Just over a week ago, Valve outlined their plan for what the Steam storefront should look like going forward. Included with that was a slick new section of a game’s store page that shows you why Steam’s algorithm think you might enjoy a game. Today, Valve is announcing changes to the trading card system that are meant to root out developers who are putting low effort games onto the service solely as a means to make money and exploit the system. If you’ve ever seen a Steam game using stolen assets or something that looks like a game developer’s first class project being sold for $0.99, you know exactly what type of games these are.
Part of the reason developers bother to flood the Steam store with low effort games is that they’re able to make money by farming cards with bots and selling them on Steam’s user marketplace. Even if there isn’t a single actual person that ever loads up the game, the developer can make a tidy profit. Steam also gets the same profit from these sales since they get a cut from every card sold on their service, and they admit as much in their blog post, but they are still concerned that the data that this activity is creating is causing their store algorithms to work inefficiently and give players lousy recommendations.
In order to rectify this, Valve will hold off on allowing games to drop cards until they reach a certain metric. Using yet more algorithms, the Steam storefront will automatically switch cards on once the game is detected to be a real game that people are actually playing rather than a game that only bots are idling in. Once cards are activated for any given title, the system will look at past playtime and drop cards accordingly, so early players will likely get one large drop of cards rather than a slow drip.
Trying to get ahead of questions, they stated that this system would not have worked on Greenlight due to the narrow collection of data that they were gathering on that service. The changes to Steam’s trading cards will occur at some point in the future, but they are not currently active. It was revealed that plans and pricing details for Steam’s new Direct publishing model will come in their next post.
Much like their other recent changes, I’m mixed about this latest effort to solve Steam’s issues. At first glance, the system seems like a great solution to the “fake games” issue, since those scummy developers will have a harder time getting money out of Valve. However, it is still an algorithm making all these decisions, and I’m really not sure that throwing more automatic systems on top of the ones already in place is the ultimate solution. No matter what Valve says, the Internet (and Valve’s own Greenlight) has proven repeatedly that scammers will do anything to take advantage of these systems, and I have no doubt that we’ll soon see stories of niche games mislabeled as “fake” and a new vector for these games to become profitable.