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All Steam-ed up

A Polygon article by Ben Kuchera back in January reported that, according to SteamSpy, 7,672 video games had been released on Steam in 2017. This worked out to be an average of 21 new titles each day and was a massive increase from 2016’s figure of 4,207, which in itself accounted for 38% of all games available on the platform. The chart below will give you an idea of what this really looks like.

The dotted line I’ve added shows the trend and if this continues, we’ll have 11,833 additional titles to browse through by the end of 2018; that’s over 32 additions every 24-hours. But even these statistics pale in comparison if we jump forward to 2019 with a predicted 19,262 releases. There’s no real research here and the figures are ones I’ve produced using historical data and formulas, but they’re still pretty surprising.

Last month I came across a post by Marius from The Patch Notes in which he directed readers to the Steam Trailers in 6s account on Twitter. Whenever a new release appears on Steam, this experiment bot clips its trailer to six-seconds and tweets the resulting video. The frequency is kind of scary to watch in real time; there’s a tweet every 45-minutes or so, which is roughly in line with this year’s statistics in the paragraph above.

It’s visual evidence of what we all suspected: that the gaming platform is now a flood of constant releases and not all of them are of a quality we expect. With those kinds of numbers, how on earth is any gamer meant to keep on top of them all and find the games they’ll actually enjoy playing? And what does it mean for developers who are trying to get their projects noticed?

Steam, Greenlight, video games

There are some who feel that last year’s huge increase can be attributed to the phasing out of Greenlight and the introduction of Direct in June 2017. Creators had to previously rely on the community to vote for their title to be released onto the platform but are now able to pay a $100 fee to self-publish. In a blog post last summer, Steam revealed the effect they felt this move would have on submissions.

It read: “With this transition to Steam Direct, we’ll be keeping an eye on new submissions and making adjustments as necessary. We aren’t quite sure whether there will be a lot more new submissions, just a bit more, or even fewer. It’s most likely that there will be an initial surge of new submissions and then a new rate somewhat higher than what was coming through Greenlight.”

According to SteamSpy, 3,405 games have been released on the platform so far this year. If the average per day remains constant, we’ll be looking at around 9,345 titles by the end of 2018; that’s lower than the 11,833 forecast by my trend above but still higher than 2017’s figure. Perhaps the prediction made by Steam in their blog post could therefore be correct, but we won’t know until we have at least a full year of Direct data.

Steam, recommendations, video games

One thing is for sure though: with the barrier to entry lowered, the number of new releases is likely to continue to rise and make the platform less reliable for gamers to use as a discovery mechanism. I don’t know about you, but the recommendations given to me by Steam are hit-and-miss – and that’s despite them saying they’d continue to ‘work on features designed to help the Store algorithm become better at helping you sift through games’.

This is something which worries creators. In October 2017, PC Gamer published the results of a survey of more than 200 Steam developers concerning their opinions about the platform and what they’d most like to see improved. It’s no surprise that their top-ten issues included ‘clarify what a developer needs to do in order to qualify for various featuring opportunities’ and ‘the Upcoming Games list is becoming useless’.

Appendix B of the full report gives thoughts behind the latter: “The Upcoming Games list used to be a major way to find out about new titles but there are now so many that it is becoming clogged. Not only is there lots of new stuff, but we often see a growing list of titles parked here week after week. If the discovery feature is meant to work, it needs to gather some initial data about new games, otherwise it’s just blindly promoting things that come into the store with existing buzz.”

Sergey Galyonkin, the creator of SteamSpy, published an article in April based on the presentation he gave at GDC 2018. This shows that while Steam had its best year so far in 2017, ‘the number of new users joining the platform and buying games can’t keep up with the number of new titles being released’. It’s therefore no wonder developers are concerned.

As discoverability continues to be an issue, increasing promotion and building a community before the launch of a game will become even more important. As stated by Attilio Carotenuto in a post-mortem of his first indie game, An Oath to the Stars: “Most importantly, what you really need to understand and always keep in mind, is that nobody cares about your game… You’ll need to chase people and journalists, create an amazing presskit and a lot of social media work just to get them to look at your page for ten seconds.”

He went on to refer to this process as ‘exhausting’ and claimed that having someone to take care of such promotional activities is vital for any developer who wants to spend their time making games. Based on the figures used throughout this post, it’s clear that creating an indie title is becoming riskier by the day; and so he was quite right when he said that if you’re in it for the money, you’re in the wrong line of work and should consider employment by one of the major companies.

