How Valve Could Solve The Steam Backlog Problem

How Valve Could Solve The Steam Backlog Problem

As part of this whole running-a-site-dedicated-to-Steam gig, I check for new releases every day. Last week, a peculiar thing happened: there were hardly any. At all.

I kinda wish it would happen more often. Giving games a chance to breathe — what a novel idea.

Of course, that's not really what last week's release slowdown was about. I can't be 100 per cent sure about this, but I'm relatively certain the Steam summer sale was to blame. Despite increased interest in Steam overall, releasing a new game during that period verges on suicide. I mean, think about it: beloved classics and under-the-radar gems alike are frolicking about with naught to hide their playable bits but the tiniest scrap of price tag, and along trundles a full-priced newcomer nobody's ever heard of. Sounds pretty dire, especially when you consider that deals — not new games — get all the prime front page real estate during Steam sales. If I had to guess, I imagine Valve understood this quite well and suggested to developers that maybe they should wait until after the dealpocalypse to release their games.

But still, loyally, dutifully, like a hound capable of using a keyboard — a dog with a blog, if you will — I looked for new games. Every day. Beginning June 12th, there was a huge drop off in releases that lasted until today. In that time period, the number of new releases — DLC included — totaled out to around the amount Steam would normally see in a couple days.

And it was glorious. I spent that time — or rather, the time I wasn't at E3 — catching up on stuff I'd missed (Sunset is interesting, Kholat sure does have Sean Bean in it, The Magic Circle is clever as hell), replaying some timely old favourites (Dishonored and Fallout 3, obvs), and generally not COMPLETELY FREAKING OUT. I also got really into Orange is the New Black, but that's mostly unrelated.

It all got me thinking, though: what if, from time-to-time, Steam just... stopped for a bit? What if this sort of thing happened more often, but maybe with a little less focus on a big sale? There could still be a huge event involved, but perhaps it would be centered around digging through your backlog, pushing through games you've been meaning to get around to for ages. Valve is, for better or worse, utterly masterful at crafting metagames that get people to care about stuff they normally wouldn't. Case in point: Steam trading cards, badges, etc. More specific case in point: last week's Monster Game, which somehow convinced millions of people to click until their bones ached and their calluses wept.

Imagine a metagame like that applied to our backlogs — to playing them and discussing with them and engaging with them. Not just buying old games For A Steal and then letting them gather dust for several thousand years. A week all about games we already own, with maybe a handful of new releases tops. I don't know about you, but I think that would be pretty fucking cool.

And yeah, I know: Valve wants our money. But they also, from time-to-time, strike me as a company that knows they have enough of it to take a risk or two — to vary things up. Plus, there are monetary benefits to periodically shifting focus to older stuff. First and foremost, cleaning out the backlog gives people a good reason to buy something new. But, if you want to get more insidious about it, DLC is a thing. I don't know about everyone else, but when I'm really digging a game — in so deep that friends and family come hunting with canaries to find me — I'm far more likely to buy the DLC.

Really though, not everything everyone does has to be motivated by money all the time forever — even when you run a store. There's such a thing as taking a (in the grand scheme of things, slight) loss to make customers happy, enrich your community, and give your service utility of a different sort than it's ever had. On the community side, especially, I think something like this could bring people together for actual discussion via Steam — something more confined to places like Reddit right now. Because for real, talking about your favourite games is fun, especially when someone else is discovering them for the first time. There's a weird, almost voyeuristic thrill to it. You've been there, and in your mind's eye, you can see what they're doing, how they're feeling. You get to relive a little bit of that first-time thrill.

Of course, a Steam backlog event would require Valve, a notoriously hands-off (except when sales are involved) company, to take the reins for a week or so. These days, that seems like a pretty tall order. At this point they're belligerently dedicated to their ideal of a free and open platform — even if that means it is, in some ways, also a lesser one.

You never know, though. This kind of event is close enough to what Valve already does with sales, and it goes a long short existent way toward solving one of Steam's biggest problems (TOO MUCH NEW STUFF ALL THE TIME AAAAAAHHHH). Maybe it could happen. I'd certainly like to see it. How about you?

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    The one major and important fact this article ignores is that it is not Steam/Valve selling the games, it is the developer selling their game through Steam. It's not like a physical store where Valve would buy a set number of licenses for a game from the developer and then sell them at profit. Instead, the developer pays Steam a commission (essentially) per sale with the rest going straight to the developer.

    If the game isn't on the storefront, the developers don't get money. So if Steam were to halt new releases for a time, the developers hoping to start selling their game go that entire time without being able to make any money. All people really need to do is just show a little self control and stop buying every new game that comes out.

    Backlog problem is user problem. Not steam or developers. Finish your games before buying new one?

    It's not that hard to clear your backlog. (Stares at my 250 unplayed games on steam + 150 games on consoles) Not hard at all.....

