Valve launches Steam Labs, focusing on experimentation

Valve launched a new Steam hub today called Steam Labs, which functions as a platform for the company to release experimental projects into the public for feedback. A sort of early-access program for Steam’s features, Steam Labs will allow the company to share ideas with users before they would have normally been determined to be ready for the public.

Steam Labs launched with three experimental features (literally labeled as “Experiment 001,” and so on): Micro Trailers, the Interactive Recommender, and the Automatic Show.

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An iteration on the Twitter bot of the same name, Micro Trailers are Steam Labs’ attempt at creating automatically generated, six-second trailers for every game on Steam in order to allow users to avoid missing any of the platform’s latest additions. The trailers are displayed in small thumbnails that play in loops, much like what happens when you mouse over a thumbnail on YouTube. They appear to be random collections of footage from each game’s own, developer-made trailer.

Right now, Steam Labs is trying out a couple of display options for these trailers. First, just like the YouTube thumbnails, the “classic” micro trailers play one at a time when you hover over them with your mouse. The “play an entire row” option does just that, playing rows of four micro trailers as you mouse over it. “Play as you scroll” does pretty much the same thing, with rows of trailers playing automatically as you scroll down the page. Finally, “big quad videos” place a rectangle of four micro trailers for a single game together into a larger whole. Pages of micro trailers can be viewed by category, like popular new games or role playing games.

“Sensory overload” comes to mind when viewing the micro trailers, especially since the games’ logos are displayed at such a small size that it can be difficult to tell what exactly you’re looking at. The big quad videos are probably the least overwhelming way to consume them, since at least then you’re only looking at one game at a time.

The Interactive Recommender allows users to filter through machine learning-recommended games, based on your library and play history. Users can filter by popularity and by release date (within 10 years, 5 years, 3 years, 2 years, 1 year, and 6 months). This experiment is perhaps the most interesting in concept, but its usefulness will probably depend on each user’s game history. (For example, choosing to sort by maximum popularity and by both the three- and two-year windows yields Skyrim: Special Edition as my top match, despite the fact that my most-played game on Steam is already Skyrim, with more than 230 hours of playtime.)

The last of the three Steam Labs experiments is the Automatic Show, a daily, bot-generated show about Steam games. Today’s show is 25 minutes-long, and shows off a bunch of big quad video-style clips of trending games, separated by categories and set to background music or game-specific voice-overs. Each game’s logo pops up next to the trailer as it appears, linking to the game’s store page. The automatic show is… Well, it’s definitely bot generated, let’s just say that. Steam’s description of the show as “like one of those cable shopping channels” is apt, as there’s not much entertainment value to it. It could be useful if you’re really starved for game purchase ideas, but you’re probably better off sticking with browsing through the store normally or even looking through micro trailers.

As Steam points out, none of these features are final. Steam Labs is meant to be a place for “rough, ephemeral experiments,” so any or all of these three could be re-hauled before officially launching or be tossed out entirely. Valve even points out that Steam Labs itself is an experiment, so the hub could change as new experiments are launched. Valve is seeking user feedback on the Steam Labs discussion board.