Valve Explains Why Steam Customer Service Is Still Terrible

Valve Explains Why Steam Customer Service Is Still Terrible

At the start of 2015, Valve told me Steam's crappy customer service would be a big focus for them this year. It's still terrible. Here's what happened.

During a recent interview with Valve business authority Erik Johnson, I asked why people still have to put up with unanswered support tickets and, sometimes, months of radio silence when dealing with Steam support. He did not disagree with most people's assessment of the situation: it's gotten ugly with a capital "ugh."

"I think it's technically gotten a little worse on the user side of things [since the last time we talked] -- at least, overall in terms of current ticket times," he said. "That peaked a few weeks ago, and it's starting to get better now."

He told me that progress is being made on Valve's side of things; it's just not all visible progress. Even recent support-focused features like Steam refunds, he claimed, only represent the beginning of a much larger initiative.

"We started by realising we had a lot of software to write to build a new support system," Johnson explained. "The first feature that came of that was the ability to get refunds of purchases made on Steam. That made the most sense to start with. If a customer buys something they don't like, they can get their money back in a pretty transparent way. We think that's a good feature, but we don't think it was the fix for support. It had a lot more work behind it that was long-term thinking than just refunds."

"The second software problem that we're getting through now is how to deal with account security and account theft," he said. "So we've been updating the mobile apps and dealing with two-factor authentication. It's a surprisingly complicated and prevalent issue inside of Steam, and we have some unique challenges in there. A lot of the load of customer support is a function of the number of transactions you make. Our own games like DOTA and Counter-Strike and TF2 have a lot more transactions than a typical game, so that's created a lot of load on the system. The ability to trade items and sell items directly on the marketplace, that creates more support load. So all of those are kind of self-inflicted things."

But that still doesn't get to the heart of why Steam support, specifically, has more than it should in common with a backed-up toilet. On the upside, Valve has been working with third-party companies to establish a more efficient, effective support queue. Problem is, some of those companies weren't really interested in solving support problems.

"We've hired a couple different companies [to help with support]," said Johnson. "The thing that's interesting is, you go out to third-party support providers, and -- at least in our experience -- most of them wanted to sell you ways to reduce the number of people currently waiting in support, but they weren't very good at selling you ways to solve customer support issues. I think we've all had that experience of, 'I get it. You're trying to get me off the line.' We're not super interested in providing crappy support in volume."

So Valve's taken to training people, but training takes time.

"It's meant that training people in third-party has taken longer than we expected," explained Johnson. "It bugs us, but it is what it is. We think we'll have the support wait time down to an acceptable point by Christmas time. That's our goal. It's a function of training up more and more people answer customer issues. We're not there yet. It's getting better internally; it's just that it hasn't yet translated to great support for users. We're gonna get there, though."

If Johnson's timeline proves accurate, it will certainly be a nice Christmas present -- except, perhaps, for the new support trainees, who won't get a trial by fire so much as a holiday getaway to an erupting volcano. Ah, Steam sales.

Still, fingers crossed. Steam is one of the biggest video game platforms on Earth. Customer support capable of picking up the slack is long overdue.

Top image credit: MyGameplaying.


    Contacted Steam Support a couple of days ago. People had access to my account, somehow. Did a clean sweep of my computer, redid it 100%. So it was clean. Changed passwords but someone kept trying to access it from a bunch of different locations. Clearly trying to locate my spot so that it didn't lock them out.

    Anyway, contact Steam Support saying hey, I'd like to change my username. 3 days pass. They get back to me "Can't do that. But you can change your display name on your friends list! Here's how!" Are you fucking kidding? I know how to do that, I've been on steam since it was created. Don't go off and give me a tutorial on something I didn't ask for.

    Can't change a god damn username, sheesh... Anyway long story short installed the one-time password thing on my smart phone and was kindly reminded why Steam Support will always be ass.

      It certainly would be nice. I created my username when Steam was first launched to facilitate activation of Half-Life 2.

      I still have the same username from then - an ancient ISP email address that no longer works.

      Do you not have 2 step activated? That should fix pretty much everything.

      Coaching opportunity: Did not advise panyue on how to change his steam display name.
      Outcome: Written warning.

      customer service is balls, man.

      If you have noticed lately, Steam has started to ask for your phone number for account verification. I guess it's a step in the right direction but with your account being hacked and with Steam not allowing you to change your username, I doubt this would work.

      A friend of mine recently asked Steam (10 days ago) about why do you need a phone number and will it, in any way, enhance the protection of someone's account. To this date, there has been no reply.

    Sent a ticket in on the 4th October. It's the 17th

      "It says that it supplied “online access to video games via a subscription service”"


    Thanks to my own stupidity with an unexpected hard drive reformat and an unusable email account I was locked out of my steam account for two weeks.

    What would be good is maybe some sort of que number so you can see when someone is going to help you. Maybe even someone to just reasure you that help is on the way.....eventually. When help came I was very happy with it.

    Had my steam account since 2007, never had any issue what so ever. I have 2 step auth setup on mine so that's probably why.

      Same here. I have 2 step set up that sends to my phone, or an email account that also has 2 step. Never had an issue.

    I've has a support ticket open for 52 days for a self locked account. No response whatsoever. Pretty pathetic.

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