Valve, facing fresh competition in the digital distribution market, has announced a series of changes coming to its Steam platform including improved discoverability, a reworked client application, and first-party streaming support.
Valve's Steam platform has long stood at the very top of the digital distribution pyramid. Launched in 2003 and finagled onto users systems by making it a mandatory requirement to play the company's popular first-person shooter Half-Life 2 in 2004, Steam rapidly rose up the ranks to become the go-to platform for purchasing, downloading, and updating games. Not that it was easy: 'You may not remember this (or maybe you do), but the first couple of years for Steam were pretty rocky,' admits Valve's Tom Bui in a retrospective piece. 'We didn't have much beyond a rudimentary client, a way for users to buy games, and servers to deliver those bits (most of the time).'
Today, Steam boasts more than 47 million daily active users, 90 million monthly active users, 18.5 million peak concurrent users, and attracts around 1.6 million new customers every month. The platform is experiencing renewed pressure from its competitors, however, with Epic Games having entered the market with Epic Games Store - a platform which promises to pay developers a bigger cut of its revenue, offers users a free game to keep every fortnight, and which has successfully poached Ubisoft's The Division 2 from Steam with a deal that will see it list future Ubisoft games on its own platform as well.
In the face of this and pressure from existing rival platforms including CD Projekt's GOG.com, indie-focused Itch.io, and various publishers' first-party platforms including EA's Origin, Valve is looking to give Steam a refresh over the coming year. Key to this update will be, Bui claims, 'a new recommendation engine powered by machine-learning, that can match players to games based on their individual tastes. Algorithms are only a part of our discoverability solution, however, so we're building more broadcasting and curating features and are constantly assessing the overall design of the store.'
Other promised improvements to the platform include a reworked Steam Library based on technology developed for the improved Steam Chat system launched in July 2018, a new Steam Events system which will highlight tournaments, streams, and weekly challenges, and an expansion to the Steam TV streaming platform which will take on Amazon's Twitch in offering the ability to broadcast from all games.
For developers Valve has promised a new feature dubbed Steam Trust, based on the Trusted Matchmaking system the company developed for its CS:GO multiplayer first-person shooter. Unlike CS:GO's Trusted Matchmaking, Steam Trust will be available to all games and provide 'information that you can use to help determine how likely a player is a cheater or not.' The company has also confirmed plans to launch a new Steam Chat mobile application, a new PC Cafe Programme, and a partnership with Perfect World to bring Steam to China.
'There's certainly no shortage of opportunities, and we could always use more people who can help make Steam a better place for both developers and customers,' Bui concludes. 'If you are interested in tackling hard problems and are up for the challenge, you can apply for a job on our new company website, which we also relaunched this past year.'