Valve intriguing ‘Steam Labs’ experiments help you find new games to play in a sea of releases

Steam is enormous, and growing more so by the day. And that presents a problem: How the hell do you find anything that isn’t already on your radar? It’s less a needle in a haystack, more a needle in a hayfield—and that’s after Valve tried to solve the problem once already, with 2014’s Discovery Update.

Five years later, it’s time to try again. This time, Valve’s approach is a bit more advanced—and a bit more scattershot. Under the umbrella of Steam Labs, Valve’s rolling out three new experiments that should hopefully streamline the discovery process and help you find the odd diamond among Steam’s 30,000 game library.

Goggles on

“Behind the scenes at Steam, we create many experimental features with codenames like The Peabody Recommender and Organize Your Steam Library Using Morse Code. For the first time, we’re giving these works-in-progress a home called Steam Labs, where you can interact with them, tell us whether you think they’re worth pursuing further, and if so, share your thoughts on how they should evolve.”

That’s how today’s announcement starts, and no, that Morse Code sorting technique isn’t real—or at least, it’s not part of this initial batch of experiments. The three debuting alongside Steam Labs are dubbed “Micro Trailers,” “The Automated Show,” and “The Interactive Recommender.” Keep in mind that I haven’t seen any of these in action yet, and am relying on Valve’s (fairly perfunctory) descriptions.

So, Micro Trailers. Of the three Steam Labs experiments, this is probably the most self-explanatory. Valve’s scraped a bunch of trailers for six-second clips, the titular Micro Trailers, and “arranged [the trailers] on a page so you can digest them all at a glance.”

What’s unclear from this description is how large the pool of Micro Trailers is, and how automated the process. Micro Trailers are broken down by genre—“adventure games, RPGs, builders, and more” according to the description—but whether Valve reached out to specific high-profile games and developers for highlight clips, snipped clips internally, or let an algorithm handle it, I’m not sure.

It sounds neat though. Developers have enlisted similar tactics to great effect on Twitter and Reddit, using flashy GIFs to sell games like Clustertruck and Falcon Age. A good GIF doesn’t always mean a great game, but it’s an interesting way to window browse and see what catches your eye.

The Automated Show is also pretty simple to explain, though I admit that of the three it’s the one I’m least interested in. Described as a “half-hour video featuring the latest Steam launches,” I have to assume it’s automatically scraping trailers (or parts of trailers) from either the Popular New Releases or New Releases tabs on the store, then playing them back for you in order.

Given the heaping piles of shovelware released on Steam these days, sitting through half an hour of even the Popular New Releases sounds pretty tedious. And if it’s just a firehose of New Releases, without even accounting for popularity or some minimum quality standard? That sounds like a nightmare. In any case, I can’t imagine it’s more efficient than simply going to Steam and clicking on the games that sound even marginally interesting, watching two seconds of trailer footage, and closing out of the ones you aren’t.