Steam Spring Cleaning Event

I feel like paying attention to special promotions on Steam these days loses you some cred. Steam had something special going on back when they weren’t the incumbent, but Itch is what’s hip now. Plus, Steam’s special promotions just aren’t that interesting any more. Back in, say, 2011, they had grand metagames, things for which they’d get developers to put new Achievements and even new secret levels into their games. Today, it’s all predictable annual sales and things to do with trading cards.

Nonetheless, this past Memorial Day weekend, there was a Steam promotion that I think bears some scrutiny. Billed as a “Spring Cleaning” event, it offered a trophy (which is to say, a badge, worth 500 Steam XP if fully leveled) for completing certain tasks. The interesting thing is that the tasks weren’t designed to convince you to buy more games. On the contrary: they were all about playing the games you already have, with tasks like “play a game that you’ve played for less than an hour” and “play a game you’ve played for more than two hours, but haven’t played in a while”. Each task, when clicked on, yielded a list of suggestions — one task, which could be claimed afresh on each day of the promotion, was simply “Here’s a few randomly-chosen games that you own. Play one of them.”

There was a task to play the very first game you ever acquired on Steam — in my case, this was the Orange Box, so I had quite a few choices. Another daily task asked you to play a game that’s in your library but that you haven’t played at all. For me, this was not a problem — I have many games I haven’t played yet; that is the entire premise of this blog. But I was curious to note that the list of games it recommended for this task included several that I had in fact played, and even ones that I had Achievements for. A bug triggered, perhaps, by having too many games? It tried to pull up my play history and gave up after the first hundred thousand lines? Who knows?

At any rate, the reason I’m describing the event here is the big question it provokes: Why? Why is Valve, as a corporate entity that’s not primarily concerned with encouraging people to finish their backlogs for its own sake, bothering with this nonsense? I guess they’re in favor of anything that keeps the players engaged. I also have a sneaking suspicion that it also serves analytic data-gathering. In the Bundle Age, it must be difficult to discern a person’s actual tastes, so here’s a random assortment of games that you already own; which will you click on?

But also, this is a remarkably backwards-facing promotion. It showed me a bunch of games that I haven’t thought about in years, and that made me think about how great they were back in the day. And that serves Valve well. Recall what I said about Steam being past their peak hipness. Well, if they can’t have hip, at least they’ve got a near-monopoly on several years worth of PC gaming nostalgia.

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