Valve is overhauling the Library view of its popular Steam PC gaming store and rolling out a new “events” feature in a move to increase user engagement, the company announced during a talk at the Game Developers Conference Thursday.
The talk kicked off with Valve outlining what it believes makes for a good platform for video games. According to Valve, a good gaming platform should create value for players and developers, make the addressable market bigger for devs and invent new ways for developers to make their customers happy.
“We came here today to talk about how we think about Steam and what motivates us,” said Tom Giardino, who works in business development at Valve. “We want to be more transparent about our priorities and principals, and announce new tools.”
This year’s GDC is an important show for Valve. The company’s popular PC gaming store has dominated the PC market for nearly 15 years, essentially without competition. While Valve doesn’t share numbers, it was estimated in 2013 that the store had about 75% of the market. In 2017, it was estimated that Steam sales brought in about $4.3 billion. Last year, Steam had more than 150 million registered accounts with a peak of 18.5 million concurrent users online.
But Valve’s dominance in the market has come under sudden assault by Epic Games, developers of “Fortnite” and market-dominant game engine Unreal. In December, Epic rolled out its own PC game store. While having to build out its storefront from essentially scratch, Epic’s offer of taking just 12% of sales from developers or publishers, compared to Valve’s 30% garnered it a lot of attention and managed to pull a number of games off of the Steam Store and onto the Epic Game Store as exclusives. Epic is also working to build out its user base by giving away a game every two weeks to anyone who registers for free with the store.
While Valve’s talk Thursday never specifically mentioned Epic, it was clear the company was working to highlight the work it’s already done to establish itself in the market and the work it continues to do to make it easier for developers to stay engaged with their customers.
Giardino noted the growth of Steam’s registered users and recent news that all games on Steam will soon stream to and run on mobile phones through Steam Link Anywhere, a free service.
“Overnight, with no cost at all, the games on Steam just became more valuable and more accessible,” he said.
Looking forward, Valve detailed two major changes coming to Steam.
Steam Events will be a new way for developers to communicate with their players through Steam. The idea is that developers can create a sort of call to action around specific in-game events. So when a big event is scheduled to go down in a game, Steam will allow developers to put all of that information into an Event in Steam which can be sent out to interested players. Events will feature all of the event details and even a button that allows players to automatically set reminders for the event through a calendar, Steam, email, or even a player’s phone.
“We want to build the foundation for a communication platform where all of the interesting things happening in a game finds its way to customers,” said Alden Kroll, product designer at Valve.
Events, which will go into open beta in the next couple of months, can include anything from an in-game event, to a tournament, live broadcast or major update. In one of the screenshots of the new feature shown off by Kroll, a page detailed all of the upcoming events of the week for a person’s purchased games on one page.
“We think of this as the way developers communicate with players through Steam,” Kroll said.
Another major change coming to Steam will overhaul the look of a person’s game library in Steam.
“When players come in to play a game, we’re going to keep that as easy as possible,” Kroll said. “This provides an opportunity for players to see what else is happening.”
The top section of the new library view will have large tiles showing the games you most recently played, so you can quickly jump back into them. A friend’s list will run down the side of the page, alongside your most recently played games, showing what your friends are currently playing so it’s easy to join them.
The bottom half of the screen will feature a player’s complete library, displayed as cover art.
In conjunction with the redesigned library, Valve is also overhauling the details page for each game so that all of the content for a game is in one place.
That view will feature a large top section showing the game’s key art and a player’s play stats. Under that will be recent updates and activities for the game on one side of the page and a list of friends currently playing the game on the other side. The view will also show what’s new in the game since you last played, activities of your friends — like screenshots — and a callout to review the game if you haven’t.
Valve is also bringing its sorting tools used in the store to the library to make it easier for players to sort through their purchases. That includes the ability to save filters a player created to set-up instant collections. Those collections will automatically be updated with new purchases that fit the filter, Kroll noted.
Valve also spent some time detailing the work it does to support its extensive library of games and massive user base.
Last year, Kassidy Gerber, business developer at Valve, said, Valve delivered 13 exabytes of data for game installs and updates. That’s a 13 with 18 zeroes after it. Steam developers pushed 11 billion updates to players, she said.
And it’s not just delivering the data, it has to be done quickly and with low ping times. “Dota 2,” for instance needs to maintain 60 to 100 millisecond ping times or better. “CS: GO” needs to deliver 30 to 60 millisecond ping times or better, Gerber said.
Valve delivered 13 exabytes of data for game installs and updates. That’s a 13 with 18 zeroes after it.
Valve is able to do that because it made its own private gaming network with 30 points of presence and 125 relays.
“This network is truly built for gamers and game developers, it’s vastly better than the open internet,” she said.
Finally, Valve detailed its work in emerging markets, using the explosive growth of Russia as an example of a smart early investment by Valve in what would become an important market.
“We made Steam easy and convenient,” said Valve’s Ricky Yu, “to deliver the same quality experience globally.”