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Steam’s new recommendation algorithm is a “catastrophe” for some indie devs

Valve's update doesn't seem to be having the intended effects - and it's having some other, probably unintended ones

Valve has recently launched some major changes to Steam’s discovery algorithm, aimed at making the recommendations that appear around the store less biased toward popular games, and more likely to recommend titles relevant to individual players. But that doesn’t seem to be happening – and for some indie developers, the effects have been a “catastrophe.”

The details of the Steam recommendation changes are, as always, secret, but Valve says the intent is to make the store less biased toward best-sellers. But a quick glance at any ‘more like this’ section on the store will show largely the same selection of triple-A selections and breakout indie hits we’ve become accustomed to.

It’s tough to nail down exactly how broadly this is the case since Steam’s recommendations are – theoretically – personalised, but I’m getting similar results when logged out from the store, and Kotaku reports basically the same sorts of recommendations. That report’s collection of social media responses from developers also suggest another issue at play.

“The new Steam algorithm is not better, it’s a catastrophe,” Thomas Altenburger, developer of action platformer ScourgeBringer says on Twitter. The number of Steam users who add a game to their wishlists has been an important metric for indie success for ages now, and many developers have seen that number drop considerably since the update. Altenburger says “ScourgeBringer took -66%, an all time low. Months of effort ruined in an instant.”

Developers more heavily affected by the changes are more likely to talk about them, so it’s a self-selecting sample, but there does seem to be one thing in common – none of the most heavily-affected games are out yet. The algorithm seems to be moving away from unreleased titles, but there’s little indication that less popular titles – Valve’s intended target for improvement – are getting a boost.

“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,” Valve tells Kotaku in a statement. “It’s too early to say what changes will be made, but new features and tweaks are always likely after initial release.”