Steam Library Update is Here!

In beta form at least. But it’s open beta! So if you want to take a play for yourself, you can. (Settings -> Account, click ‘Change’ under Beta Participation to ensure you’ve enabled Beta updates.) The news struck that it was out while I was at work yesterday, so I itched all day to give it a go.

Now that I have, it seems my earlier excitement from back in June was well warranted. The library update is every bit the revolutionary update (for Steam) that the earlier Chat update was.

There’s kind of a lot going on here even just on the main screen.

Starting from the top and possibly the most obvious changes — there is a view of recent updates and recent games. These two rows can’t be toggled at the moment and are always on. There is plenty of feedback on this already though, so I expect we’ll see a change here.

The updates are kind odd in some respects and I’d be curious to know what the algorithm for selecting them is as it appears there is more going on than just freshness of the update. You can hide individual updates, but there isn’t currently a way to hide updates for games as a whole. I thought at first it might be looking at the games I ‘follow’ but this doesn’t seem to be the case as some titles that show I don’t follow presently.

The updates row I find of dubious utility then, and I’ll likely continue to use the general ‘Activity’ log for a review of updates I’m interested in for games I own and for those I don’t. Still — I don’t think I’d turn it off even should that option become available. Entirely possible something will catch my eye.

The recent titles list however may become my most common game launch point, with it showing games both recently added to the library (Hai2u last Humble Monthly titles!) and your actual last played on a timeline, which you can scroll back for further history.

The Library ‘Shelf’ Space

This is where you start getting to customise. Ohh yeaah. By default you’ll have an ‘All games’ shelf, but you can add others based on your categories (now revamped to ‘collections’, which I’ll get to shortly).

You can then sort the display order within an individual shelf on any number of criteria. Stock standard alphabetical, played time, games which have the most friends currently playing, release date, etc. Can even sort by metacritic score if that way inclined, or perhaps just looking for something to pick up next.

A particular shelf will always display one row of titles no matter what — but you can toggle between that one row only and a full display of every title within that category/collection.

In the screenshot above you can see I’ve added my ever optimistic ‘Play soon?’ category (although I guess at least I was self-aware enough to add a question mark to it). ;)

I may also end up adding an ‘Uncategorised’ shelf to the view simply so that I have a visual reminder not to let this group grow too excessively large again.

But particularly if you weren’t one to categorise your games previously — then this shelf concept may not be of too much interest yet. Which brings us to the new collections — specifically, Dynamic Collections.

Category Improvements and Dynamic Collections

Before — if you wanted to categorise your titles, it was by hand. And it involved a few clicks too many to do it. (Right Click, Set Category, tick the categories you wanted, click OK.)

It was tedious, in short.

And error prone too. Not sure entirely how I missed this given they would’ve been right next to each other all along, but I had both a ‘CCG’ and a ‘CCGs’ category. <facepalm>

Now at least — and I hope you’re seated for this, because it’s some really revolutionary tech we’re about to talk about here…

…You can click and drag from one category to another.

Wizardry!

I jest. And of course it does demonstrate just how far behind the times parts of Steam’s interface was before. But whatever the before state was like — this? This is nice.

You can multi-select (which to be fair, was possible before too), and then drag those items into the new category you want (or to the top to simply remove from the category you’re dragging them from currently). The UI has some really nice visual feedback about where its going, with even the border in the visual display on the right turning solid to indicate the currently hovered category.

So if by-hand curation of your categories is your thing, this is now a relatively painless task even for big libraries.

But if you’d prefer, you can create and define ‘Dynamic Collections’ and I’m seriously considering converting my categorisation system over to this.

My old categories, plus opened the Filter options display — which is how you can create Dynamic Collections.

There are a number of ‘built-in’ filter toggles as it were. If you want to create a collection of only co-operative RPG games that feature trading cards and achievements — you could do that. Any new game you purchase or add to your library in the future fitting this criteria would be automatically added to this collection, too.

If — like me — you want to get a little more specific than the broad genre categorisations allow for, you can also add any number of Store Tags to your filter. Want a dynamic collection that lists your completely unplayed games that the store tags have listed as having ‘Great soundtrack’? You could do that.

Being possibly a bit more practical (for me, at least) I’m more likely to create collections of things like ‘Multiplayer titles I have installed’, add that collection to my home page and then sort it by friends playing. Gives an easy launch point for jumping into things with buddies.

I’ll also likely switch my current genre manual categories over to dynamic collections using a mix of the prebuilt/base-line criteria and store tags. Not having to manually curate any more would be a Godsend. xD

Overall Impressions

Very positive, if you couldn’t tell.

