We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Even Valve doesn’t expect Steam’s biggest surprise hits

Valve is just as surprised as you by all those breakout Steam hits, as explained in a new video detailing exactly how you find your new games.

Steam surprise hit

Valve is just as surprised as you by those colossal Steam hits that seem to appear out of nowhere, as the company behind PC gaming’s biggest storefront releases a 25-minute video detailing just how it uses both player habits and bespoke curated segments to link you up with your next favorite game.

With so many games entering the best PC games list every year, it can be difficult to know what to play on Steam at any given moment. Steam sales can be a big help, but Valve has a very specific way of highlighting the games it thinks you like, and now we know a lot more about that process.

This comes from a brand-new Steamworks Development video hosted by Steam Business Team’s Erik Peterson, which details exactly how Valve uses a combination of player-focused algorithms and Steam-curated lists to present players with games they should end up liking.

In the video, called Steam Visibility: How Games Get Surfaced to Players, Peterson makes a point of how, like us, Valve is surprised when most games blow up on the platform. Recent Steam launches like Dave the Diver are a perfect example of this, and how Valve can’t predict when this is going to happen. We at PCGamesN have transcribed Peterson’s quote below.

“We’re surprised all the time by the games that find big success on Steam,” Peterson says. “Every week, Steam automatically picks up on games that we haven’t even heard of or games that we would have never predicted would be popular.

“Hit games are emerging organically, powered by what players are excited about. We think that when we get surprised by a game that’s good, it’s an indication that Steam is working properly.”

YouTube Thumbnail

Going back to the scuba diving, sushi-making example the Dave the Diver player count absolutely soared up right after release, hitting a peak of almost 100,00 concurrent players and rocketing past the Steam chart stalwarts for a time. Even Dark and Darker, which is no longer on Steam, hit a peak of 70,000 concurrents during the playtest, and this was another game no one saw coming.

Peterson goes on to explain how the Valve storefront uses both algorithmic visibility and curated features as well. Algorithmic visibility is personalized to player interests while the curated featuring is seen by every player.

The algorithm is highly reflective of what you play, the games you review, and what’s in your library, in an effort to show you exactly what Valve thinks you’ll like playing on PC.

For example, the algorithm will throw up popular games with the same tags as those you’re playing as recommendations, while the curated featuring includes things like the universal banner atop the main Steam store page.

Peterson also makes a point of how there’s “no one algorithm” on Steam to show players games. Instead, Valve uses multiple methods to make games visible on Steam and player interest-focused, so every player gets a storefront that reflects their preferences.

If you want to dive back into Steam now that you’ve learned more about the platform, we’ve put together the best free Steam games available on PC right now, alongside the best free games available across all storefronts.