The Popular Upcoming list on Steam helps games to get noticed, said Mike Rose, founder of the No More Robots publisher that will (legitimately, he assures us) release Hypnospace Outlaw on March 12. However, in a Twitter thread, he said that Steam's system can be manipulated under the wrong circumstances.
"Here's the thing," he stated. "You can set any date for your game's release in the Steam backend, and it means nothing. You can set a date, and let it go by. Then you can set another date, and let it go by again. Setting this date has no meaning - except for appearing in the Upcoming list."
This can lead to at least a few issues, Rose said, including developers manipulating the Steam release date so that their games pop up multiple times before they are actually made public. Other developers can also forget to update the release date, which will cause issues if a game is delayed. This can lead to customers losing faith in the disclosed dates, which in turn might make them avoid buying games, he said.
Tom Giardino, who works with the Steam team, responded to the Twitter thread and said, coincidentally, that his team was having a similar discussion in recent days and that he is also frustrated. However, Steam would still like developers to have control over "their own release timing." He added that the company is looking at ways to fix the issue, but no details were provided. According to Rose, "This is super-great to hear."
When Eurogamer began investigating the issue, they noticed that Deceiver was initially supposed to release in May 2019, but it "mysteriously" vanished from the Steam Upcoming list while the author was writing the article. They also found another game called Deep 8, which promised a release this week on Steam even though the developer stated that there will be a crowdfunding campaign for the game in the summer.
There's certainly a fine line to walk between allowing developers to set their own timelines and making sure that they are accountable for them. We're always disappointed when a game's release is pushed back for technical or other reasons, but at the same time, developers should be more transparent about their process for choosing a release date and making sure that they keep consumers updated about any changes.
Rushing a game is never a great idea - look at what happened to Mass Effect: Andromeda - but deadlines should be treated seriously. If anything, gaming companies might want to start setting deadlines far in advance and only move the timeline up if things are going well.