I’ve been reviewing games for about 4 years now and since I’m not exactly a top tier reviewer I’ve had to employ other tactics to get my reviews in front of other people. Primarily this just used to be via my Twitter and Facebook accounts however after I noticed my reviews getting submitted to other sites (by other people, no less!) I decided to start doing that process myself rather than wait for some unknown individual to do it for me. Primarily I used to just post to N4G and Reddit however after the launch of Steam Communities I started posting my reviews on there, figuring that people who were buying the game would likely sift through there before purchasing. Seems I wasn’t the only one doing this as Valve has decided to formalize the idea in Steam Reviews.
It’s essentially just another part of the Steam Community Hub that every game has (which now includes things like game guides and trading posts) where users can leave and rate reviews for that particular title. If this sounds similar to the recommendations that steam has had for ages you’d be right and this new review system will be replacing it wholesale. All your old recommendations will be upgraded to reviews however which means that it’s somewhat useful right off the bat (although unlikely to have anything negative due to the way the old system worked) and none of the work anyone put in gets lost in the transition.
One of the marked improvements that the Steam platform can give to reviews like this is that users will not be able to review a game they haven’t played. This doesn’t extend to needing to own the game either so if you played a game on a free weekend or got a title shared to you from a friend you’ll be eligible to write a review on the Steam page for it. Whilst this won’t entirely eliminate the bad review train that tends to happen with certain titles it does limit the scope to people who’ve actually had a crack at the game rather than anyone who feels like jumping on a bandwagon.
Currently they’re just worded reviews with no score indicator on them however that’s apparently set to change during the beta. Whilst some will lament their inclusion I still believe that they have some value so long as we, the gaming community, use them appropriately. Since I’ll be actively participating in this open beta (I’ve still got a ton of reviews on my blog that haven’t made their way onto Steam in one way or another) I’ll be submitting feedback to encourage use along those lines so that games can more easily compared against each other, rather than some subjective view of perfection. How this will come about I can not be entirely sure but if anyone can change the way scores are used in the wider gaming world its Valve and Steam is the platform to do it.
Whether this will translate into more exposure for small time reviewers like myself will be something of interest as whilst I’ve had a few people come to read my review from Steam it pales in comparison to other platforms. Steam Reviews could change that as they’ll be given a prominent location in the Community Hub rather than being lost in the wash of the general discussion forum. That’s really a side benefit for people like me however as the real value here will be from getting a much better view of what the gaming community thinks of a title, hopefully free from much of the bandwagoning that’s made Metacritic what it is today.
Many moons ago I was checking out GoPros for the upcoming Tough Mudder event because I wanted to record some first person perspective footage, much like many of the other participants did. Of course this entailed me actually going to the GoPro website and checking out their wares which, after careful consideration, lead me to lust after the most recent model. Since it was still a fair way out from the event I hadn’t planned to grab one then and there so I bookmarked the model I wanted and then proceeded to go about my usual browsing activities. Only something had changed in the time between my first visiting the GoPro site and leaving it and it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed such behaviour.
Indeed I wrote about this at the start of the year when my thinking was along the lines of these being the highest CPC ads that the network could deliver at the time but I’ve started to notice similar behaviour on other sites. Amazon for instance routinely sends me a list of items that I might be interested in which is actually a service that I’ve opted in for (my traditional means of product discovery are quite laborious). However I couldn’t help but notice that every single product that Amazon recommends to me are things that I’ve either searched for on the site previously or even products I attempted to buy from them only to be told that they wouldn’t ship them outside the USA. It seems really strange as they seem to be able to recommend other products on their site without too much trouble but with anything else it seems they’re left dumbfounded.
So this got me thinking, all these analytical engines out there, which are apparently the magic sauce behind all of these targeted advertising systems, must be spectacularly crap. I’m not the most private person I’m constantly spamming this blog, Twitter and Facebook with all manner of inane stuff I’m interested in so its not like there isn’t a whole lot of data these guys could be pillaging in order to figure out what they should be peddling to me. Indeed Google has the poorest excuse of the lot of them as I browse through a logged in Google Chrome and search whilst logged into my Google account. Still their algorithms seem to be heavily weighted to advertise things to you that you’ve already seen which, at least in my case, seems counter to what you’d want to do.
The flip side of this is that I’m somehow not giving out information for these things to be able to make accurate recommendations which I just don’t believe is the case. Amazon and Google have a treasure trove of information related to my searching, viewing and buying habits and yet I rarely see advertisements or recommendation for things like cameras, supplements and tech gadgets all of which can be high value/high margin sales. I could just have the blinkers on for the text ads (I rarely read them any more, but the graphical ones do catch my eye) but I highly doubt that’s the case.
Facebook is probably the one who gets it the closest as whilst there was a long period where they were simply allowing targeting based on someone’s likes it does seem to do a rather good job of inferring what I would be interested in without referring to it often. You could argue that’s because it has a deeper insight into me thanks to the tendency for people to share details they wouldn’t otherwise on that particular network but there’s not really much more on there than anywhere else, certainly not for Google.
This could all be an artefact of my better-than-average memory which remembers things like this. It’s quite possible that the vast majority of people do in fact do the majority of their product discovery themselves and simply forget about it which means that kind of targeting would be effective. Indeed when I’ve talked about this phenomena with other people I’m usually met with blank stares as they don’t seem to notice any trends like this. Whatever it is every time I notice it I get pushed just a little closer to installing AdBlock, even though I want to keep supporting sites who pony up their content free. That irritates me as I shouldn’t have to make that kind of decision if these algorithms were doing their job properly.