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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