On Wednesday, Valve launched a new feature on Steam that allows users to “tag” games, as a way of driving a new game recommendation engine. In their page announcing the new feature, Valve encourages the use of non-traditional tags, saying “the system is intended to support a broad variety of concepts, genres, and attributes.”
Though the feature is still in beta—Valve claims it’s because they “need to get some data into the system before it will be fully optimal”—the community quickly jumped into action tagging games, both with basic descriptions like “Third Person,” “Retro,” or “Timesink,” specific features like “Steam Workshop,” “Steam Trading Cards,” “Co-op,” or “Functioning Toilet,” and obligatory memes like “Hat Simulator.” Some games have even been tagged with the names of prominent critics that have written about them, like Jim Sterling or Brendan Keogh, though not enough to trigger their own page yet.
Valve has promised that “swear words will be filtered out and not appear among popular tags,” though that seems to be the only moderation they intend to do—their only (publicly-posted) information for developers unhappy with tags their game is receiving is that “tags can be a good indicator of when there is a mismatch between how you perceive your game, and how your game is perceived by customers. Often this is simply because there is some piece of information regarding the game that customers feel is missing from the store page.”
Of course, that’s little recourse for developers whose games are now prominently labeled “Bad,” “Crap,” “Hipster Garbage” or “Not a game.” The tumblr “ACTUAL STEAM TAGS” has been collecting screenshots of games whose tags seem to be harassing independent game developers, or otherwise using the new platform as a venue for memetic nonsense like “Dangling Grandpas” or hate speech like “The Holocaust Never Happened.”
Another issue is the potential for spoilers. One of the most memorable moments from the climax of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is spoiled by one of the game’s tags, as is one of the more noteworthy surprises in Hate Plus and the literary inspiration for Spec Ops: The Line.
Alongside their much-criticized Greenlight program, Steam Tags appear to be part of an ongoing strategy for Valve to automate their responsibilities as a platform-holder, or at least offload those responsibilities to “the community.” As the de facto gatekeepers of PC Gaming as a platform, it’s a worrying trend—another word for control by the community is “mob rule.”