What just happened? A fair amount of modern online websites, services, or pieces of software have "Experimental" versions that you can opt-in to if you want to toy with new ideas that haven't (and may never) go public. Firefox has its Test Pilot program where you can try various in-development add-ons, and now Steam is getting something similar.
"Steam Labs" is Valve's new experiment hub, which lets anyone test out various "rough, ephemeral" work-in-progress features across the storefront and give the company their feedback.
You don't need to register for the program, and there's no wait-list or closed beta. Just head over to Steam Labs, sign in to your account, and try one of three exciting new experiments.
The first experiment is "Micro Trailers," which are "six-second [trailers] for every game." According to Valve, the purpose of this experiment is to "quickly inform" viewers what a game might feel like to play with minimal effort. This could help indie developers that struggle to stand out based on their titles or images alone.
The second experiment has been dubbed the "Interactive Recommender." It is a machine-learning tool that can recommend games based on your playing habits -- that alone wouldn't be worth writing home about, but the feature stands out from traditional algorithms by letting you customize it.
You can choose how heavily you want the tool to weight things like game popularity (you can adjust it between "Popular" and "Niche"), release date, and more. In theory, the tool should make it far easier to find hidden gems.
The final experiment Valve is testing out is called "Automatic Show," which the company jokingly compares to "one of those cable shopping channels without the super-absorbent chamois cloths." With this experiment running, an Automatic Show is generated every day to showcase the "latest and greatest" games for your convenience, eliminating the need for you to dig through Steam's at-times confusing interface to find good content.
If Automatic Show proves successful, Valve says it might add multiple types of channels to cover different types of games: indie titles, hidden gems, and more.
As cool as Steam Labs and its first round of experiments are, bear in mind that they are just that: experiments. They could be tweaked, significantly changed, or outright dropped at any moment based on the whims of Valve and user feedback. As such, feel free to test them out, but don't get too attached to any single feature.