Valve details Steam’s future and plans for new features

Valve’s Steam client has grown from being the butt-end of countless memes, to the dominant player in the PC online game sales industry, pulling in more sales and more players than any other individual platform. Valve’s claim to its huge portion of the market share has ensured that other publishers seek out to create their own platforms, but Steam continues building more and more momentum. While Valve typically doesn’t talk about the future of Steam publicly as frequently as we’d like, they recently hosted a small presentation for indie game developers at Dutch Game Garden 2017, and were able to talk about the future of Steam and where Valve thinks its going in the short term. Some slides from the event were snapped up by one attendee, and the details are pretty interesting.

Steam is massive. At last count, the platform officially served over 120 million gamers around the world, all of which are active accounts. That statistic was quoted in February 2015, however, and Valve hasn’t told anyone how many more users they have today. Since January 2016 up until this week, Steam gained an additional 26 million active users. A conservative estimate, then, would seem to imply that growth is steady month-to-month, leaving Valve with an estimated player base of 170 million active accounts.

If that’s anywhere close to the real number, then the active players statistics are astonishing. Just over one third of players would be logging into Steam and playing games each month, while one fifth signs in to play games every day. Those statistics also hold up day-to-day. The active users graph tracking concurrent users goes up and down regularly, matching the times when players get home from work or school and log into a game.

When it comes to sales by region, it’s no surprise that South Africa doesn’t feature on the pie graph. Africa doesn’t even get its own sliver in there. The biggest players are North Ameria and Western Europe, followed closely by Asia. Steam in China and Japan is big, but it’s not as big as smaller game clients for local MMOs, League of Legends, Blizzard’s Overwatch or StarCraft 2.

Valve didn’t provide statistics for growth in the pie chart, but the growth in sales for localised games hints at that. English still tops the sales growth charts, matching growth for Simplified and Traditional Chinese localisations, as well as games translated for Japanese markets. Korean surprisingly has shot up quite a bit, which could be due to Steam adopting the South Korean won as local currency.

When it comes to how Valve recommends games to you, things will be changing. They have plans to replace the automatic recommendations engine with Steam Curators, personalities that you follow that may have similar tastes to their audience. This, Valve claims, will better support niche titles that usually rely on a smaller community of gamers for sales and attracting new users, which I think Curators might be better suited for thanks to coverage of the game on other platforms. In its usual way, Valve wants a piece of that coverage as well, and will be using the Steam Streaming platform to allow Curators to stream games for their audience in a manner similar to Twitch and YouTube Gaming.

That’s not a cheap play by any means, it’s a shot across the bow at other game streaming services. Can you imagine how much bigger Steam will grow once they put all these user updates in place? The Broadcasts page is quite under-utilised in terms of active streams and active viewers, but this could be a big boost to the platform. Steam will now just be one more way to reach your audience as a Curator.

What’s also interesting is how Steam Curators will help fledgling developers who want to put their game out there. Previously this would be done via Steam Greenlight, but Valve shut that down. Early Access is another avenue for publicity, but it required a playable portion of the game or a short demo for users to interact with. Well, now you can just send your game to popular Curators who cover your game’s genre, and have them promote it for you.

Steam reviews will get an update as well in the future. As a reminder, Valve is so large that it has its own gravity well inside its offices, so “Valve Time” literally ticks over slower for them than it does for us. “Future” could be a date set in 2100 when robots are left to update Steam and play games. Still, I look forward to seeing how game reviews progress. They’ve been a critical component of online activism against developers who don’t listen to their customers.

Finally, there are plans to launch an event calendar to make it more useful than the community hubs we have for games now. It’s expected to be a central spot on the Steam client, where there will be community events, double and triple XP weekends, livestreams with Curators and developers, and contests. Steam Events will probably play a big role in getting gamers familiar with particular Curators, which helps feed back into the Curator recommendations system that Valve wants to get going.

Lastly, there’ll be some tweaks and changes to the launch page for the games in your library. Right now, it looks drab and boring. In the future, it’ll have events from Steam Events for the game mixed in with announcements, community forum updates, and community screenshots and artwork. I really like this idea, because the game launch page has been a wasted space for far too long.

What do you think? Steam’s changes have always been somewhat controversial, so hopefully all of these updates are more well received.