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6 min read
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The evolution of Steam tags (& why we dig 'em!)

While suggestions solely based on media you’ve consumed also work well, I do think discovery via tags can be super valuable, especially on a platform that approaches 100,000 games.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Well, it’s time for a return to the GameDiscoverCo newsletter, this fair Wednesday. This time out, we’ve got two medium-sized ‘lead’ articles, rather than one gigantic one - since there’s a lot of different interesting things to cover.

Anyhow, lots to cover, so let’s get to it - before we get too distracted by the new, free Dicey Dungeons ‘Reunion’ DLC*. (*Which is really good, and you should definitely play.)

Steam tags: recent additions, and why they work…

So we started looking into the recent history of Steam tags - which you can browse on Steam itself, or via SteamDB for released games, and search individually via the GameDiscoverCo Plus back end for unreleased Steam games by tag.

This was inspired by the fact that ‘Cozy’ & ‘Wholesome’ are now Steam tags. (People with wholesome games, go add the tag, if your community hasn’t already!) But it got us wondering - what other tags have been added recently that we haven’t spotted?

We went on a bit of a trek, and Wok (who makes a lot of Steam analysis tools on Github) was kind enough to pass along his data on all Steam tags added since August 2019 (Pastebin link). You can see a lot of more specific and more consequential subgenres appeared in this timeframe. Summing those genre tags up for you all:

“2D Platformer, 3D Fighter, Action Roguelike, Action RTS, Auto Battler, Automobile Sim, Boss Rush, Card Battler, Colony Sim, Combat Racing, Creature Collector, Deckbuilding, Escape Room, Farming, Farming Sim, Hero Shooter, Idler, Life Sim, Looter Shooter, Open World Survival Craft, Party Game, Political Sim, Precision Platformer, Roguelike Deckbuilder, Roguevania, Traditional Roguelike, Vehicular Combat.”

We then realized that our Plus back-end was missing some recent tags, which we subdivide by ‘Genre, Trait, or Special’ classification to make them more browsable. So we just fixed that - and here’s the 29 Steam tags added since late 2020/early 2021. (Some surprising niche ones like Musou, alongside new subgenres like Boss Rush & on-topic crazes like Vikings.)

The point of this? Firstly, we’re planning to specifically log Steam tag additions in the future, because it’s interesting. BTW, a lot of the newer subgenre tags seem to have been added as part of the taxonomical revamp that formally rolled out in April 2021 as the ‘Category’ dropdown on the front page of the Steam store:

If you look at the history of game platforms, Steam has had a more complex and extensive taxonomy/category system than almost any other platform out there. Sure, it’s been loose and informal at times. But I really think it plays in Steam’s favor.

Why? Game genres and particular subgenres are important. And while suggestions solely based on the media you’ve consumed also work well, I do think discovery via tags can be super valuable, especially on a platform that approaches 100,000 games.

Along the way, Steam did some things that other platforms would not - giving tagging power to the public, meaning semi-troll tags like Cookie Clicker being tagged ‘Psychological Horror’, using that data to actually do tag rankings*, and being organic and improvisational with how it added tags, rather than over-planned.

But the net result has been poles ahead of the consoles, which have a few broad top-level genres on their store pages - if anything at all. Some are neglecting recommendation-based discovery entirely. Some - like Xbox - are trying it more adeptly. But none blend both tags and recommendations as well as Steam does. Bravo.

(*BTW, did you know that if you look in the HTML source code for your game’s Steam page, you can actually see how many people voted for each of your tags? You totally can!)

Meta’s Quest 2 price increase - what’s next for VR?

Sure, Meta’s producing glossy videos with Keke Palmer about whether we’ve got to the metaverse yet. But the headline of the week - and quite a big surprise for many - was the $100 USD increase in the cost of Meta Quest 2 headsets. Straight from the source:

“We’re making a change that will help us continue to invest for the long term and keep driving the VR industry forward with best-in-class hardware, action-packed games, and cutting-edge research on the path to truly next-gen devices.

Starting in August, Meta Quest 2 will cost $399.99 USD and $499.99 USD for the 128GB and 256GB versions respectively. And for a limited time, every new headset purchase will include an offer to download the popular VR rhythm game Beat Saber at no additional cost.”

Given that we’re used to hardware costs decreasing over time in the game space, this price jump is jarring, so say the least. How to read it?

Well, Meta is just about to report quarterly results, but if you look at early predictions for YoY revenue drops, with Meta’s share price already less than half of its peak in 2021, TikTok getting a lot of the buzz in the ‘social media you care about’ space, and Apple’s privacy changes costing Meta $10 billion this year, you can see the issue.

It’s also clear that a $299 Quest 2 price point was a money-loser for Meta. With supply chain issues raising costs in recent months, it’s possibly a bigger one that you’d expect. And we also know Reality Labs - the division housing the Quest & lots more long-term research - lost $10 billion in 2021.

So the pressure for profitable revenue growth is there - and Mark Zuckerberg has been explicit about this in all-company Meta meetings: “‘Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here,’ Zuckerberg said on the June 30th call, according to a recording obtained by The Verge. ‘And part of my hope by raising expectations and having more aggressive goals, and just kind of turning up the heat a little bit, is that I think some of you might just say that this place isn’t for you. And that self-selection is okay with me.’”

Unfortunately, we don’t have public sales numbers for the Quest, so it’ll be difficult to see how this price change affects monthly units sold. But anecdotally, there’s Quest supply in my local U.S. Target store most of the time right now, so it may not be a ‘raise prices to keep the hardware in stock’ situation.

The Quest ecosystem is still robust for third-parties, of course. When you have 10-15 million units out there in the marketplace, there’s a good installed base to keep selling games and experiences. But Meta’s AR/VR business is now on a ‘lose less money until you (eventually) become profitable’ diet - and it looks like this includes hardware.

[Late-breaking bonus news: the U.S. FTC is filing to block Meta from buying VR fitness studio Within, more aggressively than I expected, saying that “eliminating beneficial rivalry between Meta’s Beat Saber app and Within’s Supernatural app” is anti-competitive.]

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