You may have noticed recently that Starfield’s stated release date is on Steam (opens in new tab) recently changed, from 2023 – vague, but at least within a certain time frame – to “soon”, which is vague and completely without specificity. In fact, it was just one of many games that had their launch date changed today: others visible on SteamDB include Leave (opens in new tab), redfall (opens in new tab), Arch 2 (opens in new tab)and Robocop: Rogue City (opens in new tab).
The good news is that nothing is wrong. Well, probably nothing anyway. See, back inside October 2022 (opens in new tab), Valve has made a change to the way it handles release dates for upcoming games. Before that, release dates on Steam store pages were a Wild West: Some games listed an exact date, others had a little more margin – maybe a month and a year – and still others added joke text like “when it’s done.”
“Our current mishmash of coming soon displays leaves a lot to be desired,” Valve wrote at the time. “Some information may be missing or incomplete. Worst of all, the custom text field we used has no localization support, creating a confusing and inconsistent experience for players around the world. One-off jokes or references cannot be translated, and date descriptions vary from place to place.
“Take the string 5/8/2023 for example…is that May 8 or August 5? Depends which country you live in!”
To address those shortcomings, Valve introduced five options for developers to choose from and switch between, with a “localized and regionally known presentation” for each:
- The exact date. “Aug 24, 2023”
- Month-and-year. “August 2023”
- The quarter of the calendar year. “Q3 2023”
- The year. “2023”
- No date at all. “Available soon”
To determine how those dates appear in lists of upcoming games, non-specific launch targets are listed by the latest possible date in their time range. So, for example, if your game is scheduled for Q1 2023, it will be sorted as if the release date is March 31; if it’s just 2023, Steam will treat it as if the release date is December 31. Essentially, it’s an automated placeholder date. And if there’s no date at all, it will appear after all other games that do have a specific date or launch target.
The current expectation is that Starfield will release sometime in the first half of the year, but since the date was listed on Steam as 2023, it would be treated as if the launch date was December 31st. It’s fair to think that Bethesda wouldn’t want that, but also don’t want to publicly release a date too early – thus the no-date option.
There’s another theory, though it’s a bit long-winded: Valve warned in the October 2022 update that games with release dates that don’t meet the new standards will automatically be set to “coming soon” at noon PT on January 1. It’s possible that Bethesda got past the deadline without doing anything, and then Valve didn’t really take action to set the dates to “soon” because it wasn’t really paying attention either. Like I said, it’s a chore, but Steam’s isn’t the only product page developers have to manage for their games.
Be that as it may, other games have made similar changes before, presumably to accommodate Steam’s new release date policy: Nightingale (opens in new tab), for example, changed the stated launch target from “Coming first half of 2023—Add to your wishlist!” to “Coming soon” on December 8. I’ve contacted Bethesda and Steam to ask about the changes, and will update if I get a response.