Steam Tags: How Valve Are Controlling The Discussion Of Games On Their Storefront

The information presented on a store listing for any item available to buy is critical to purchasers. People base their purchasing decisions on a range of information, and “The things that the shop I am buying them from tell me” is a key source that informs purchasing decisions. It seems that Valve are aware of this, and as such have taken steps to present games for sale in the best light possible, in a way that I would argue is concealing important information from their users.

Introduced just over a month ago, Steam’s tagging system is a mechanism for letting the Steam userbase categorise and describe games available to purchase on Steam. According to Valve, the stated purpose of this system was:

[to give] Steam customers the ability to “Tag” any title with genres, themes, attributes, or any other term or phrase. The most popular tags on any given product will be surfaced on said product’s Steam page and allow users to easily find other products associated with that same tag.

It seems to me to be a good move. It gives users a way of informing each other about games that they might want to buy or avoid, and it lightens the increasing burden of curation that weighs heavily on Valve as they gradually open steam up.

Initially these tags were entirely unmoderated, and because this is the internet and that’s what happens, some users used this system to post abusive message to developers. Valve then took steps to moderate the tags, reasonably so, and as far as I can tell, racist, homophobic and other distasteful tags are no longer present.

Sadly, Valve didn’t stop there. It appears that now many tags that would provide customers with useful information about the game, but show the game/publisher/developer in a bad light, are being entirely removed. I have no problem whatsoever with Valve wanting to prevent users from posting abusive messages to/about developers on their game’s store listing, but preventing users from warning each other about legitimate complaints about games before they spend money on them, in my opinion, contradicts the stated aims of the tagging system. Valve implied that it was to be a democratic system by which votes from their userbase determine which attributes of a game are displayed on the store. That’s not what is happening.

Tags which Valve have removed entirely from the system include “Region Locked” and “Bad Port”, words such as “Mobile” and “Overpriced” are also banned from tags.

If only Valve approved tags are allowed to be applied to a game’s store listing, then I think describing this system as a “user tagging” is somewhat misrepresentative. If they are happy to allow publishers/developers to sell region locked games, bad ports, or overpriced mobile games on Steam, why not also allow their customers to identify these games as such?

13 Comments Leave yours

  1. Luringen #

    Personally I think that’s fine, I think of the tags as a neutral categorization thing (like genres), and critique should be put in the user reviews section. A “Bad port” can be subjective, some may think it’s not such a bad port, and therefore they should write why it’s a bad port, and by then it’s a user review, and not a tag. Same goes for “Overpriced”, and other critiques. If there is something bad about it, I want to know why, and a simple tag would be misleading.

    • Lewie Procter #

      They aren’t just removing subjective negative tags though, they are also removing objective negative tags (such as “region locked”).

      I agree that in the case of “bad port” it is subjective, but I think that if that is the most popular tag that the Steam userbase have applied to a game, I personally would want to know about it, and I think it would be in user’s interest to display that on the item listing.

      • Rob #

        I get what you’re saying, but take any of the tags you didn’t agree with and then replace your last paragraph (in the comment I’m replying to) with one of the racist ones.
        The only difference is *you* don’t agree with it. Of course, most other sensible people wouldn’t either, but to my mind: when I look at something this way, it highlights how Valve have probably had to deal with it.

        There are, after all, some people out there who would think there was nothing at all wrong with alerting other gamers to the fact there were (insert derogatory euphemism here) in this game.

        • Sammy macabrecrab #

          Well the difference between bad port and a making a racial slur are light years away. One is specific to a product and in itself, however subjective, is only offensive as far as the individual title. Where as racial slurs are broadly cruel terms used to maginalise and degrade individuals based on race alone. They re offensive at inception. I think you are fully intelligent enough to recognise this bit seem to revel in the semantic details, in turn sidetracking the wider point.

  2. Whilst I can see and appreciate the problem, I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker. After all, if you’re on STEAM then you’re connected to the internet; if you’re on the internet then it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to use a search engine to research the product you’re about to buy. After all, ALL retail establishments do their best to present their products in a good light despite the quality of the product. In this regard STEAM is not doing anything unusual in the retail-space.

    The comparison I’d use is with white-goods in a retail store. You won’t know until you get them home that the washing machine is louder-than-expected or that the speakers on your new TV sound flat. It’s up to the purchaser to do at least a little research before buying. Obviously the amount of research you want to do is relative to the amount you care/are spending on the product.

