Steam list exploit allows developers to promote games using incorrect release dates

As Valve remains silent on the Steam listing of a game which glorifies rape, the platform is now under fire for allowing developers to manipulate the storefront’s upcoming releases list to promote their titles.

Mike Rose – founder of publishing label No More Robots – was the first to highlight the problem, and explained the situation in an extended Twitter thread.

“Steam looks at the release date for each title set in the Steam backend, then lists all the titles with decent wishlist numbers, in order of when they are supposedly coming out,” Rose said.

“Here’s the thing: you can set any date for your game’s release in the Steam backend, and it means nothing.

“Setting this date has no meaning – except for appearing in the upcoming list.

Rose said this means developers can accidentally end up on the upcoming list if they forget to change their date, or (more worryingly) can deliberately manipulate the system “so their game appears over and over again in this list”.

“This is a genuine issue, because as we all know having your title on the front page of Steam, even in an upcoming list, can be a big deal for wishlists/sales,” Rose continued. “So if this list does not actually show upcoming games, it makes consumers stop looking at it, and hurts upcoming games.”

Looking at the upcoming list this morning, I spotted several examples of games being featured when they either had no date, or a distant one. On the popular upcoming list, Contraptions Parkour, Cooking Simulator and Nanobotic do not have set release dates, while Between the Stars – which is due to release in Q2 (which starts in April) is listed ahead of several March release dates.

Meanwhile, on the all upcoming releases list, Deceiver isn’t due to release until May 2019 (according to its website), and mysteriously disappeared from the list when I was mid-way through writing this article. Another game, Deep 8, says it’s releasing today on Steam, but the developer also states it will have to launch a crowdfunding campaign in summer 2019 “to eventually be able to complete this game”.

Do my eyes deceiver me?

It’s hard to say whether all of these games have deliberately chosen to manipulate the upcoming list: but Rose has accused Cooking Simulator of doing just that, saying the game has changed their release date each week to “get tons of new traffic/wishlists to the page”.

Valve has acknowledged the problem, although it sounds like the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to resolve the situation.

“This was a big topic of discussion yesterday, and it frustrates us for the same reasons it frustrates you,” said Tom Giardino on Twitter. “But it’s also super important that devs get to control their own release timing so we don’t want to mess with that.”

“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.”

It seems Valve still has a fair bit of work to do before its curation problems are resolved. As it stands, I’m still finding the lists frustrating to navigate, with plenty of shovelware and low quality games crowding out genuinely good titles. At least if Valve investigates this, they can say they Gabe it their all.


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