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The RPG Files: Steam Plagued with Problems for RPG Gamers

Columns By Christopher Coke on April 24, 2015

Steam Plagued with Problems for RPG Gamers

Sometimes, you just want a new game. You’ve made your way through your backlog or scrolled through and found nothing that strikes your fancy. So, you turn to Steam, hit that RPG button and hope to find the next undiscovered gem. Except, it almost never happens like that. You’re hit with a wall of DLC; a torrent of 16-bit nightmares; and then you notice that even the featured games are mostly hybrids or completely misplaced in the genre. With an ecosystem so big, why is Steam so bad?

If you’re anything like me, trolling through Steam is a favorite pastime on days with a too many minutes to kill. As every PC gamer knows, Valve’s client is pretty much defined by its sales. What fewer people know is that the sales are always continuing if you take the time to look. Scrolling through genres of games is a great way to find new titles and, often, grab them at a discount if they’re new or recently updated.

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The problem is, Steam’s sorting just isn’t very good. Clicking into the RPG genre is a mess. Many of the games that appear are only RPGs in the loosest possible sense, something I know the readership of this column feels strongly about. Before you even get that far, you have to poke through masses of DLC for old, often bad, games selling costumes to stay relevant. You can turn this off with a search toggle but the damage is already done; the bad taste is firmly in the mouth, before you’ve even really begun searching.

One of the biggest reasons seems to be Steam user tags. The way it appears now, when enough people add “rpg” to a game based on, for example, featuring experience points, that game automatically appears in the RPG category. We talked about that very issue here when I discussed this column’s propensity for talking about hybrid RPGs. That same principle could work on Steam’s storefront, if “RPG” were even the first or second tag, but we’re seeing games appear three, four, and five tags deep. War Machine is currently on the first page of the RPG category with “RPG” sitting nine tags down. For many games, even being the second tag isn’t enough when the first one so clearly dominates the game design. Gamers are already confused enough about what an RPG actually is.

Likewise, can anyone explain why real-time strategy games auto-sort into the RPG category? Or a heaping helping of adventure games? And why isn’t there an easy way to filter out Early Access titles? Or re-releases? Before you can even get to anything new or not already on the main page, you have to filter and skim your way three pages past all of the games you were never interested in in the first place!

Then there’s the 16-bit problem. I love classic games. I grew up on the Super Nintendo and still enjoy playing 2D RPGs and Action games. Retro in itself is not a bad thing, especially with PC games. But it’s like someone sent out a flare to every indie dev and told them to get in on nostalgia while the getting is good. The RPG category is inundated with RPG Maker titles. And nothing against those, some of them are very good.

The problem is, there is no good way to tell a truly compelling game from a complete hack job. A quick glance a 2D sprite game usually results in “oh, another 2D sprite game” until you dig deeper and read some reviews. But when everybody and their brother is making one of these games, it’s pretty easy to go in skeptical. Most times, I don’t want to play your first game. I want to play your best. And if you want to play on my nostalgia, go for it, but I don’t appreciate you exploiting it to make a quick buck because your actual game can’t live up to it.

These are problems facing more than just the RPG section of Steam. For a service so profoundly popular, how deeply these issues permeate its core is shocking. Valve needs to do better for the players that made their untoppleable mountain.

Quick Hits

Marvel has announced their latest RPG this week, titled “Marvel Future Fight.” The game is said to include 36 characters, include PVE and PVP content to wet your whistle, and encourage players to work together to combine powers. Then they announced it was coming to mobile and everyone left the room. I kid, but it’s so rare to see a “hardcore” mobile game succeed that it almost makes you wonder if they’re missing the mark. Here’s the question: Can I play it on my commute? If the answer is no, or has some caveat, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. For Marvel, we’ll have to see what Future Fight has in store to be sure.

Speaking of mobile, Spirit Lords received an official review this week. MMORPG’s, Adam Tingle, took on the task and did a fine job, finding it charming but also light on depth and a little too familiar. Second piece of advice to mobile devs: don’t try to be a PC game unless you can really hold up to comparison. Nice job, Adam!

I liked Sleeping Dogs. Now sure, it was an action game and mostly doesn’t fit with this column, but it’s little cousin Triad Wars does! The ARPG has a new trailer out this week that’s well worth a look. This might be your next best chance to dive back into that world.

Tywin Lanister is in The Witcher 3! Or at least the actor who plays him. CD Projekt Red released an “In the Studio With…” video this week focusing on Charles Dance who voices the Emperor of Nilfgaard. It’s times like this we remember that if George R.R. Martin had written The Witcher, Geralt would have died three games ago.

That’s all folks! Let us know what we missed in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.