[Hi, I’m Simon Carless, and you’re reading the Game Discoverability Now! newsletter, which you can subscribe to now, a regular look at how people find – and buy – your video games. Or don’t.]
Yes, I’m aware that the title of this newsletter sounds a bit like a WWI ‘please sign up for the troops’ poster. (Lord Kitchener pictured above.)
But I thought it was worth putting out a new piece on something that’s been getting a lot of traction over the past few days – Steam’s subgenre/attribute tag system, and how you may be ‘messing it up’!
The genesis of this post is a new Steam announcement around better ways to categorize and discover your game, as follows:
Improve the way your game is discovered and categorized on Steam using the new Tag Wizard, now in beta on Steamworks and just updated to include a view of comparable titles to help you weight your tags. Steam users want to quickly learn about your game when browsing the store, and tags are a great tool to help them do so. Tagging your title gives Steam vital information in determining where your game is displayed to customers…
Aside from displaying useful information on the game pages themselves, tags provide valuable information when paired with powerful search and browse tools that make them accessible.
More robust tags help Steam serve better results when users… browse genres & categories, search with tags, explore tag-driven recommendations, utilize tag-driven Dynamic Collections in the Library and more.
In our recent Search experiment, we have expressed and begun to leverage relationships between tags and related metadata. So now is a great time to revisit the tags associated with your titles.”
The situation with Steam tags is a little unconventional, because regular Steam players also have some control over your tags and it was announced as a player-facing feature. Essentially, what happens is the following:
- Developer sets up their own tags when they launch their game. (BTW, it used to be possible to accidentally launch without tags, make sure your game has them!)
- Players come in, check out a game and add/vote for their own tags, prioritizing them.
- Dev can now come back in at any point and re-order/edit the tags via the tag prioritization tool. And tag priority matters, and may matter more in the future.
Games with a lot of interest and players tend to have a lot of tag suggestions. But they may not always be completely relevant, and if you’re a pre-release title just trying to get interest, players may not have picked sensible tags. So it’s important to get it right.
[Related note: there’s also ‘Genre’ tickboxes in your Steam game setup. You can pick overarching genres such as RPG and attributes such as Free To Play and Massively Multiplayer.
The ‘Genre’ tickbox is needed for hardwired legacy navigation for Steam game pages. Valve’s advice is that your top Tags should not be this high-level, so make sure you edit your actual tags after setting genres – your first tags should not be Indie, Adventure, etc. They should be specific and well identified subgenres and attributes like Puzzle Platformer, Horror, etc.]
The obvious advantage is – let’s say your game is a strategy RPG. If you think people who play other SRPGs are a specially good affinity group, then make that your top tag. You should do a little better visibility-wise for those browsing the strategy RPG tag on Steam.
There’s plenty of other things that the algorithm takes into accounts – sales, reviews, etc. But it’s definitely, objectively true that if your top tag is Indie, you’re throwing away your top weighting on something that is pretty non-descriptive.
How much actual difference does this make? I’ve seen convincing evidence that launching with no tags (no longer possible) can really tank your sales. But have seen no evidence (yet, cos I didn’t ask!) of tag optimization making a significant difference.
So I’d certainly love to hear from some of you about changing your tags, and the result it had on your discoverability over, say, a couple of weeks. Tell us all how it goes!
Conclusion – is there more (like) this?
Finishing up – it’s clear that tag categorization is a work in progress for Steam. But they are trying to make progress. (Again, I don’t see many other stores with this level of detail, and I definitely use ‘tag homepages’ to look at games I might like.)
Perhaps the thing people associate most with tags is the ‘More Like This’ box at the bottom of each game’s page. And it’s not clear that situations like the following will be ameliorated by tag-tweaking:
I honestly give up on Steam tags lmao
Yes, just like Gloomwood.
— Elon DUSK (@DaveOshry) June 16, 2020
So, the ‘More Like This’ – and the ‘Similar To Games You’ve Played’ picker – has been a bit of a sore spot – not unilaterally, but by consensus – for smaller Steam devs since the October 2018 algorithm change.
Previously, there were some smaller games doing well from being recommended by bigger games that had very similar themes, or for other unspecified reasons. So what of this change – will that ‘revert’ those changes?
Well, not really. At least one clever person has pointed out that the ‘Similarly Tagged Games’ in the Tag Picker might be a better way to fill in the ‘More Like This’ box than the current method. They are currently (extremely) different.
However, ‘More Like This’ still tends to recommend bigger, more popular and well reviewed games in broader genre – rather than very specific games that may be very similar to your game tag-wise.
However, lots of small games are tagged similarly to popular games. The popular games can’t ALL link back to the small games – unless they rotated recommendations or something new. And if the tag association is too strong, everyone might start getting into crazy tag-updating wars or even gaming tags for instant traffic boosts.
So… it’s a bit complex. But I would like to see More Like This get way closer to the types of games shown in the new tag recommender, personally. It seems to make sense, and I don’t really think Battlefield 1 needs those extra eyeballs from survival horror FPS fans right now.
This overall subject is both mindbending and evolving, so please ping me if anything seems off and I’ll update in an upcoming column.