It’s fascinating to watch Steam and the Epic Games Store as they follow very different trajectories through the holiday season. Epic, the young upstart, is wildly gunning out free games in every possible direction in a bid for your attention, while Valve, the long-reigning champion, has rolled out a new Steam Labs experiment called “Faceted Browsing” that provides more granular control over what you see in the Steam Winter Sale.
The new feature is a bit like Steam’s broader search functionality, but more quick-and-dirty and aimed solely at big sales, which—let’s be honest—can be overwhelming. The menu on the sale page offers a range of categorized filters, enabling users to find deals more selectively than in the past. So if you want, for instance, a funny, first-person singleplayer RPG, you can dial that up. You won’t find anything (it came back with “no matches found” for me, anyway), but if you loosen it up to just a funny first-person RPG you’ll be informed that both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are both currently on sale.
Valve has also added more “themed pages” to the Winter Sale, so you can dive directly into categories ranging from RPGs and shooters to Pixel and Retro, Female Protagonist, Anime, Soundtracks, and Software—a catch-all category for non-game stuff.
Themed pages were actually added during the Autumn Sale, and were so successful—”We found these themed pages drove more game store page visits during the sale than all but one other Steam store point of discovery,” Valve said—that they were expanded for the Winter Sale.
Steam has grown into a massive, unwieldy beast over the years, and finding interesting and relevant games during its big sales that aren’t splashed across the front page (which are generally games that are already well-known anyway) can be a chore. The addition of more filters to fiddle with may not the flashiest Steam update of all time—”New ways to browse during the holidays” isn’t the most hype-filled headline I’ve ever run across—but I expect that it will prove very useful for bargain hunters in the mood for something new.
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