Let’s Fix Steam: The Library
The Steam Client is a mess; a mess that gets progressively worse the more games you own on Steam. These articles aim to show the current issues the Steam Client suffers from and ways to potentially fix these problems. This post will focus on the Steam Library.
In its current state right now the Steam library is nothing more than an alphanumerical list of games associated with your account and some links to relevant pages. With the current Steam library it is possible to create categories to try and sort your games in whichever way you see fit. Popular choices for sorting the library include: by camera perspective, genre, aesthetics, review or your own personal ratings of the games. There are no limitations on what the categories can be or how many you can have and this is a fantastic feature.
However, if you own a multitude of games on your Steam account you will eventually run into the problem I like to call library bloat. This is when you have so many games that the current category system can no longer suitably contain or organise your library.
The categories system as it sits just now is a good foundation to build on. A simple but significant change that would allow for composition of categories into an easy to navigate interface would be the addition of sub-categories. The user would simply create a new category and drag and drop it into an already existing category to create a sub-category. The image below is a rough example of what it would look like with this interface change in place.
Another issue with the Steam library is naming inconsistency. Due to every game in the library being sorted alphanumerically, issues arise when developers or publishers don’t keep the name of games consistent. Below is an example of the current order of the Call of Duty and Knights of the Old Republic games.
The names are in alphanumeric order but due to the inclusion of a trademark in one title the games are out of order. There is also a capitalisation inconsistency. I believe a chronological order is a better ordering system for story heavy games and RPGs. For multiplayer games I prefer a release order so the most recent (and therefore most active) game is easier to find in the list. My proposal to fix these issues is to allow users to rename the games in their library and for the possibility to assign a sorting name similar to the way that the Calibre library software allows users to sort their eBooks. (Click thumbnail below to enlarge.)
For very large libraries the use of categories makes it easier to find games but not all categories should have to be visible on the list. This is where the inclusion of tags would come in handy. The tags would be assigned by the user instead of the Steam store as the tags used on the store are nothing more than marketable search keywords. An example of some useful tags a user may wish to apply would be: “DRM”, “Multiplayer”, “Singleplayer”, “Sci-Fi”. Silly and fun tags are also popular such as the famous “Nanomachines Son” tag for cyberpunk games. Some of these tags may be used by some users for categories instead, however having both systems allows for more customisation by the user without having to make compromises.
When a user clicks on a game in their library the tags should show on the games info panel so that they are available for viewing at any time.
All of these features will require a revamp of the current interface to apply categories. The current system of right clicking on a game, selecting the option to add it to a category, then having to scroll through a list and then click on the category that you wish to add the game to is tedious and requires too much user input to be considered convenient.
To make these features convenient for the user it should be possible to add games to categories and tags in several different ways. Such as right clicking on a category and selecting an option to add games to it, this would open an interface that allows the user to search, select and sort all of the games that they want to add to the category. Another option would be the simple ability to drag and drop games from the list into a category or sub-category. The addition of short cut keys to open an interface prompt to quickly type in the name of tags or categories would also be a great addition for users that are navigating through their library with the keyboard.
Users should also be able to share tags and categories over the workshop so that busy users can just download a system that they like without having to sort through potentially hundreds of games. Although this feature isn’t very likely to be incorporated as it could be very easily abused without significant restrictions that would defeat the purpose of sharing them. Perhaps instead of using the workshop, Valve could allow users to share a categories file online that can be installed in a similar to how Steam themes are installed.
These features and fixes aren’t exactly a priority issues with Steam just now but quality of life improvements in software create a lot of good will in the long run with your users. If Steam is going to continue to hold a near monopoly then they need to prove to their users that they can be trusted to fix and improve on any and all issues that users have with the software.