I appreciate that even the classic style ‘list’ on the left was not removed immensely. It has received the benefit of updates to searchibility, sorting options1 and the filters used to create dynamic collections will also pare down this list.

Switching to the Library view is snappy, and scrolling even a list of hundreds of games poses no performance issues (in my experience). I even flicked the scroll wheel around the place with smooth/infinite scroll mode toggled on the mouse itself and no problem. As soon as the scrolling stopped the thumbs appeared snappily, despite loading from a standard HDD as opposed to an SSD.

I’ve certainly offered some feedback on the odd thing I’d like to see added (there is a beta feedback in the top right of the Library’s homepage), but even in its current beta state — it is a night and day improvement over what came before.

Post Publish Update: The Actual Game Entry Pages

Paeroka’s comment made me realise I missed out on a glaringly large piece of this update — the game entry pages! They’ve been given a bit of a spit-shine as well.

Each game receives its own mini-activity page, specific to the game itself. It now shows a log of news updates, achievements and shared screenshots from friends and yourself.

As a nice little piece of visual flair, any achievement where less than 10% of the game’s population has achieved it will be given an animated golden border.

Unsure yet whether this will change my general habit of consuming update news through the main ‘Activity’ page, but I could certainly see it being handy when interest strikes out of the blue for a particular game to see how it’s come along since I last checked it out. I used to go direct to the game store pages for that, but now wouldn’t need to. :)

Steam Library (finally) to get Overhaul

I just saw this from a Steam blog post from a few days ago. The blog post is mostly about getting game developers and publishers ready with the new art assets required to support the new look.

Fortunately, it also referred to the March 2019 GDC Talk1 where this was actually first announced. Unfortunately, very little about the proposed feature set has been discussed so far. Although Steam did also say that we’re now only ‘weeks away’ from a public beta being available — so it won’t be too long before we find out, at least.

Last years chat update though was amazing, but in some respects possibly too late. A lot of what Steam chat now solves for we’d already found a solution for in Discord. This means a lot of the group and voice functionality goes unused by us (and I would imagine in many other circles, too). Still — it is nice to know that should the business model of Discord suddenly change that we have another option.

It’s almost difficult to recall just how antiquated and tired looking chat was, now. And despite the group functions largely going by the by with us, the degree of thought and design effort put into it gives me great hope that they know what they’re doing and are likely running co-design sessions or some other form of human centred design framework to get where they do.

I’m pleased the left-side classic list of games is still present, though.

The main usability feature added that I can tell so far is the additional ways to sort and categorise. The ‘tags’ feature that has been present in the Steam Store itself for a while now can be used to sort your games. From the screenshot above there looks to be a time based sort option too. I believe this is reflecting last played — but I would really like to see a time filter based on last updated too.

I currently have a boat load of custom categories based on game genres and played state. My hope is that I’ll no longer have to manage these by hand and the tags will handle it for me. If I get even just that — I’m going to be pretty happy. Anything else on top is gravy.

I’ll certainly be giving the beta a go once its available in any case. I’m curious to see how games are handled that don’t have their library assets updated to the newly requested specifications. I would expect there are going to be a number of older (and possibly some not so old) titles where for whatever reason the update doesn’t happen, so I guess we’ll see!

The Practice of Review Bombing

Borderlands 3 being confirmed as an Epic exclusive lead to the rest of the series becoming the latest high profile round of ‘Review Bombing’.

Let’s rip the bandaid right off of this one, shall we? I don’t mind the practice of review bombing. In fact in many cases I would even go so far as to say I am supportive of it.

Review bombing is not a new practice, nor is it the exclusive domain of gaming. Movies and even Amazon products have been subjected to it well before it entered the parlance of the general gamer.

It has become a common enough ‘problem’ that the usual extreme libertarian stance and slow to move nature of Steam has been overridden and they determined to take ‘corrective’ action. A period of ‘off-topic’ reviews will essentially lead to all reviews over that time being ignored for the purposes of the score calculation.

None of the reviews so marked will be deleted, so those that care may dig into what they were all about.

Insofar as such a policy goes, I think it reasonably fair and balanced. But of course the devil is in the details. Valve will be the sole arbiter of what is, and isn’t, ‘off-topic’. In the blog post they outlined that EULA changes and DRM based reviews will be examples of off-topic. The rationale being these are not, ‘things a general gamer would care about’.

With the recent Borderlands example, they have also set precedent that undesirable publisher actions will also be considered ‘off-topic’.

So, Why Support Review Bombing?

Actually let me start with my understanding of why most people don’t support the practice.

The gist of it is that review bombing is punishing titles for actions unrelated to the quality of the game or series in question. That a undesirable action on the part of the publisher doesn’t have any affect on one’s ability to enjoy the game itself.

