Some developers are allegedly taking advantage of an exploit that lets them keep their games on Steam’s Popular Upcoming list and increase their visibility on Valve’s digital storefront. Mike Rose, founder of the indie publishing label No More Robots, raised the issue in a Twitter thread on Tuesday.
“The Popular Upcoming list on Steam is a great spot on the Steam front page for upcoming games to be noticed. Unfortunately, it’s a (sometimes accidentally) manipulated mess,” he said.
Steam generates its Popular Upcoming list by looking for titles with decent wishlist numbers and ordering them by their supposed release dates, which are set in the platform’s backend, according to Rose. But, he said developers can set any date they want and change it later without consequences. “You can set a date, and let it go by. Then you can set another date, and let it go by again,” he said. “Setting this date has no meaning — except for appearing in the Upcoming list.”
Rose uses Eugen System’s upcoming real-time strategy game “Steel Division 2” as an example. While its store page lists its release date as Apr. 4, the developer listed the date as Mar. 6 in the backend, Rose claimed, so it appeared on the Popular Upcoming list a month early, pushing out other titles with more immediate launches.
Eugen Systems disputed Rose’s claim on Twitter. “We didn’t manipulate the system. The release date has been set on Apr. 4, 2019 in Steam backoffice for a long time,” it said. “We have no idea why ‘March 5th’ is still popping. We’re obviously in touch with Steam about this matter. Please double-check before writing this kind of stuff.”
In an email to Variety, Rose said he spoke with Eugen privately and the studio is adamant the release date error was accidental. “So, I have to take them at their word on that. But, there are other devs/publishers who are 100% playing the system,” he said.
Some Valve employees also weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, lending credence to Rose’s claims. “You have great timing,” said Tom Giardino, who works in business development and marketing at Valve. “This was a big topic of discussion yesterday, and it frustrates us for the same reasons it frustrates you. But, it’s also super important that devs get to control their own release timing, so we don’t want to mess with that.”
“We’ve seen it happen a couple of times and are looking at various solutions,” said Valve product designer Alden Kroll. “We want to allow devs flexibility to change release dates in case something comes up, but not to manipulate the system.”
Rose told Variety he doesn’t blame Valve for the issue, saying it’s a matter of developers manipulating or misunderstanding a system that’s designed to be as flexible as possible.
“It’s useful that devs can set whatever date they want, and change it if they like,” he said. “But, there always have to be bad eggs who ruin it for everyone else.”