Some of the biggest games available on Valve Corporation’s Steam have a monetization component anchored by what Valve calls Steam Workshop, which is a virtual warehouse of items managed by Valve, but mostly driven by players, who represent the vast majority of contributions to the workshop. Valve sells the items to players of specific games, particularly “Dota 2,” which is suffering from an item supply problem for many heroes.
Like other action RTS games, certain “Dota 2” heroes are more popular than others. The players who play these heroes over others want customization for their favorite heroes, so Steam’s item-makers — anyone can make and publish items — see this demand in the market and create items for the popular heroes. Players then buy these items from Valve, which gives a share of the items’ earnings back to the items’ designers. Some players enjoy customizing heroes, so they focus on learning the heroes who have custom items available to purchase (or drop). This cycle leaves some heroes at the bottom of both the item market and matches played. The cleanest solution includes incentives and disincentives.
Thirty-six heroes have no unique items. Valve could boost the share of item-makers who create items for those 39 heroes. Valve has not yet supplied the necessary tools to customize every available hero, but it has given the tools for many of the 39. By incentivizing the creation of items for these heroes, Valve can spike the popularity of its less-played heroes while also infusing the item market for them. The incentive could be as small as a 10 percent increase in profit shares for the item-makers. But there is another way to balance the market.
There are 59 heroes with unique items. A lot of these heroes are the popular heroes that have millions of matches per month. Item-makers will continue to make items for these heroes because they will make the item-makers the most money. But, by disincentivizing popular-hero items, Valve can funnel creativity to its less-played heroes, many of whom have no items at all. The disincentive doesn’t need to be harsh: item-makers could receive 10 percent less. But by building up these heroes’ item collections, Valve, with little direct action, also will be marketing the heroes.
There is a bottleneck in the creativity of player-made items that Valve can alleviate by incentivizing, disincentivizing or both. Heroes that have been out for more than a year are still without items. Players like buying custom items for heroes, and the more opportunities there are to buy, the more they will buy. Valve would make more money, item-makers would make more money and players would receive more customization possibilities. Valve only needs to act.