates our curator.

Post Script

This post came about when I was told this morning we didn’t have Postal 2: Paradise Lost recommended – an expansion our Xavier Mendel put at a 7.5 or very good. After talking a bit on Twitter with him and Running with Scissors, who brought it up initially, I went to add it following our curator system of recommending all games with a Good or better (under our current system that’s a 6). That was when I found out an expansion can’t be recommended because it’s listed as DLC and this is a case where it is pretty clear that its important to be able to discuss. I mean this is a $7 expansion that is very good and costs more than a good portion of games on Steam, and this is without getting into the fact that there are some pretty expensive expansions out there that users deserve to be able to see if people do recommend it and easily on the page since that system is there. Reviews help, but far too often reviews become joking grounds or brigades, a topic for another time really, but the curator system I believe, while it hasn’t boosted discoverability much, has helped people know that this is a game they might be interested in.

Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.

  • Hawk Hopper

    Postal 2: Paradise Lost is very good and curators should be allowed to recommend good DLC that is worth peoples’ time and money.

  • BurntToShreds

    With DLC curation, how would you prevent abuse by users? Let’s say that a cosmetic item package for a game comes out and it’s something reasonable, like 5 costumes for 2 dollars. What’s going to stop people (who I will call “DLC purists”) from creating a curation page for that kind of DLC in an attempt to shame those developers?

  • coboney

    Those people already *could* do that with the base thing on any game with cosmetic DLC.

  • “What’s going to stop people (who I will call DLC purists”) from creating a curation page for that kind of DLC in an attempt to shame those developers?”

    How is that, in any conceivable manner, supposed to ‘shame’ any developer? Did they not choose to release that product, and therefor shouldn’t care if people who aren’t going to buy it don’t like it or agree with the practice?

    Criticism over a company’s choices isn’t ‘shaming’ anyone, if there are people who don’t like cosmetic DLC they’re perfectly within their right to say so and inform those who share their opinion. It’s not as if they’re being decried for something in their private lives, there is no ‘shame’ to be had unless they already weren’t comfortable with their business decision and know they shouldn’t have done it, which is exactly how criticism is supposed to work.

    We really need to move past this inane concept that criticism or disagreement is ‘shaming’ people, and that we must needs be protected from it. If a developer doesn’t want to be known for inexpensive cosmetic DLC, the simple solution would be to stop selling inexpensive cosmetic DLC. Otherwise, they shouldn’t even care what their non-customers think, because those customers are already fine with it. Shame doesn’t even enter the equation.

  • Tamschi

    The developers can hide curators (which I think they should be able to). If you subscribe to a curator it’s visible nonetheless as far as I’ve heard.

    There were recently some issues with users of TotalBiscuit’s Framerate Police attacking a developer for doing that, but that’s definitely a problem with the community. (The publisher ended up reinstating the curator to the page. TotalBiscuit was pretty angry about the users doing that, so I hope they won’t act like that again.)

  • Haze

    This should be a thing already.