Interviews & Opinion

With Steam new releases almost doubling year-on-year, Valve needs to take a closer look at what should make the cut

With Steam new releases almost doubling year-on-year, Valve needs to take a closer look at what should make the cut

So, the data is - sort of - in. In 2017, the number of new releases on Steam rose by 46 per cent on 2016's figures.

That's according to SteamSpy, so should be taken with a pinch of salt, but more than 7,600 new games hitting the digital storefront is absolutely ridiculous.

Discovery has been a known issue on the platform for a while, and - along with funding - might be the biggest problem developers in the PC space face at this point in time. The changes that Valve has made to its onboarding process for new games, to put it bluntly, have not worked.

It's weird how the present makes us realise that the past really wasn't as bad as we thought. Back when it was still around, Greenlight attracted some negativity, but ultimately it was a sound process that needed a bit of fine-tuning. Itself answering a demand for more openness and less control on the platform, the scheme let developers put their creations to the crowd, with the community deciding what made it onto Steam. This process helped titles such as The Escapists, Euro Truck Simulator 2, 7 Days to Die, Depression Quest, Papers Please and Stardew Valley release to Steam.

With a bit of oversight, or maybe stricter guidelines from Valve itself, this could have been a perfect solution to the problem of allowing small developers with great ideas onto the storefront.

The change that Valve opted for was, well, very Valve. In Steam Direct, all developers need to get on to the store is $100. When the scheme was first announced, the amount of money required was up in the air, there was some optimism to this. Putting a financial barrier in the way is by no means perfect, but would surely make people looking to make a quick buck off thrown-together titles think twice about their business.

The $100 is low, with the justification seemingly being that this is a small enough to not exclude tiny teams who simply don't have the resource to fork out that much. That amount of money in some parts of the world is quite steep, after all.

The reality is that this has helped some developers flood the marketplace with 'games'. One example from October 2017 was Silicon Echo, a studio which managed to release close to 200 games on Steam. The 173-strong library was then removed from Steam, with the studio saying that while they knew this business model was sketchy, they weren't discouraged by Steam itself.

Some rough SteamSpy data released three months after Steam Direct's rollout indicated that the number of indie games launched during this timeframe had doubled year-on-year to 1,107 from 685, but that the mean average naive revenue - a rough calculation of revenue generated per game - had dropped from $25,353 to $36,434.

So - the number of games is on the rise and the amount of money developers are making is dipping, which isn't good for anyone.

Valve's adversity to curation is understandable - it wants to enable developers both big and small, and it doesn't want to accidentally reject the next big thing. One big concern, for anyone curating content in the games space, is whether they'd accidentally reject the next Minecraft.

How the number of new games on Steam will grow in 2018 is unclear. This recent increase is driven by Steam Direct, and it'll be interesting to see how this figure changes in the coming year.

But the fact that the number of releases has more than doubled in two years, with developers seemingly suffering, means that Valve needs to re-work its system.

One of the most important stories of the start of this year, in my opinion, is Zachtronics' Opus Magnum being rejected from The developer's previous five releases are on the platform, but despite critical acclaim, this sixth project hasn't made the cut.

GOG hasn't said much about why, but the studio's Zach Barth has speculated that the game looks too much like a mobile title for the PC storefront's liking.

The retailer has been somewhat demonised for its decision - but honestly, this is what curation looks like.

There will be mistakes, but I would far rather a storefront take a stand and control what appears on its platform in a proactive way as opposed to the reactive way in which Steam appears to act. No doubt Opus Magnum will appear on at some point in the near future, too. 

Indie developers absolutely will continue to release games on Steam. But with consoles like Switch becoming a home for high-quality, low-key indie titles - with there already being success stories on that platform - the real question is how much of a focus Steam will be for them moving forward.

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.