Steam Curators Need A Revamp

Steam Curators Need A Revamp

Steam is a howling vortex of games both brilliant and terrible. Steam curators were supposed to be part of an effort to cut down on the chaos. I can't help but feel like the system failed.

For those who don't really pay attention to Steam curators (I get the impression that's a fair number of people), they work like this: anyone can be a Steam curator. Just make a curator page, and boom: you've got a sparkly new title for your resume, business card, or tombstone. From there, you create a list of games you recommend, complete with brief synopses or reviews. Naturally, there are a lot of curators — 4172 pages' worth (as of writing), to be exact.

And yet, only a handful of those regularly appear on games' Steam pages. How? By being popular. It's a numbers game. The more followers curators have, the more likely their blurbs are to appear on games' Steam store pages. Already, you've got a problem: Steam curation is a system where popularity breeds more popularity, where you're either at the pinnacle of the pyramid or you're lost in the catacombs beneath.

There's not a lot of middle, is what I'm saying. Rare, in this day and age, is the curator who can go from zero to hundreds of thousands of followers. If you had your foot in the door early, awesome for you. If not, well, it's doubtful that many people will ever find your page, no matter how novel the concept. The end result is a series of similar voices curating the biggest Steam games, with other points of view nestled multiple clicks away, where — let's be honest — few actually seek them out.

In short, Steam curators — an attempt at cutting down on Steam's discoverability problem — have a discoverability problem.

Most of the time, however, that all leads to a single, usually uninteresting (but relatively innocuous) endorsement taking center stage, like this one on Ark: Survival Evolved:

Steam Curators Need A Revamp

Other times, though, you get something like this, which had the video game Twitter-sphere all a... [welp I guess there's no word for it] earlier today:

Steam Curators Need A Revamp

Disclosure: the game in question is Read Only Memories. I'm friends with a couple of its developers. However, I have nothing to say about the quality of the game, as it's not relevant to this article.

There's, uh, quite a lot to unpack there. Generally speaking, though, it's not a great look to have an AIDS joke smack in the center of an otherwise professional-looking store page, from something as official-sounding as a curator — especially when the game its referring to frequently concerns itself with LGBTQ characters and issues. But so-called "joke" reviews slip through the cracks of Valve's system from time-to-time, because it's not really moderated in any substantial way.

That's unfortunate, and it's an issue that's led to a fair number of user complaints. So Valve built a solution into the curator system: developers, if they so please, can simply hide specific curations from their store pages. That Read Only Memories curation, for instance, has since been removed. Cool, right? Except for the part where that is a TERRIBLE solution.

Is it good for smacking down rotten vegetables hurled by the peanut gallery? Sure. But, in theory, it also allows developers to pick the most positive curation they can find, even if it's not the most indicative ever. I feel like, if a system's failsafe against potential trolling is that drastic — leaves that glaring of a hole — you might need to consider revamping it.

Steam Curators Need A Revamp

When I'm looking at Steam curations on games' store pages — the first evaluatory thing that pops up on any store page, I might add (see the above image) — it's hard not to think of those two ends of the spectrum. "This could be someone trolling or otherwise misrepresenting the game," says my brain. "Or it could be the developer's favourite, a process-of-elimination selection by the most biased party in the entire equation." Neither is good or useful. I'm not saying those things happen all the time, but the fact that they can is a big problem.

Of course, there are other places on Steam where curations come into play. If you scroll down the home page a bit, you'll find a selection of games recommended by curators you follow. That's handy (especially for older games that might not otherwise appear on Steam's front page anymore), but again: it's hard for new curators to emerge and lend their voices to that space.

Moreover, I find that if I'm trying to figure out whether or not a new game is worth buying, user reviews are usually faster and, broadly speaking, more indicative. Individually, some might stink to the highest heavens — leave traces of faecal matter in god's infini-beard — but there are often a lot representing multiple points of view, sometimes before any curations are live. Oh, and while some curators aim to update their curations, plenty are out of date. Sorting through user reviews is easier, too. The "positive/negative/funny/recent" tab system, while not the most elegant thing ever, gets the job done better than jumping between curation pages and scrolling to the game you're interested in.

At the very least, Steam curation, a system that gets such prominent placement on Steam, needs better moderation — or perhaps some kind of reputation system. Honestly, though, in its current form Steam curations feel stagnant and redundant, both in terms of content and as a system. I'm not entirely sure what an ideal Steam curator system would look like, but I know it's not this.

A second disclosure: Kotaku has a Steam curator page. We should probably update it more.


Comments

    They just need to go all together. I'll watch a trailer and read a description or go elsewhere (eg. Kotaku) for an opinion on a game before wading through the hot mess that is Steam Curation. It's the way we all did things before, and it worked fine.

    Ultimately, advice from my mates around what's good to play and what isn't will trump what PC Gamer or the like have to say. Besides, it's not like those pages are finding gaming nuggets of gold - it's usually just a repository for all the AAA's which we all know about anyway.

      Where I find the steam curators to be at there best is when they are focused on a specific niche or style of games. For example I follow one for strategy games, another for RPG, etc
      Ones that provide info generally not shown on the store page is good as well, for example I follow "Made in Australa" as if I'm tossing up between getting a game or not if it is Aussie made that can tip the balance.
      The top curators I generally avoid because as you say they are just churning our the same old stuff. But when you have things like Indie game test drive who hunt through the small games and make recommendations it is good as the major news places don't follow and review them

        Yeah, for similar reasons I follow the 'Anti-Consumer Practice Report' curator, which is pretty damn handy for steering clear of titles from devs who have done sketchy-ass things.

    I've never paid any attention to the Curators, waste of time imo. I look at the review score, watch the trailer, read the description and then check out the reviews. If I'm still on the fence at that point then I'll go check youtube for some gameplay vids.

    I don't bother using Steam to find games in general...just an occasional check on the front page banners. Generally I already know what game(s) I'm looking for when I go to Steam and am just checking prices.

    I do agree that Curators have a discovery problem and need a revamp, and I don't really use them anyway, having a too-large backlog as it is, and regularly following blogs such as this for my recommendations.

    That being said, a good part of this article focuses on the highlighted curator(s) of a particular store page. It goes on to say that user reviews are more useful. And of course they are, because you're looking at curators wrong.
    The point of curators is for you to look at the curators list of recommendations, then go to the store page; at which point you look at the reviews for more opinions.

    Curators exist to help you discover new games, not to help you to decide whether or not to buy the game you found. Their presence on the store pages is to help you discover curators. If you find the same curator icon popping up on games you like, chances are you'll like their recommendations and then go follow them.

    The solution is obvious, we need curators that curate game curators.

    Joking aside, I find the comments section infinitely more useful than anything that curators may provide.

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