Steam’s library overhaul has taken longer than I think anyone would’ve guessed, which is about par for the course with Valve. It’s almost done though. On September 17, less than two weeks from now, you’ll be able to enter the open beta for the new library interface.
And I think you’re going to want to, because it’s fantastic. This past week Valve gave us a live demo, a deep dive into the myriad changes to expect. The short version though? If you’ve accrued a vast Steam library in the last decade-plus, this update is going to be your salvation.
The heart of the update is the Library Home Page. Clicking on the Library tab now brings you to a landing page with a familiar tiled layout, and sections at the top for “What’s New,” “Recent Games,” and “Recent Friend Activity.”
Recent Games is probably the subsection I’m most excited about, giving you a quick and easy way to jump back into whatever you’ve been playing. During the demo there were maybe ten games listed, going back over two weeks of activity. More than enough for most people, I assume.
The other lists are essentially data that’s been accessible in the store to this point, but which has been missing from your actual library. “What’s New” surfaces games that have recently been updated, with the algorithm slanted towards those you either play heavily or used to play heavily. And “Recent Friend Activity” is exactly what it sounds like, full of games your Steam friends are playing.
Don’t care about any of these lists? That’s fine. The current Steam Library view survives intact anyway, with all your games sorted alphabetically on the left-hand side. Even this is getting upgraded though, with the old “Categories” now replaced by “Collections.”
If you’ve never used Categories, I don’t blame you. Organizing your Steam library has been a tedious task to this point, requiring you to right-click a game (or a number of games), then choose “Set Categories,” then select which categories you wanted a game to appear under—or add them to a new one of your creation.
I make extensive use of Categories, because with thousands of games Steam would be almost unusable otherwise. The process is cumbersome though.
Collections are easier to assemble and much more powerful. First and foremost you can now drag-and-drop, so no need for that whole right-click process I listed above. You just grab a game and pull it where it needs to go, which is a relief.
There are also myriad sorting options. Some of these are personal, like the ability to sort by hours played—a feature I just lauded in the GOG Galaxy 2.0 beta a few months back. Excited to see it come to Steam.
Many leverage Valve’s existing meta-data though. You can, for instance, tell Steam to display only games you own that are RPGs with full controller support—and then create what Valve’s calling a Dynamic Collection. From then on, any games you buy that match those criteria (or any others you specify) will automatically populate under the correct list. And while I only listed a few generic criteria above, Valve says you’ll be able to search by any of the hundreds of tags that exist on the Steam storefront, which should give you plenty of ways to narrow and sort your library.
If there’s a collection you’re particularly interested in, you can also add that to your Library Home Page as a “Shelf.” This creates another horizontal row of tiles that works the same as those “What’s New” and “Recent Activity” categories I mentioned above.
The larger my personal Steam library’s grown, the harder I’ve found to wrangle it using the existing tools. I’d be hard-pressed to argue that the update is daring or innovative, but it’s definitely necessary. I’m excited to digitally declutter.
Devil in the details
And while I’m most excited about what Valve’s adding with this update, there’s also a lot that’s been streamlined.
Select a game from your library and you’ll be treated to the new Details page, which puts forth a lot of info that’s been heretofore buried. No need to go to the store to see whether a game is Steam Cloud compatible, for instance. That info’s right near the top. There’s also a list of friend activity on the left-hand side, while the right belongs to the info you’re already familiar with from the current pages, including your achievements and screenshots.
Keep scrolling down and you’ll see community activity, which under the existing template is segregated into its own page. And there are quick-access tabs for the Workshop, Discussions, and other features Valve’s added to Steam over the years and stashed into sidebars as they went. Now all those secondary community elements—arguably Steam’s strongest advantage over the competition—are easier to find.
Another neat feature: Developers can add a “Major Update” banner to the top of the Details page, so even if you never go to the store you’ll be able to find out about the No Man’s Sky Beyond update, or new seasons of Destiny 2, and so forth. Previously this info was either buried in the news feed or highlighted only on the store page, where it wasn’t very useful to existing owners.
But I’m honestly most excited for the new Post-Game Summary page. Close out of a game and Steam will now transition from the Details page to one that lists how long you played in your last session, the achievements you unlocked, and screenshots you took.
It sounds banal, and it is. Uplay has had a similar feature for years. As someone who takes a lot of screenshots though, I’ve grown so damn tired of closing out of that pop-up box Steam currently uses when you’re done with a session. This formalized Summary page is both more useful and—more importantly—not a separate window.
Events and experiments
But wait, there’s more. I’ve covered the library update, but Valve had plenty more to demo. Most of it isn’t applicable to us, as it’s developer-facing tools that will have no impact on your own Steam usage.
There are a few interesting ideas coming though. Valve’s adding an “Event” feature, which should allow live games to push one-off events like free weekends, tournaments, and such to the forefront. I’ll be curious to see how enterprising developers take advantage of this to win back audiences—and whether Valve can stem what seem like obvious ways to abuse the system.
Steam Labs is also expanding, and I can’t imagine this latest experiment will keep that designation for long. Valve’s built a new Search page, which is set to go live on September 5, a.k.a. tomorrow.
If you use or have used the Enhanced Steam add-on, then a lot of these tools will be familiar. Valve’s finally adding price and sale filters to Steam though, which should make hunting down deals a bit easier. You also have the ability to hide games you already own from view, and search results are being reconfigured to support infinite scrolling instead of being broken up in 25-game batches.
Given it’s ostensibly experimental, new-Search will be accessed through the Steam Labs portal for the time being. That might not last though, provided feedback is positive. You might see new-Search replace the existing system in just a few months.
The Steam Library redesign has been a long time coming, but the demo sold me. I’ll be opting into the beta on September 17, which is admittedly risky. It’s still a beta, and hopefully I don’t come to regret that decision. I can’t wait to ditch the existing library interface though, which is woefully underpowered and…well, old. The Steam storefront has expanded dramatically in the past decade, and the library view hasn’t changed to accommodate Valve’s new hands-off philosophy.
Until now, that is. The new library, while there’s certainly room for improvement still, should make it a lot easier to deal with digital hoarding and the “I’d buy that for a dollar” mentality of the Steam sales. Valve’s enabling my own worst tendencies, but hey, isn’t that the point?
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