The billion dollar accident known as Steam has been a staple of many PC gamers’ existence throughout the past decade. Once a smallish boutique of digitally distributed curiosities, the service has become a mainstay of video gaming with inroads for practically any type of game you can imagine.

Over the years, loads of new features have been added to the client that may or may not be perceived as value added upgrades depending on the individual. Early Access and Green Light are two systems that I find value in, and have helped open the doors to many smaller independent game studios that would have otherwise remained closed.

Other features I would gladly switch off entirely given the option. Curators and recommendation queues are two examples of features that just get in the way, cause clutter in the client, and make it more difficult to find things. Ironic, considering both systems are intended to do the exact opposite.

While browsing for a good horror game to sink my teeth into, some of the weaknesses of these systems became readily apparent. Steam might know I’ve played certain types of games through the client, but probably doesn’t know that I’m a core MMO and RPG gamer because I play the bulk of those titles through direct client installs. It also doesn’t know what type of horror game I might currently be interested in playing, for that matter.

That’s not a fault of the system, but like most recommendation systems, it also never took the time to ask.

Instead, it makes certain assumptions based on titles in my Steam library. It also doesn’t account for how many of those games I’ve played a little versus a lot. Sure, I may have a sizable number of low cost titles from certain genres, but many have an hour or less of game time logged. A handful of other titles have seen the exact opposite, like the 1000+ hours invested in the Saints Row franchise.

None of these more subtle considerations seemed to have any impact on the games Steam thinks I’d enjoy while browsing for a new horror game to play. Instead, a disproportionate number of retro platformers and off-genre titles were recommended which is funny considering I’m just not hipster enough to really get into the bulk of the more recent wave of retro indie titles. Some of them are probably great if that’s your thing, but having lived through all of those earlier stages of video gaming, I’m not particularly eager to see the industry regress.

Steam – at one point at least – was a service I would have considered to be on the bleeding edge of video gaming. It was light years ahead of the curve in terms of digital distribution, and was offering up a centralized consumption platform accessible from multiple locations long before things like smart phones and tablets existed.

While I do find plenty of intrinsic value in the current melting pot approach, it has also become increasingly more difficult to find games that fit my particular interests. Having to cut through a thick forest of nostalgia, DLC listings for games I don’t even own, and incorrectly tagged games only compounds the problem.

True Story: Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker is currently listed as a new release under Horror on Steam. Yep.

It’s like the system is trying way too hard to recommend games I should consider purchasing, instead of reducing the friction of being able to find things on my own.

The Mysterious Case of the Green Test Tubes

A little over four years ago I purchased some green test tubes on Amazon for a silly marketing idea I had to help promote the launch of Necrobator (my old Guild Wars 2 necromancer fan site). To this day, Amazon still recommends random lab equipment that I would never in a million years want, need, or purchase.

Steam has gone down a similar path to the point where I’m forced to rely on external research to find games of interest, only then launching the client to navigate directly to the product page. Bypassing the wall of recommendations in the store entirely seems to be the only viable method of actually finding something I want which is a bummer, given the potential still present within the platform.

Maybe none of this really matters given that Steam is about to enact its grand invasion of living rooms. All the recommendation systems that gum up the works when filtered through my PC gaming brain make far more sense if you’re looking at things from a console gamer’s perspective.

I do love Steam on certain levels, and hope that it continues to prosper and grow for years to come. I only hope that it can also remain a top service for PC gamers as I can currently see plenty of large, gaping holes in its once impenetrable armor.

Remember folks:

  • Video killed the radio star.
  • Napster killed the CD industry.
  • iTunes killed the value of crafting long form albums.
  • Digital radio killed FM.
  • iPhones killed mosh pits.
  • And so on.

It may be hard to imagine that Steam could become a similar casualty of progress, but I can also see a massive opening for anyone with enough capital and programming knowledge to sweep in while no one is expecting and become the new king of digital distribution for PC games. Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old bastard who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Or both.

On that note, can anyone recommend a good PC horror game worth checking out? I’m guessing our readers could come up with something better than Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker.

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Last Updated: Mar 14, 2016

About The Author

Sardu 1
Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.