I’ve found myself moving away from Steam and its ‘featured and recommended’ section and discovery queue recently, due to the fact that the majority of titles which appear there have nothing to do with my gaming preferences or are of a low standard. It all feels very cold; it’s almost as if I’m just another number when it comes to calculating how big their user-base and profit margins are.

Instead, I prefer a more personal touch and now get the majority of my game recommendations through other bloggers. There are a great bunch of people here on WordPress, many of whom have similar tastes and opinions to myself, so why wouldn’t I trust their views over a Steam algorithm? Now that’s what I call really ‘injecting human thinking’.

To find out what’s happening with SteamSpy and learn about the accuracy of their data, take a look at this article.

16 thoughts on “All Steam-ed up Leave a comment

  1. It would be nice to think that maybe Steam is just a victim of it’s own success, but so many of the decisions just seem to be poorly thought out. Like you I used to rely on the recommendations, but now I barely look at them.

    … Much as It’s a useful tool for developers in some cases, I can’t help but think removing early access would dramatically help stem the tide… And, you know, actually putting some kind of quality control in place…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really dislike the way most of the recommendations provided to me by Steam now appear because ‘it is popular’. They’re usually entries in genres I don’t play so it makes no sense as to why they’d be suggested for me…

      I think Early Access is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a great way for creators to get feedback on their projects through the development process and also to earn money while they work on it. But at the same time, too much feedback means they don’t end up making the game they wanted to – or don’t end up making anything at all. Maybe removing it would help stem the tide, as you say; it’s clear the platform needs to do *something*.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Steam is just a mess these days. I’m finding myself more and more interested in using the other PC based digital platforms simply because they have less dross to wade through to get to the good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s just horrible, isn’t it? It wouldn’t be so bad if the games recommended by Steam aligned to my interests so I could simply look at those and ignore everything else, but it doesn’t work. Perhaps I need to take a tip from you and start using other platforms more frequently…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never used the Steam recommendation function, and never more than glanced at the Greenlight days. Even at the stage it seemed like the sheer volume of new indie games was overwhelming.

    Your graph above really tells the story. How many good indie games are getting drowned out in all that din?

    As you say Kim, this is where the games blogging community is so helpful. I’ve heard of a number of indie games through reviews by other bloggers, that also line up with the kinds of games I’m interested in.

    You can effectively create your own recommendations by checking out the reviews of other games bloggers and Youtube gameplay vids.

    Like

    • You make a really good point there! If you can find yourself a group of bloggers or YouTubers who have similar gaming interests, it’s a great place to get ideas for titles you might enjoy. 🙂

      The Steam recommendations are just terrible. I’m never going to play, (for example) Call of Duty – despite the platform wanting to telling me how popular it is all the time.

      Like

  4. I never bother looking at the recommendations, I agree that they’re almost always just the most popular games regardless of if it’s a genre I like or not. I get my recommendations from WordPress or the YouTubers I watch instead which is way more personal and fun!

    Like

    • Let’s do a little test and see what my Steam recommendations give me right now…

      – Six ‘because it’s popular’ games that are in genres I don’t like
      – Three ‘because they have positive reviews’ games that are in genres I don’t like
      – One I skipped because it’s in early access
      – One I skipped because it looks good but I’ll wait for more reviews
      – One I skipped because it’s an expansion and I’ll get it on the PS

      So all in all, not a great hit-rate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just did the same and got a similar spread of early access and random genres I don’t really play not to mention the DLC I hate it when it shows DLC in the recommended games! In mine I ended up with Farm Simulator and Train Simulator, when my most played genre is Fantasy/RPG/Action I gotta wonder why they think “this guys likes dragons and magic, I think he’d like trains too!”

        Like

        • Oh yeah, I can definitely see the connection between dragons and trains. 😂

          I seem to always get roguelike or FPS games in my recommendations, when they’re genres I touch on a very rare basis. I think we can officially say this Steam functionality is broken!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I agree, suppose it’s just as well I don’t use the algorithm (I’m presuming there is an algorithm here but quite honestly I could be wrong I though AI was smarter than this!) to pick my games I look for reviews from people I like/trust with similar traits 😂

            Liked by 1 person

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