Indie Developers Have Mixed Reactions to Steam Algorithm Update

Published: September 16, 2019 9:42 PM /


steam discovery update dev reactions

Recently Steam released a new discovery update that changed how recommending games work, claiming that it would increase the visibility of smaller games on Steam. Today several developers have been talking about how it affected them.

The discussion started when Thomas Altenburger, who is currently working on ScourgeBringer, said on Twitter that, his game has seen a 66% drop in Wishlists additions since the update rolled out on September 12th. He has since put a call out to other developers, asking if they're getting similar problems. Yves Hohler, who is working on winemaking simulator Hundred Days, notes that their page views are down 10%, and their wishlists are down 58%. A developer for Marshin has said their page traffic is down 80% and that Marshin no longer appears in the "more like this" section for any games on Steam when it originally appeared in the section for 44 games. On Reddit, Rain Games has noted that, since the update, both Teslagrad and World to the West have sold 0 copies and that wishlist activity is down 20%. They noted also that the games that appear in the 'more like this' area have changed significantly with the update, and stated that they felt the World to the West like this games were less like it. Also on Reddit, a developer for Pixel Machine has noted that their game Invasion Machine has gone from 150 weekly wishlists to "pretty much zero", and their "other product page views" have gone from 1,500 to 36.

A few developers we've reached out to have also said the same thing to us. Jollypunch Games, who is working on Fly Punch Boom!, said the following:

I can confirm the Steam update completely tanked daily store visits and wishlists, which have been quite constant since launching Fly Punch Boom's Steam page. Only the last summer sale was this bad.
Likewise, Anton Petrushenkov, who is working on Safe Not Safe, said via email that the update is has caused visitors from the "more like this" section to drop from 58 to 1. He had this to say:
Before the update among others it was referred by the "Void Bastards" game - which is really similar. Both are quirky, complex and smart rogue-like games. Immersive sims I wouldn't be afraid to say.

There is no way to say for sure, but I think we got pretty big amount of people from this page coming to our page, checking out what we are in progress of doing and wishlisting the game.

However after the update "Games like this" section in Void Bastards is drastically different: You can see titles like "Rage 2", "Wolfenstein", "Doom: Eternal", "Insurgency" etc. in the recommendations... which does not make any sense from the "discovery" point of view. This is exactly the opposite from what was promised by Steam, in my opinion.

Sergiu Craitoiu, a developer on Unbound: Worlds Apart, said that, since the update, his game has gone from 100-200 daily wishlists to 2-10. He stated, "ultimately I think the best solution is not to rely 100% on Steam itself as the major distributor". Many of the games reporting the biggest change are those that are upcoming releases.

However, not all developers are noticing issues. Tanya X. Short, owner of Kitfox games, has said that neither Boyfriend Dungeon nor Lucifer Within Us, have seen any change in wishlisting or traffic. Winter Wolves Games, who has about 20 games on Steam but most recently put out Corona Borealis, has said that they did not notice any particular changes after the update. On Reddit developer dashrava, who made Mutilate-a-Doll 2, has provided a graph and said that there's no noticeable difference in wishlists or sales on their game. The developers of Tangledeep have also noticed no changes in sales.

Some developers are also reporting seeing the opposite. Elwin Verploegen, a developer for Sassybot who worked on Winkeltje: The Little Shop, said on Reddit's r/gamedev forums that wishlists have gone up from 41 on the week of September 2nd, to 96 on the week of September 9th. Jermey Zeler, a developer for Midgar Studios, has said that their games have gotten "3x more wishlist than before and a small increase in sales". Mélanie Christin has said that Transformice Adventures has doubled the amount of wishlists it's on. Georgina Bensley of Hanako Games has said that Magical Diary: Wolf Hall has shown an increase in traffic.

Alex Poysky, a producer/developer that worked on both Meeple Station and Between the Stars, told us directly that both games have seen a small daily uptick in sales with Meeple Station going to double-digit sales a day and Between the Stars picking up a few more each day. He couldn't definitively say if it was related to the discovery update, although the time frame would correspond with that.

We reached out to Valve over e-mail and received the following response from director of marketing Doug Lombardi:

We’re monitoring the effects of the changes now that they’ve been deployed on a larger scale, and we’re reviewing the mix of feedback from all sources. It’s too early to say what changes will be made, but new features and tweaks are always likely after initial release.
We're still waiting to see if Valve will change the feature further.


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