Steam’s New ‘Play Next’ Recommendation Feature Mostly Sticks To Hits

Steam’s New ‘Play Next’ Recommendation Feature Mostly Sticks To Hits
Image: Valve

Steam’s latest new feature is undeniably useful: The “Play Next” library widget generates a list of games already in your possession that you might be interested in trying. As someone who has a miniature existential crisis every time I finish a game, it’s perfect for me.

This week, Play Next graduated from Valve’s experimental Steam Labs section to the main client. By default, it appears near the top of your Steam library page. It is, like so many other elements of Valve’s ubiquitous borg hivemind PC gaming platform, algorithmic in nature. It bases recommendations on the playing habits of “players like you.” Right now, you can scroll through a finite list of recommended games, all of which you have either never played or haven’t spent much time with.

My list is pretty good, but as with other Steam algorithm-driven initiatives, it skews pretty heavily in favour of well-known games. For example, the most popular game among players like me—and I’d really love to have access to information on how Steam categorizes me—is apparently Shadowrun: Hong Kong. I play a lot of tactics games and RPGs, and I adored Hong Kong’s predecessor, Dragonfall, so this selection makes a lot of sense.

There are also other games on the list that I’ve been meaning to get around to for literal years: Subnautica, Invisible Inc, the rest of Kentucky Route Zero, and Oxenfree. Additionally, it zeroed in on a few games—Firewatch, Grim Fandango, and Hollow Knight—that I’ve previously played outside Steam, but that would certainly be good recommendations if I hadn’t already finished them. A couple exceptions aside (I have never played a Souls-like on Steam, so I’m not sure why it’s recommending multiple Dark Souls games), the system seems to have me pegged pretty well.

That said, there’s only one game on my whole list that I would even describe as slightly obscure—in other words, that I wouldn’t have thought to play myself, without Steam’s assistance. It’s a 2015 sci-fi exploration game called Cradle, and I guess I picked it up out of curiosity? To be honest, I’m probably not gonna play it, but I would love to see Play Next surface more games that I haven’t thought about in a minute. Or years. There are countless clever indies in my library that deserve more love, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

I imagine Valve will tweak Play Next over time, and it will naturally evolve as it collects more data. And while I don’t think it’s quite a homerun as-is, it did knock one selection out of the park: Tonight, I think I’m finally gonna fire up Shadowrun: Hong Kong.


  • I hate to say it, but this might be one of the pitfalls of being a reviewer who predominantly has to play and predominantly owns ‘hits’.

    My experience was the exact opposite. I kept scrolling for ages – right to the end – and was not able to even FIND a hit in my list. Hell… most of the titles I’d never even heard of, let alone knew I owned.

    The list as it stands for me at the moment:
    Polarity, Out There Somewhere, Suits: A Business RPG, Beep, Morphopolis, Camera Obscura, Betrayer, Home, No Time to Explain (remastered), Labyronia RPG, Gods Will Be Watching, The Howler, Bionic Dues, A Virus Named Tom, Nekopara 0, Revolution Ace, Eldritch, Labyronia RPG 2, bit Dungeon, Pixel Puzzles Ultimate, Fragile Ball, Gravilon, Savior, Dyscourse, Always Sometimes Monsters, Legend of Mysteria, Savant – Ascent, The Forest of Doom.

    Mostly hits? I’m guessing most people will have only even HEARD of maybe six of those titles.

    I think at the moment if you want to get recommended niche indie titles, you’ll need to have a lot of niche indie titles in your library, and play some, so that Steam knows you actually like that sort of thing.

    Also worth noting: These are unplayed titles in your library. Not recommendations from store, that you might then need to buy. How big’s the author’s library? How many non-hits are actually in there, unplayed and waiting to be?

  • Thankfully you can easily remove that feature if you want it ( like i fucking dont)).

    dear companies, stop trying to force me to watch/play shit i have no fucking interest in playing/watching. when i go to my Youtube home page the only thing i want to see on there is videos/livestreams from people im subscribed too. Similarly when i go to store, all i want to see on the home page is new releases and titles that have discounts going, nothing else. You all have a perfectly fine search bar that i can use if want to find something elese

  • My recommendations are certainly erring towards less prominent indies.

    My current list includes a lot of middle-tier to indies, including Orwell, Viridi, My Lands, Hexcells, Banished, Bionic Dues, and Hacknet, plus a smattering of free to play games which I have a bit of a thing for. Depending on your definition some might be considered ‘hits’, but that seems a particularly low hurdle to jump given that I also want my recommendations to be actually good or there’s not much point.

    About as AAA as it gets is Borderlands (the original), Titan Quest, Endless Space 2 and Age of Wonders 3.

    All this from a selection of over 3000 games owned. All up, I’m actually pretty darn impressed, and a few there were completely off my radar and I must have picked up in a bundle at some stage.

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