Steam Grand Prix causes mass confusion and hurts indie game developers

Posted on July 1, 2019

The latest major Steam sale has come around, and Valve is trying something new with how it is implemented. To encourage gamers to take part in the sale, it has introduced a new metagame called the Steam Grand Prix, where players join teams and compete for points. However, the Grand Prix’s rules were poorly explained, and Valve has been forced to make some changes.

The principal idea is fairly sound. Players start up by joining either Team Cockatiel, Team Corgi, Team Tortoise, Team Hare or Team Pig. Teams earn points by having players spend money during the sale, or by completing certain objectives in certain games. By the end of the “race”, members of the winning team can go into a draw to win free games from their Steam Wishlist.

However, problems began to reveal themselves in the first few days of the sale. Firstly, waaaay more people joined Team Corgi than other teams, leading to a severe imbalance in team sizes (not me though: Team Cockatiel FTW). Admittedly, Valve probably should have thought twice about naming a team after a Pig or a Tortoise if a Corgi is an available choice. Valve eventually responded by making changes “to help mitigate some of the snowball effects we’ve seen that have led to Team Corgi running away with the first two days of the races despite their tiny legs”.

The exact mechanics of the Grand Prix were also needlessly complicated. You need to increase your maximum point capacity, and then earn points, and then spend the points on boosts. Whether your boost will actually be useful is hard to determine. According to Valve: “Upon Boosting, the Nitro you’ve gained will help increase your team’s speed in the race. Coordinate timed boosts with your teammates and together you’ll increase your Team Boost level. 100 active Nitro will result in a 0.1x Boost to your team’s speed”. If that sounds like too many steps, you’re probably not wrong.

However, the more harmful impact of the poor communication has led to indie developers seeing their games disappear from Wishlists. The Steam Wishlist is a handy feature to help gamers follow the store’s frequent sales, and keep an eye on games they are interested in. Indie developers, who often struggle for visibility on the crowded storefront, depend on Wishlists to keep their games in the minds of consumers. However, the poorly-communicated rules of the Steam Summer Sale Grand Prix has apparently led to the mass deletions of many smaller games from Wishlists.

The Grand Prix’s event page reminds players to “be sure to update your Wishlist before you put the pedal to the metal, as the very best drivers will be awarded their Most Wished For games throughout the event.” Because of this, many indie titles are seeing mass deletions from Wishlists because Steam users thought that a much more expensive games is now more likely to be won. Although the reality of the Grand Prix is actually different, with only your top game on your Wishlist capable of being won.

Haunted House and Detective Grimoire developer Tom Vian has demonstrated the impact on Twitter, where his titles have greatly decreased in Wishlist presence over the last few days. “Resulting in yesterday more people deleting our games from their wishlists than purchasing them from their wishlists, which as far as I can see has never happened in a sale before”, he wrote on Twitter. He is not alone, with many other indie developers reporting similar stats.

Steam has responded to the criticism, stating “We designed something pretty complicated with a whole bunch of numbers and rules and recognize we should’ve been more clear. We want to apologize for the confusion that this has caused.” Steam also tweeted a GIF instructing players on how to reorganise their Wishlists without deleting games. However, for many the damage has been done.

The lesson of the story is not to overcomplicate something that doesn’t need it. Steam sales are beloved by many because of the convenience of being able to buy games for low, low prices. Whilst adding these metagames like the Grand Prix on top of everything is a cute idea, most Steam users don’t need something like this to convince them to take part.