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When Steam's Tagging System Goes Wrong

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Come with me, friends. Come with me on a journey.

Study that image for a moment. You might notice that something’s not quite right about it.

If you go to Steam’s front page, that “psychological horror” tag sticks out like a sore thumb as it clings precariously to True or False, a cute, animal-themed trivia game clearly intended for kids and families.


The game’s most upvoted user review right now is a simple question:


It’s all funny, but not exactly novel. Steam tags are applied by users. The more a certain tag is applied to a certain game, the more prominent it becomes. Steam users have been tossing around joke tags for as long as Steam’s tag system has existed. Valve constrained the system a bit in reaction to the initial flood of gag tags, but people continue to discover loopholes. So it goes with this True or False thing. I imagine it began with a collaborative effort, then other Steam users found it funny and pushed it all the way to the top.

But that’s only the beginning. Other popular tags on the game currently include “illuminati” and “nudity.”

I scrolled down to the game’s “more like this” section, and well...


Boobs, butts, pets, and Jesus. And more boobs.

Steam games’ “more like this” sections are, of course, dictated by tags. Good job, gang. Didn’t take us long to get to the bottom of that mystery.


Mainly, I’m bringing this to your attention because it’s funny. However, I think it also serves as yet another example of why Valve really needs more human moderation working behind the scenes of its user- and algorithmically-generated systems. Tags like “psychological horror” verge on being useless because they’re cluttered up by so many gags (usually involving crappy games). One of Steam’s biggest problems is people being able to discover less well-known games after they’ve had their 15 seconds of fame on the front page, and this certainly doesn’t help.

Also, based on the stuff they’ve been letting through Greenlight, Valve clearly wants to turn Steam into a store for a wider range of games, including family friendly ones. Imagine a parent coming across something like this and then trying to find related games. That would be... awkward.


Which is funny in its own way, but also mostly avoidable on Steam’s part. In fairness, Valve has (sorta) cleaned up tags in some higher profile instances where they were used to further attacks on a game or developer, but only after a degree of damage was done. Valve’s not consistent about it, either. Maybe someday Steam will reach its ideal, perfectly automated form, but until then, automation without dedicated moderation is just asking for trouble.

And also memes. A whole lot of memes.

Thanks for the heads up, Nick Chester.

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