Thursday, May 23, 2024

What's Going On

has several primary functions. It's a store-front, where you can buy games. It's a platform, from which you can access and launch them. It also acts as a kind of social network for players and it provides a virtual fairground for games companies and developers, with its endless parade of special interest events, such as next month's NextFest or next week's Open World Survival Crafting Fest.

All of which is very helpful and useful and so on but there's another aspect of Steam's service I'm only now beginning to appreciate. It's a great place to get gaming news.

You'd think there'd be enough of those around already but I've always found it unecessarily hard to find the kind of news I wanted, presented in the way I wanted to receive it. Many, maybe most, gaming sites seem to be more interested in being entertaining than informative.

I used to complain quite frequently that what I wanted from MMO news sites like MassivelyOP was a lot less editorial and opinion and a lot more straight news reporting. I fully appreciate that just recycling PR handouts doesn't bring the eyeballs and pay the bills like snark, sarcasm and clickbait headlines but it's a plain fact that the posts I read all the way through at MOP are the ones that stick most closely to the information handed them by games developers. 

I realize it's hypocritical of me to complain about other people doing exactly what I do here all the time, namely using publicity material as a springboard for a string of self-indulgent dad jokes. My justification is that this is a personal blog, not a professional website. My one and only brief is to keep myself amused. If in doing so I happen to amuse anyone else, that's gravy.

I hate gravy, by the way. Who wants wet food? How did that ever get to be the benchmark?

See? That's the sort of self-indulgence I'm talking about. And so is this. Do you really want that sort of nonsense in your news reporting? I don't, which is why I'm constantly on the verge of removing MOP from my news feeds. 

And yet somehow it never happens. The problem is, no-one else covers the industry segment that interests me as fully and accurately as they do. MassivelyOP doesn't catch every development in the genre but it nets more than anyone else I've found and frequently tells me things I didn't know about games I play or introduces me to games I hadn't heard of. I have other MMO news sites in my Feedly, notably MMOBomb, whose coverage tends to be a lot straighter than MOP, if still prone to the occasional, unsolicited opinion, but it's rare for any of them to scoop Bree and her team.

Still, what I would really like is a true news aggregator for the genre. Something that just collates and distributes the press releases sent out by gaming companies and links them, unedited and unfiltered, under simple, declarative headings. That would allow me to skim them, read the ones that interest me and then do my own research to see how accurate or otherwise I feel the information promulgated by the marketing departments might be. I do love to do my own research.

It's taken me a long time to realize it but in a way that's what I already have with Steam. 

I tend to use Steam mainly from the Library page. Along the top is a band called What's New. For a long time I ignored it completely. It was only when I started to notice that information about a game I thought was all but dead was appearing almost daily that I started to pay attention. 

Few people reading this probably remember Bless Unleashed. Even fewer care what happened to it. I imagine most people who recognize the name assume it either closed down or went into maintenance mode long ago.

That's about what I thought, too. I did have a vague recollection of some half-assed conversion to NFTs or blockchain, back when those were the scam-du-jour, but so many fading, failing games tried jumping that bandwagon, none of the details really stuck with me. 

I still don't really have any clue how Bless Unleashed is doing. I uninstalled it a while back to free up some hard drive space so I can't log in to check for myself. I can tell you that according to the Steam charts it has a 30-day average of just under 500 players, which isn't a lot, although it's better than many MMOs on Steam. Lord of the Rings Online, for example, only has about a hundred more Steam players than that. MMOs often have multiple points of access, so Steam charts don't tell the whole story.

As for Bless Unleashed drifting dead in the water, belly-up in the oil slick of maintenance mode, thanks to Steam's What's New strip rolling along the top of my screen, I can confidently say it's not. As I write, news of updates for Bless Unleashed takes up much of the row. The game patched twice on May 17 and again on May 22. It also required an Emergency Update on the 20th and on the 22nd. An activity called "Ordo Chess" was added, along with half a dozen quality-of-life adjustments and the inevitable cash shop offers.

It's nothing major in itself but having played many similar MMORPGs, where even minimal updates like these dried up completely with no word at all from the developers for months on end, it definitely shows the game remains a going concern for the publisher and that there's still someone being paid to work on it.

Steam's What's New is how I heard about the bizarre bee competition in Rift. Like Valofe, who publish Bless Unleashed these days, Gamigo pump out a stream of "updates" I only know about from the news squibs. Granted, almost all of them are re-runs of events Trion originated but even that shows a kind of active engagement missing from games in true maintenance mode.

As a promotional tactic, it works. Better than you'd imagine. I still have Rift installed and I do occasionally log in as a result of reading something in that strip across the top of my screen. I did the quiz and I don't even want the prize. If I'd read about it in a quip-filled paragraph on a gaming website, I doubt I'd have bothered. 

I find  information presented this way, unmediated and without commentary, more engaging and involving than most of what I read after it's been filtered through the observations and interpretations of a third party and there's good reason for that. It's how I was brought up by print journalism.