    Last edited 23/06/15 2:01 pm

    Imagine a metagame that used Steam game badges like cards in a CCG. It would be interesting, make people want to complete their card collections for games, some cards being collected by playing your games, and would encourage people to buy new games to get new badges. Clearly you couldn't make any game have an inherently better badge than any other game without adversely affecting sales figures, so either balance would be a huge deal or you'd need to add some randomness to each badge. Or both, because balance is always important, and randomness keeps things interesting. I don't know about you guys, but I'd play that game.

    Why is everything a writer seemingly thinks on a whim a "problem"? Whether the "problem" is social or political or even silly, the one thing that permeates every instance is the certainty of the writer that the "problem" actually exists for everyone. Is it wrong to think holistically and empathetically take a step back from yourself to actually determine how what your saying is being perceived by readers of different perspectives and backgrounds and why there is perhaps a fault with inherently imbuing your position with immovable and infallible certainty? Maybe you don't always have as strong as a point as you feel you do. This is not a problem because it ignores a few basic principles like people being responsible for their own shit, though, it pales in comparison to other common ones like; being aware of your own behaviour, understanding the difference between advertising and game media tropes before you make videos about them or paying attention to criticisms as opposed to appointing yourself as some kind of omnipotent judge of character and practice.

    Can't we just talk about video games for once and not pretend we aren't eschewing everything the human race has learnt (and is still discovering and teaching today) about communication over the last few decades because it's easier?

    Last edited 23/06/15 2:47 pm

      A rather narrow view of the subject, moving beyond it being just a "personal problem", many benefits await the industry if they can coach players into playing a wider assortment of games. Diversity is already present, a lot of Steam users have everything from JRPGS to mindless shooters thanks to massive sales and Publisher bundles but fail to play them.

      If successful this could easily have the same effect as itunes did for the music industry, increasing peoples tastes and wiliness to try something new and thus pay full price for them. As gamers become more diverse and seek to try new things, creativity and innovation becomes a premium asset to publishers. They will start looking for the next big thing rather then slapping a 3 on something they already have.

      Last edited 23/06/15 10:45 pm

    I'm on the fence with this one. Check this out......

    I have a backlog....I LOVE the fact that I have a backlog but at the same time I can't wait to get through it, not just on steam but in my games log in general.

    Married with three kids and working night shift all the time, I barely get a chance to play anyway, not nearly as much as I used to. My backlog gives me a bit of sanity when I do have some sort of me time, at least when I'm not involved in other hobbies like guitar and "fixing broke crap around the house"

    I spent a decent amount of money building my backlog but mainly during Steam sales. It's really died off though, this last sale I purchased two games, UT3 Black and Massive Chalice, the rest was like " I own it already.....own it.....own it.... own it...". So I've enough games to keep me going for a while.

    Important to have a strategy though!

    Moving beyond the backlog is a user problem, this could prove beneficial for the gaming community in a number of ways. The last few years have seen a slew of tittles running into the 4's 5's 6's and 7's...

    This is not a bad thing, only good games make it that far (despite people personal opinions of them i.e COD, Assassins Creed etc). Publishers are risking a lot to try something new and I believe to an extent its because gamers are afraid to try something new. Take something they know and try and innovate too much and they go crazy, not enough and they complain. This is understandable, I am not trying to sound condescending I am the same.

    New developers have to make games that are "safe" to make money before 2010 it was MMO's they offered great returns now its Moba's. Gamers need to want diversity before publishers start supplying it. Looking Beyond PC this extends to console but as they too adopt digital distribution I hope to see them with similar system to steam... sales, returns etc.

    The music industry was the same, styles went in and out, and while still true today it was far more noticeable back then, single styles ruled the industry for long periods. Today, after itunes, the taste of music has exploded beyond one band or style. Any style has a true chance to succeed. In the Top 40 you can have a multitude of styles, Rap, rock, dance, trance, Teenage bands... the list goes on.

    Steam has completed the hardest step, getting us to buy these odd/different games. We already do come sale time, most of us have a insanely diverse game library but fail to expand our tastes as most games sit in the backlog as we prioritize more familiar tittles or genres. Our tastes and experiences largely remain the same... This mean the type of games we are willing to pay full price for are the same.

    If they were able to implement a system that was just as popular as counter strikes gun skins or TF2 hats and get us playing the other tittles in our collection favoring those less played tittles, it could change the gaming landscape forever. Diversity could be front and center again and publishers might start looking for creativity, as well as keeping our favorite tittles running.

    Perhaps between sales one year, Valve could just have a month long showcase of "This best games you probably own and definitely haven't played"

    Each week the top rated curators are told to find their pick for the best game nobody has played and really should. The curator that gets the most attention to an unloved game gets front page time and a little extra spotlight.

    Of course, this would require some kind of threshold of how "underground" the game has to be, and curators would need to have individual entries.

    It'd probably be quite challenging to initially setup, but I bet Valve could do it, and best of all, everybody wins. The curator gets attention, the devs get some income and their games seen in the wild, players get to play good games and Valve gets to facilitate it all.

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