I'm going to try and stick to eventualities that are at least vaguely possible, even if I would love for them to kill the harmful and exploitative economy that's growing around trading cards. Let's get into it.
1 - Make the curator system useful
"Maintaining that curator page is incredibly difficult and the feature set has not been properly updated since its inception almost three years ago."
Those are the recent words of John "TotalBiscuit" Bain, owner and operator of the largest curator group on Steam.
Like so many initiatives that Valve drop on us with little warning, the curator system is another in a line of good ideas crippled by either laziness or a lack of caring. Despite being given a small update a few months ago (which Bain states did nothing to actually help manage his curator group), the system is languishing and slowly slipping into a puddle of uselessness, with major curators abandoning it altogether.
He went on to say: "It seems that nobody at Valve really cares about the curator system and can't be bothered to make it as powerful as it needs to be."
2 - Get a grip on Greenlight, Early Access and your store in general
I could write thousands upon thousands of words about the unethical practices that go on in what have quickly become Steam's Wild West of asset flipping, customer abusing, false advertising and bribing.
The two platforms, which were both introduced to help aspiring developers get their projects to market in an industry where they traditionally wouldn't have a chance, both saw their fair share of controversy in 2016.
Let's start with Greenlight. Steam have a set of rules for developers who want to enter a project into the voting process. You can see them here. The two that I'd like to bring particular attention to are the very first one, which states that you must have a functioning core of a game that you can show off with a video trailer, and the very last one, which prohibits a bunch of stuff - including racism, soliciting and begging.
I mention these two rules in particular, because if, like me, you follow Jim Sterling's YouTube series, "Best of Steam Greenlight Trailers" you'll have noticed that these rules aren't exactly strictly enforced. What this means, then, is that "developers" (yes, the quotes are necessary) will often launch "games" (again, necessary) cobbled together in MS Paint promising free keys in exchange for Greenlight votes. They do this openly, and Valve do nothing about it, even when it's been brought to light by one of the biggest critics in the gaming industry. This is also despite them coming out and publicly telling them to knock it off in February 2015.
Here's an idea - that one-time fee that allows for an unlimited number of submissions - make it per submission. Or per three submissions, if that's too harsh.
Early Access has its own problems. Some games are abandoned with little warning and no way for customers to get their money back, as happened with Starbase DF-9. Other developers think it's perfectly fine to launch an Early Access expansion for their game, which is also in Early Access. Valve give them free reign to do so. It's a service that allows unscrupulous developers to take advantage of naïve consumers. Now yes, consumers should be more careful. However, they should also still be protected from predatory business practices.
Valve need quality control. They used to be very strict about it, arguably too strict. It's as if they were so badly stung by criticism they received from not letting certain games on Steam that they got into a massive sulk, said: "Sod it, we'll let everything on" and proceeded to sit in a dark corner glowering at us ever since.
Here's a sobering statistic: Steam has been in operation since September 2003. The releases in 2016 account for 40% of its entire library.
How many of those were utter dross that aren't fit for sale? How many were decade-old titles that nobody missed, dumped onto the store in great batches to take up the entirety of the new release front page? And how many that fall into those two categories stopped genuinely good games from getting the release spotlight that could have made the difference between a developer giving up on their dreams or realising them?
3 - Put an end to the Half-Life 3 misery, one way or another
Here's something that's been dragging on for over a decade. Half-Life 3. Does it exist, or does it not exist? Did it ever exist, or was it quietly cancelled several years ago? This is the gaming equivalent of Area 51, with reported sightings and slips cropping up from time to time in unexpected places.
Half-Life 3, at this point, has become a chain around Valve's neck. Every time they announce something new, even if it's something completely unrelated, like hardware, they're asked: "What about Half-Life 3??"
Just get it over with. Either tell us it's in development or, and this is far more likely, just come out and admit that you canned it years ago. There's no need for it to drag on any longer.
4 - Get your customer support sorted outThe recent kerfuffle that Valve had with the Australian government, where they were fined for not adhering to the country’s laws on customer refunds, brought to light some interesting details (thanks, /u/Donners22).
Valve are a $4 billion-plus (at least) business. They have just 325 staff. There are regional businesses that have more. Further, they actually do have their own support staff — 50 of them. This was news to me, as I assumed they exclusively farmed support out to the cheapest company they could find.
Steam processes a massive number of transactions with what is one of the largest game libraries in the world. For that, they have fifty people plus two-hundred-ish dealing with every possible complaint (aside from refunds, which are now automated).
Wait times on Steam are still too long. That article was published a year ago, with vague promises that things will get better for end users — albeit with a worrying disdain toward actually hiring people to handle it — I certainly didn’t see much sign of that happening up until now.
5 - Make Sales Great Again
Easy puns aside, the Steam sales are not what they once were. There are a couple of reasons for that. When they first started in earnest, it was the first time that major titles were going on deep discounts reasonably shortly after launch. It was also a time where most of this current "generation" of PC gamers had a lot of games to catch up on. The pool of great games that could go on sale for the first time was dramatically bigger.
Fast forward to 2017, and the marketplace has changed. It's been a long time since I've bought a game from Steam during a Steam sale. Mostly that's because they haven't been offering titles I didn't already have.
Steam are no longer the only digital retailer in town. They're no longer the cheapest, either. In fact, they're often among the most expensive - especially in my region of the world.
Here's an anecdotal statistic that I feel isn't an unusual case (do feel free to agree or disagree in the comments). During the just-ended Steam Winter Sale, I bought five games. However, I bought none of them from Steam. I found them all through Steam (well, through /r/gamedeals' summary of the Steam sale on Reddit). I then went to isthereanydeal.com (great site) to see if there were better offers. The answer was yes. For every single one of those five games.
Steam is no longer the underdog. It is now the monolith. Smaller digital retailers are stealing Valve's thunder. Good old Games have a far better approach to refunds and customer service, as well as regional pricing. Their take on Early Access is controlled tightly. WinGameStore has a fantastically simple layout with extremely competitive discounts on recently released titles. Even Origin, much maligned in its early life, has a better store and customer service than Steam. They even have live chat support. Actually, a lot of the tiny (not referring to Origin, obviously) digital retailers have at least live chat support. Ubisoft's uPlay is... still awful. Small mercies aside, it feels like Valve are resting on their laurels.
What would you like to see from Valve in the coming year? Am I talking a load of old rubbish? Let me know in the comments below.
Note: I completely missed the bullet about third party support. Updated relevant section.