Steam is by far the most peculiar of online storefronts. Built on top of itself for the last twenty years, Valve’s behemothic PC game distributor is a clusterfuck of overlapping design choices, where algorithms rule over coherence, with 2023 seeing over 14,500 games released into the mayhem. Which is too many games.
According to data aggregating website SteamDB, as spotted by GamesRadar, 14,531 games were released on Steam in 2023. That breaks down to just under 40 a day, although given how people release games, it more accurately breaks down to about 50 every weekday. 50 games a day. On a storefront that goes to some lengths to bury new releases, and even buries pages where you can deliberately list new releases.
Compared to 2022, that’s an increase of nearly 2,000 games, up almost 5,000 from five years ago. There’s no reason to expect that growth to diminish any time soon.
It’s a volume of games that not only could no individual ever hope to keep up with, but nor could even any gaming site. Not even the biggest sites in the industry could afford an editorial team capable of playing 50 games a day to find and write about those worth highlighting. Realistically, not even a tenth of the games. And that’s not least because of those 50 games per day, about 48 of them will be absolute dross.
On one level, in this way Steam represents a wonderful democracy for gaming, where any developer willing to stump up the $100 entry fee can release their game on the platform, with barely any restrictions. On another level, however, it’s a disaster for about 99 percent of releases, which stand absolutely no chance of garnering any attention, no matter their quality. The solution: human storefront curation, which Valve has never shown any intention of doing.
I rant all this based on weary experience. Due to a project I run, I check the new releases on Steam almost every day. Just finding the clean list of all new releases is something I imagine most people wouldn’t know how to do, given it involves going three pages deep. Click on New & Noteworthy at the top of Steam, choose New Releases from midway down the right-side list, and this opens a new page that tries to have you click on highlighted games. Scroll down an entire screen or more to find “Popular New Releases.” Next to that is a tab called “New Releases,” click on that, and you’re nearly there. Now click on “All New Releases” in the tiny blue box top right of this list. Only then will you actually see an unfiltered list of everything that came out recently.
But filter it you will want to do, because this now contains everything in every language, including DLC and non-gaming applications. So in the filters on the right, you’ll want to tick “Games” under “Show selected types,” then scroll a long way down to “Narrow by language” to pick “English” or your preferred variety.
Yeah, that’s what it takes to see today’s 50 new games. Of which, most will be asset-flip drivel, clumsy porn, or just the strangest half-assed nothingness, like [scrolls] Jump Penguin Final. Someone paid $100 to release that, and no one will ever see it, let alone buy it. (Let’s make Jump Penguin Final a viral hit!)
You might think that here is where the algorithms come into play, helping sift the worthwhile games to the surface, but from speaking to hundreds of indie devs over the years, this definitely doesn’t work. Sure, sometimes it works, if enough buzz surrounds a previously unknown game thanks to a trailer going viral, an incredibly successful pre-release Discord, or a big-name YouTuber highlighting it in an off-hand moment. But without that luck, there’s no in-built mechanism for unknown but worthwhile games to get noticed in this insane waterfall of releases. There has to be another factor, like managing to get featured in a Wholesome Games video, or hiring a PR to blast the game to streamers and sites, or—in some circumstances—journalists digging through the shit to find the diamonds.
Valve, with its near-infinite money, could easily hire enough people to sift through released games and surface those that stand out. Hell, just the submission fees on those games of almost $1.5 million a year could pay 30 people a decent wage to do it. I really wish they would.