Back in the day, when I got all my music news from the inkies, there was a very clear division between news and opinion. The first few pages were filled with news, which was presented entirely without comment, just the bald facts. Once past that, opinions ruled. Interviews, editorial, reviews, columns - it was a free-for-all filled with irony, ridicule, posturing, pretension and pontification and I loved it. 

Even now, most of the music websites I follow operate under roughly the same rule: news up front, no commentary; opinion in the back and give 'em hell! I'd love it if I could get my gaming news the same way but so far I've yet to find a site that covers the games that interest me in the way I'd like, which is why I'm so pleased to have identified a possible alternative.

The limiting factor for Steam's What's New, of course, is that it only feeds me information about games I have registered with the platform. And it seems as though only a subset of developers choose to send that information to the channel. 

I hear a lot about Bless Unleashed and Rift. I read plenty on AdventureQuest 3D (Did you know they're about to remove level scaling from the game almost completely? That's worth a post of its own.). Palworld, Nightingale, New World and Palia all keep me up to date with everything they're doing. I even hear from Legend of Edda occasionally, although that one sends me emails more often than it posts updates.

Other games on my roster remain silent, which might lead me to think they'd died, if it wasn't for another benefit of having them on Steam: the Community Hub. The hub is not, in my opinion, as good as the What's New feed for the simple reason I have to go looking for it. I have to think of the game, wonder what's going on with it, find it in my Library and click through to the Community page before I can see any news there might be.

I just did that with two MMORPGs I play - or at least used to play - through Steam. Both of them used to post regular updates in the news feed but neither of them has appeared there for a while. Having made the effort to catch up with them both, I can now tell you Dawnlands hasn't issued any kind of update or news since just before Christmas but Dragon Nest has been putting out a solid four notifications per month all year, none of which I have seen.

Why those have stopped appearing in my feed I have no clue but I wish they hadn't. I don't care that i'm not playing the game any more. I don't even care that I maybe can't play it, thanks to the endless fuck-ups with regionalization Dragon Nest has always been subject to. I would still like to read about what's going on there even if I can't join in.

I was a tardy and reluctant adopter when it came to Steam and since I caved and began using it I've treated it grudgingly and with bad grace. No more. I'm beginning to see more advantages than drawbacks in using the platform and I plan on making more of the opportunities it offers in future.

If I can't get what I want from the gaming press, perhaps I can get it from Valve. Or from Microsoft, if rumors are to be believed.

I didn't read that on Steam, though, and I doubt I ever will, at least until it's a done deal. 

I guess I won't be removing those gaming sites from my Feedly after all.


  1. It's interesting you should bring this up because I have a post set for tomorrow about feeling burnout from big gaming news sites now days. I also use Steam as a means for getting targeted news for the games I play there, especially when it comes to updates (or upcoming updates).

    I'm thankful for the devs who use Steam as a way to communicate and help players keep up! I just wish there was some way to pull that into my RSS feed reader!

    1. It would be great to be able to add the Steam news to Feedly. I guess it might be possible to add the individual game websites but it would be a lot of work. Of course, the place where you'd get the most information the fastest would be Discord but I just find it incredibly user-unfriendly. I only go there if there's no alternative.

    2. Same. I'm not a big Discord user and forget to check often, so getting news from Discord wouldn't make sense to me. I sometimes join a Discord, but it's more to get a sense of the community than it is to keep up with news. RSS is still my main go-to.

    3. My plan for Discord was to have my own server... really the blog server, but nobody is ever there... then subscribe to the news channels for various game Discord channels, then mute the game server so I only see stuff in my own little server. Works well for EQ and EQII as well as EVE Online and a few other titles that are diligent about their social media presence. Not so good for the more lackadaisical devs.

    4. Oh, and if you subscribe to Feedly++ or whatever it is, the one above the base subscription, you can set it to scrape the news page on game's web site and push that into your feed. That works for WoW very well.

    5. I have so many channels in Discord but I hardly ever remember to look at any of them. Mostly I read a news item on some website that has a link to Discord and I follow it, only to find out I'm already subscribed there. Getting all of the news feeds added to one Discord would be great. I might even remember to look at it!

  2. I love Steam despite its many flaws. It's the only place where I can go find forum help with games no matter how indie they are and it's pretty much the only alternative to Reddit when it comes to that.
    One of the best aspects are also the Steam curators. For example I am subscribed to a curator called Wholesome Games which covers small casual titles. I have discovered so many small gems thanks to that channel I otherwise would never have heard of because they're not talked about much on mainstream sites. I am also really sick and tired of IGN, Kotaku &Co. Game "journalism" is very dead.
    Also....I like the Steam queue, even if it's just a small feature. :D Sometimes it's filled with garbage recommendations and sometimes it's just perfectly tailored to my interests! All in all, I would say Steam is a very impressive platform for its many different offers. It feels like a hydra at times with too many heads to navigate but they still somehow manage to keep everything running smoothly.

  3. The pattern I've noticed on the internet its that anything providing useful information *now* is likely to be choked with ads and desperate marketers in the *very near future.* (See also: Google Search results)

    It's nice to have developers sharing legitimate updates for their games on Steam, but it could easily become a flood of non-updates that companies abuse to keep their brands "top of mind."


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