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Steam games, capitalism, and Blue-haired Girls

A few months back I had an interesting revelation that I feel I should share. This story might not seem like it’s headed anywhere, but trust me – it is. I was on Steam to grab Agents: Biohunters, hoping to play in the closed alpha, when I  absentmindedly noticed that one of the curators who had reviewed the game was called Blue-Haired Girls. Intrigued, I clicked on their profile.

Their selection was awesome. Not just that, it was an absolute treasure trove of games I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of. Trulon: The Shadow Engine, a card-combat old school RPG. Timespinner, a gorgeous little metroidvania game from Chucklefish. Witch-bot Meglilo, possibly the only bullet hell I’ve actually enjoyed playing. Even a PC port of Shining Force II, a game I played almost a decade ago on my GP2X, through a barrage of glitches.

All of these games were exactly my thing, but Steam had strategically kept them away from my Discovery Queue, and the store front page altogether. And I am saying strategically, because instead of them, their “learning machine” is always suggesting highly rated games I have no interest in. Every time I open Steam, it pushes Mordhau and GTA 5 at me, not because there’s any chance I’d enjoy them, but because they are best sellers.

Which brings me to my actual point: Blue-Haired Girls, with their semi-random approach, had managed to offer up a way better selection of games than Steam’s algorithm.

Borderlands 3 wallpaper photo
After watching me play Super Puzzle Platformer for 100+ hours, Steam suggested Borderlands. Again.

BHG just curates games which feature female characters with blue hair: that’s the only criteria. Naturally, their list has games of all genres and themes. Mixed among big titles like Oxenfree and Stardew Valley are small, obscure games, some with overall negative reviews, or even no reviews at all. Unique, niche games people would normally never find about share the stage with popular hits like Wargroove.

By comparison, the way Steam suggests games to users is just flawed. It’s a rich-get-richer system that promotes games which have already gained traction, either through marketing campaigns or because they belong to franchises with proven mass appeal. It doesn’t matter how innovative, original or fun a game is, and it doesn’t matter if it has every feature you like in the games you normally play: Steam still thinks you’d like Red Dead Redemption 2 more.

Following curators is one way to find the hidden gems that the store won’t show. But even there Steam manages to tip the scales in the direction of mainstream titles, as their featured curators take priority over small ones like BHG. The first curator I always see is Critiquing Doge, a seemingly automated account based on a dead meme, which “reviews” only popular games, and does so with surface-level comments. Really, Tomb Raider has “many tombs, such exploration”? Thanks, that’s wild.

Steam curator
The BHG reviews aren’t in-depth either, but it doesn’t matter. They brought my attention to awesome games I didn’t know existed.

Obviously, if you wanted to, you could easily find every game listed on Steam by searching manually. The issue here isn’t that the algorithms aren’t complex or helpful enough to suggest the right games based on players’ tastes, it’s that they don’t try. Instead, they push the same big games at everyone.

I realize that most of these big games are in the spotlight for a reason – their success is a result of their quality.  However, that success shouldn’t be used to suffocate smaller games, and keep them away from all the players who would potentially love them.

Rant over! Here’s my advice: check out who curated the games you like, and follow them. Then follow some curators at random. If anything I mentioned caught your attention, also follow Blue-Haired Girls. Introduce some chaos into your gaming, and then find your way through it, instead of letting trends and marketing tactics dictate what you play.

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Asen Aleksandrov

I write about games because they won't let me write about Ed, Edd n Eddy. Send questions/rants to asen at northernarena.ca
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