The Popular Upcoming list on Steam is intended to give studios a way to advertise their title in the weeks before its release, utilising the vast reach of Valve’s platform. Ideally, the closer a game gets to release, the further up the list it should climb. Unfortunately, an exploit is allowing some developers to bump their games to the top of the list despite having no set release date.
No More Robots founder Mike Rose highlighted the problem on Twitter, calling out Steam’s Popular Upcoming list as “a (sometimes accidentally) manipulated mess.” The system is supposed to take into account the release date set in the backend of Steam, alongside the number of people who have placed a game on their wishlist, placing the popular titles in release order.
This is rarely the case. Within the current top 10 Popular Upcoming Releases, five have an ambiguous public dates such as “Early Q2 2019,” “Coming Soon,” “Incoming 2019” or the supposedly comedic “When It’s Ready.” This is because developers and publishers can set any release date they want on the backend, continuously changing it after it has lapsed in order to bump their game right back to the top of the list.
Rose admits that there are genuine mistakes out there, from smaller developers missing their release date to potential technical issues, but the end result is the same. Titles that are “actually coming soon” are bumped to the bottom of the list, including Rose’s upcoming Hypnospace Outlaw which should be in the top few but is instead relegated to the bottom of the page.
One particular culprit seems to be publisher Play Way, which has repeatedly pushed Cooking Simulator to the top of the pile despite lacking a release date, pricing and, according to fans in recent Steam Community threads, communication. Play Way has yet to respond to Rose’s accusations on Twitter.
It's just a completely dishonest way to use the system, but not only that, they are actively, knowingly, taking Steam front page space away from games that actually deserve it. So thanks for that, @Play_Way!
— Mike Rose (@RaveofRavendale) March 5, 2019
Steam Business member Tom Giardino reassured Rose that the problem has been a “big topic of discussion” in recent weeks, explaining that “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.”
“I'm very wary of making promises or setting incorrect expectations, but: We also care about this and are trying to fix it in a way that makes Upcoming Releases more valuable without hurting games that wish to shift their release date,” explains Giardino.
KitGuru Says: Valve has a distinct reliance on automation, which makes this problem even harder to solve without continuous moderation or a fundamental overhaul of its backend system. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Valve comes up with to level the playing field.