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One day in, Steam Tags are often more abusive than useful (update)

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

As Valve works to improve discoverability on Steam, some of its users are taking advantage of a new feature to troll other users and harass developers.

Valve launched Steam Tags yesterday, whereby Steam users can categorize games with any label they can think of, and while some Steam users are using the feature as it was designed, others are already abusing it in a variety of inappropriate and ugly ways.

Steam Tags have only been available for a day, and at this point, the tags on many games tend to be less useful as labels and more indicative of the problems that Steam users have with those games and their developers. Sometimes, people are raising legitimate concerns about a game; other times, they're just trolling.

Numerous threads in Valve's Steam Tagging Beta sub-forum offer comments about issues with Steam Tags. Some individuals are complaining about trolling, such as tags that contain spoilers. Other users point out that tags are often similar or redundant, like "smart game for smart people" and "smart game for smart gamers," both of which are in the first five tags for BioShock Infinite. The general consensus among Steam forum users seems to be that Tags are a good idea, but the implementation needs work.

Perhaps the most significant issue is that some Steam users are taking advantage of the free-form Tags system to make derogatory statements about games and their creators (or derogatory statements in general).

"the initial categorization of items might be a bit off"

Take Gone Home, for instance, the celebrated first-person exploration game from The Fullbright Company. It's unclear if tags are listed in decreasing order of popularity on game pages, but as of this writing, the first five tags on Gone Home's Steam page include the phrases "not a game," "bad" and "overrated," and some others are "walking simulator" and "feminist." The tag "hipster garbage" can be found on the page for Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP from Superbrothers and Capybara Games, as well as the listing for The Tiniest Shark's space-based role-playing game, Redshirt.

The Steam page for Fez, the mind-bending platformer made by the controversial Canadian developer Phil Fish, features a number of tags in which Steam users voice their displeasure with Fish. Among the 20 tags listed on the page are "diva dev," "bipolar" and "tosspot." And the page for Indie Game: The Movie, which focused partly on Fish's struggles to complete Fez, lists tags with more abuse directed at him: "Phil Fish sucks," "choke on it" and "choking hazard."

Valve's Steam Tags FAQ doesn't offer much solace to developers who may feel like tags are being used against them. The company's response to the question "what if I don't agree with a tag that has become popular for my game?" is this: "Tags can be a good indicator of when there is a mismatch between how you perceive your game, and how your game is perceived by customers. Often this is simply because there is some piece of information regarding the game that customers feel is missing from the store page."

It's clear that Valve believes discoverability to be an issue with the massive library of games available in the Steam Store. The Tags system allows Steam users to tag a product with any alphanumeric term or phrase as long as it doesn't contain profanity, and supports any language that Steam does. Valve notes in its Tags FAQ that the feature is currently in beta, primarily because the company needs to build up a sizable set of data before the system works as intended. Until then, says Valve, "the initial categorization of items might be a bit off until we see what kind of tags are becoming prevalent and tune the system for the best results."

We've reached out to Valve for comment, and will update this article with any information we receive.

Update: The original Actual Steam Tags blog on Tumblr that this story previously referred to doesn't exist anymore, and someone else has taken over the URL. We've edited the article to remove mentions of the site.

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