Steam numbers are on a downward trend, and it’s a much bigger decline than we’ve seen in the past. What’s to blame? As with a lot of industry trends at this point, you can probably point to battle royale as one major contributor, though that may not be the full story.
To be clear, Steam isn’t hurting for players, and numbers are up overall from a year ago. The first Sunday in July last year peaked with 14,073,632 users logged into Steam, while the same peak this year brought 16,358,317. But both those numbers come in the midst of Steam’s usual summer decline – and this year’s dip has been much more significant than the one last year.
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As Steam Spy creator Sergey Galyonkin notes, this year’s summer decline sees numbers going down by 17%, compared with 9% last year. Based on three years of data at SteamDB, Steam tends to see user counts peak annually in January, decline or simply stangate in the summer, and reach new heights at the start of the new year. If we have a much larger decline this summer, it means Steam’s usual rate of growth is slowing down.
Or, perhaps, the numbers are simply paying the price for Steam’s massive user peak earlier this year – courtesy, of course, of PUBG’s sales numbers. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is still the most popular game on Steam, but its industry-shaking player numbers have bled off significantly since their height earlier this year. But that decrease alone isn’t enough to account for Steam’s current decline.
On the other side of the battle royale equation, we have Fortnite – a game that’s impossibly popular, and one that’s not available on Steam at all. Players spending their time in the Epic launcher might not keep Steam running, and there’s some evidence that Fortnite’s success is siphoning players from other games.
SuperData research indicates some evidence that Fortnite is pulling players from other games, citing stream viewership and digital spending declines across most other popular online titles. Not quite a smoking gun for the idea that Fortnite player numbers are cannibalizing other games, but enough to suggest the audience is excited enough about the battle royale to see interest decline in existing games. (The fact that the number of in-game players on Steam has also declined seems to back this up.)
The one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that Steam’s concurrent user counts are dropping at a faster rate than any other time in the past three years. Maybe that’s PUBG. Maybe that’s players moving to other platforms. Maybe it’s the difficulty of finding good games with Steam’s lack of curation. Or, more likely, maybe it’s a combination of all those factors at once.
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