    • Lewie Procter #

      Sure, I’m not actually suggesting that Valve should be obligated to host negative comments about games, I am just criticising the system and arguing that Valve have misrepresented it.

    • Chrisj #

      Agreed, but it would be useful if Steam did at least allow tags with unarguable objective facts in them – a game could be tagged “bad port” for a number of reasons, which might not all bother me, but something like “non-rebindable keys” (which they also banned) is a very specific deal-breaker for many people. (Including myself; non-standard keyboard because of my disabilities.)

      If your new washing machine has a flaw/feature that makes it impossible for you to use it, the retailer is (in the UK and EU, at least) *legally obliged* to take it back and give you a full refund. Even if you could have found out about that feature before purchase. Getting refunds out of Steam is notoriously difficult at the best of times, and I’d rather they provided useful information (such as “this game is unplayable on non-standard keyboards”, which is what “non-rebindable keys” generally amounts to) on the game’s page rather than forcing me to look elsewhere for it.

  3. jimbo #

    Yeah, I agree completely.Tags are nearly useless in this neutered state. If all they are going to be good for now is shallowly cataloguing games as ‘third person shooter’ or ‘adventure’ so Valve curators (do they even exist?) can offload to us such thankless gruntwork,I will simply ignore the feature.

  4. I ignore the tags, I suggest you do the same [speaking to his public]

    • neema_t #

      Very agree, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the tags. While I get Lewie’s point, people dealt with bad ports and region locking before tags were introduced, and I suspect that people to whom these words/phrases are triggers will continue to be vigilant.

  5. John Peat #

    I’m not entirely sure negative tags are a good idea – but some of your examples are DEFINATELY not a good idea.

    “Bad Port” is meaningless – I might not be upset with “works badly on nVidia cards” except that I doubt anyone is in a position to make such a sweeping statement.

    “Mobile” is pandering to elitist idiots who think “their platform is better” and is also meaningless

    “Region Locked” is useless in the Steam Store itself.

    “Overpriced” is ridiculous because everyone’s idea of value is different AND prices change over time.

    After reviewing those – I think the idea of negative tags is pretty terrible

    p.s. I thought of one “Read the Forums before buying” – that would be a useful one – for EVERY game ;0

    • Nyamo #

      Actually I’d disagree with your point; every single one of those are useful in their own way.

      “Bad Port” can mean a multitude of different things, from either locked internal resolution ala Dark Souls, GTAIV’s extremely poor hardware optimization, or even certain parts of the game not working correctly at all such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark corners of the Earth. The tag itself is a good warning for users unwilling to put up with these kind of things, and a warning that it may take time to get the game up and running for those who are.

      Though I’m tempted to agree on “Mobile”, it’s far from meaningless. Mobile games are inherently designed to be used with simplistic touch controls, and usually feature simplistic or otherwise not very resource-intensive graphics due to the nature of the platform. Again, far from ‘meaningless’.

      “Region Locked”, assuming the product cannot even be viewed in some regions, is useful for people who would like to determine whether friends in certain regions would be able to play with them. Those connecting to Steam from outside their home country will find this tag useful as it will allow them to research if the game is unplayable from within their home country.

      Of course everyone’s idea of value is different, but like anything else, majority wins. If a large amount of people think a game is overpriced, then there’s nothing wrong with letting people know. I don’t recall the exact name, but a Rovio game ported from mobile to PCs showed up on Steam some time ago, with a HUGE price-hike compared to the original, somewhere in the realm of 700% more expensive I believe.

      We NEED positive AND negative tags, in addition to entirely neutral ones for simple categorical purposes. I’m not saying we need potentially offensive, or outright wrong tags, but that’s why it’s a community-based channel that needs only a bare minimum of moderation to function correctly; not a heavy-handed takedown of tags Valve – or indeed, individual developers – disagree with.

  6. Jerg #

    We need every little trick we can to stop the flood of terrible games that aren’t any better than an old sega, all the mobile games and phone games are terrible, they all have really really nice thumbnail icons though, that’s what they sell. Bad Ports, bad graphics, bad everything. Let us tell the truth, not censor us because you’re too weak for disagreements and fine details like “The Truth”. Maybe one of your relatives made a half game and is exploiting the people well with it, that’s why you defend the scam. There’s always a reason to defend wrong doing, smoke and mirrors and deceit.

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