Not an entirely unreasonable view. I just don’t think it is a complete one.

A review in my opinion is for the very purpose of establishing whether or not the game or product in question is one you would want to spend your money on. Of course the actual merits of the game are one of the main factors, but they’re not the only one. And I don’t agree that consideration of the developer or publisher actions, business practices or ethics are somehow out of bounds.

This is not a standard we apply to any other purchase or support decision in life. Sure, not everyone cares about whether their eggs are free range or cage farmed. But you won’t hear anyone telling someone who does care that they’re only allowed to hold opinion on the quality of the egg itself and that anything speaking to the practices of the corporation behind it are irrelevant.

If a publisher or developer takes money to make their game exclusive to Epic, after first making commitments to the contrary and taking money from backers in order to even have a game in the first place? I want to know.

Things like that affect my decision to purchase. Therefore they have a place in reviews. Exposure of this kind is one of the few voices left to the consumer. One of the few ways we have to affect change. We’ve seen it in games when Bethesda attempt to sell ‘premium’ user-created mods for Skyrim in 2015, with the outcry then turning this around.

We’ve seen the power of the voice of the customer in overturning other, more important issues in the world, such as the reliance on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores. At first but a rumble, with not enough people actually caring to bring change. Slowly a momentum builds and now all of our big supermarket chains have dropped plastic bags.

So I don’t think we should be so quick to silence, write-off or ridicule those with a different set of standards for publishers than what we may be held at present.

Epic Store Claims Another Exclusive

I actually had a post drafted on the Epic Store going back to the Metro: Exodus debacle. I ultimately decided to let it go and delete the post. I can (I suppose) live a little longer without Satisfactory, Hades, Metro, etc in my life if I need to.

Today’s announcement comes in the form of Phoenix Point — a game from Julian Gollop, designer of the original X-COM games — announcing the increasingly typical year-long exclusivity deal with the Epic Store.

Metro caught a lot of heat for their last minute switch-out after being available on Steam for preorder for quite some time. They at least honoured the preorders of those who had dropped money on the Steam edition, though.

Phoenix Point while not carrying with it the same proximity to launch is a worse situation in my view. It is a crowd-funded project that literally would not exist, or would at least not be as far along as it is today, without the money it took from its backers. Money taken with the explicit promise of supporting: Good Old Games, Steam, and via Steam Play — Linux.1

Why Be Mad About This?

A legitimate question. There are some things to like about Epic. Not least of all an introduction of an additional competitor for Steam. This should be a good thing for Developers and Consumers both.

But it isn’t — not yet. There has been zero expressed interest in winning the battlefield for consumer consideration or loyalty. No desire to bring people over by carrot — by fostering goodwill through a better service that treats their favourite developers more fairly as a point of differentiation.

That would be compelling for a goodly number of people. But not enough? OK, I can see that. How about providing more competitive pricing than Steam, yet still seeing a larger sum in developer pockets?

Those are some examples of good ways to compete which would have seen an organic user-base growth and positive word of mouth. Instead of trying this first, the stick was brought out immediately.

The stick of third-party exclusives being introduced to the PC-realm. Want to play this title you’re reeeally excited about? Excellent. Buy it from us because you have no choice. We offered more Fortnite-money than any right-minded developer could say no to, and bought their exclusivity.

Steam isn’t blameless here, the impression I’m getting from their relative silence on the matter is one of overwhelming confidence that Epic is a fad that warrants no response and will just sort of go back to playing with toys in the corner shortly.

I probably prefer this over starting an all out exclusivity war. Steam for all it’s many faults, including the handling (or rather, lack of handling) the curation of content on its service, has been a relatively benevolent digital storefront in its position of monopoly. Developers were free to sell anywhere else they chose alongside Steam, even allowing generation of Steam keys for the purpose of selling elsewhere.

If Steam’s ‘response’ ends up being a harsh curtailing of these options due to having to participate in the buying-exclusivity game? Well, there aren’t really any potential good outcomes for a Consumer in this scenario.2

Hopefully Tomorrow Brings Better News

Because the email with this news was certainly not a great start to this one!

Still, there are some silver linings. For me only the first — ability to refund — matters. I just can’t get my head around supporting the introduction of third-party exclusives to PC, no matter how much I otherwise want the title in question.

For you (if you were also a Phoenix Point backer), some of the others might be of interest:

  • Refunds are available for the next 28 or so days, via this link.
  • If you accept the new terms and stick with it, you’ll get Year 1 DLC on Epic.
  • You will also get a choice of Steam/GoG key when they release a year post-Epic-release.