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What did (and didn't) work for the first year of Valve's Steam Labs experiments

What did (and didn't) work for the first year of Valve's Steam Labs experiments

July 13, 2020 | By Alissa McAloon

The team at Valve has shared a bit of a rapid fire micro-postmortem of Steam Labs' first-year experiments, offering game developers a look at how certain creations evolved through feedback and which features were left on the cutting room floor.

The Steam Labs initiative was set up last summer as a way for the Steam team to workshop and test new features for the platform through community involvement. In the past year or so, Steam Labs has shipped four experiments as new features for Steam, with at least three other experiments expected to see a full launch over the coming months.

Some, however, never made it out of the Steam Labs phase. As explained in the full one year Steam Labs retrospective, both The Automated Show and Deep Dive (an experiment based on Lars Doucet’s Diving Bell project) have been shelved for the time being after finding they didn’t particularly resonate with players.

For Deep Dive in particular, the Steam Labs team says that the hidden gem discovery-focused tool unearthed some interesting patterns in game libraries and playing habits, it ultimately wasn’t the best solution for the discoverability problem it was trying to address. 

“While it was fun to discover how many degrees of separation could be found between Battle Brothers and Strikey Sisters, or to discover little known but well-loved Gems somewhat similar to a favorite popular game, we found similarity-based browsing to be a tough sell as a destination,” writes the Steam Labs team. “Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from our Deep Dive experimentation has been the idea behind its Similar Tags matching algorithm. This allows us to organize the hundreds of Steam tags into a handful of meaningful categories that can be leveraged to help gauge similarity along interesting axes like genre and mechanics."

“This tag categorization work led us to identify relationships between tags, features, and other kinds of metadata associated with Steam games, resulting in our Query Expansion experiment and the Tag Wizard, a tool we built to help devs associate their games with a broad range of tags for improved discovery. It also inspired the creation of internal tools we use to identify and organize games associated with big events, and has led us to consider new navigational systems we’re excited to experiment with in Labs.”

This latest update also brings news of a new Steam Labs launch called Community Recommendations that aims to highlight user-penned game reviews as a way for Steam games to capture more attention, and to do so with a more player-driven recommendation system at its back.

“Today’s launch out of Steam Labs, Community Recommendations showcases your reviews by featuring them right on our home page for everyone to see,” writes Valve. “The result brings community energy to the store, enabling users to keep abreast of the titles players are currently enjoying, and why. This new feature also allows us to get out of the way as platform holders, connecting and empowering players so they can recommend games to one another directly."

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