Devs express optimism, caution over Steam interactive recommender

Steam's new interactive recommender tool has some devs optimistic about the future of selling games on Steam, but the continued commitment to algorithms has others worried.

Steam's announcement of Steam Labs today came with some interesting tools that may impact the future of selling games on Steam. Key among them is the interactive recommender---a new tool for game discoverability that, per Valve, uses a user's "hours played" metric and some machine learning to make game recommendations based on user inputs. 

After some concerns over the performance of the 2019 Steam summer sale and the growth of the Epic Game Store as a curated storefront, developers have plenty of reason to pay attention to what the future of Steam recommendation might look like. Fortunately, several developers have already weighed in with positive---if cautious, impressions. 

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine developer Johnnemann Nordhagen succinctly encapsulated the range of responses to this new feature in a pair of tweets first expressing frustration over "hours played" as a metric for game recommendation, but then noticing the tool didn't seem to be blindly suggesting titles based on that number alone.

Veteran indie devs like David Pittman and Robert Zubek quickly weighed in to say the tool already helped them surface some interesting games they hadn't heard of, with Zubek seeking more questions about the game's machine learning, and what inputs developers should be paying attention to when their games surface in the tool. 

NYU game center chair Naomi Clark joked that the tool seemed to be measuring the 500 hours she'd mistakenly left The Wolf Among Us running in another window, but ultimately said the recommended games were still a good selection, and that the slider between "popular" and "niche" was a particularly good part of the tool. 

Some developers, however, remained pessimistic about Steam's use of algorithms to drive game recommendations at all. Observation programmer Andrew Haining described this behavior as Valve having "no interest in listening to developers or players." 

Many developers selling games on Steam right now are intimately familiar with how well front-page placement on the store, no matter how it's handled, can be to their games' sales. At this time, Valve has stated it would make a blog post if there were plans to bring the recommender to the Steam front page. 

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