Something is up with Steam's Popular Upcoming list on the front page, and devs are not happy about it. According to indie publisher Mike Rose in a breakdown of how the Popular Upcoming list works, the system doesn't account for a game's actual release date, leaving it vulnerable to human error, or worse, those who want to game the system.
In a long Twitter thread that has since gained traction on Reddit, Rose went into detail about how Steam's Popular Upcoming list works. According to Rose, the system is supposed to work like this: Steam looks at the release date for a game in the Steam backend, then sees how many times it's been wishlisted. Then it determines what games players are excited for that are coming soon.
The problem is that the release date on the backend can be set without needing to be completely accurate. That's because the backend release date can be different than the one listed on a game's Steam page.
So what you end up with is two issues:1. Devs manipulating the system, so their game appears over and over again in this list.Here's Steel Division II. The devs have set tomorrow as the release date in the backend, but then written the real release date on the Store page pic.twitter.com/EeLZdM27Qj— Mike Rose (@RaveofRavendale) March 5, 2019
Rose highlights the game Steel Division 2, which officially lists an April 4, 2019 release date on its home page. But on the backend of Steam, Steel Division 2 is listed as having its release date tomorrow, March 5. Thus, pushing it onto the Popular Upcoming list.
Not every developer tries to game this system. There will be instances where a game is delayed, and a developer forgets to update the backend release date. But it seems to be a common enough problem that other developers have commented on Rose's original Twitter thread.
Indie devs have responded to Rose with similar grievances, with their own games being buried lower down the Popular Upcoming list by games that aren't even scheduled for release anytime soon. One developer who responded to Rose said they messaged Valve weeks ago as they were worried about their upcoming video game launch, but was reportedly told by Valve that there isn't an issue with the system.
Right? I messaged Valve about this actually just a couple of weeks ago too because I'm worried about it for my own upcoming launch (a bit further away, but still). According to them, there's no issue - but clearly there is, and obviously people are taking advantage of it.— Lucas Govatos (@LucasGovatos) March 5, 2019
Being on the front page of Steam, or on top of one of Steam's various lists, does impact the number of customers who see a game on the platform. Getting pushed to the second page of an Upcoming games list on Steam decreases the exposure and potential customers. To get buried by competing games is one thing, but to get buried by games that aren't even coming out on your chosen release date is a separate matter.
Valve is notoriously hands off when it comes to the content on Steam, preferring to let algorithms and a tiny amount of human moderation handle the marketplace. Valve has argued it makes for a more equal storefront, though there have been bugs that have caused indie developers to lose out on sales. If what Rose says is accurate though, then this is a feature of Steam's list making system, not a bug. We've reached out to Valve to get a better understanding of how the Popular Upcoming games list works, and will update you when we hear back.