In a Q&A session following a presentation at St. Petersburg’s White Nights games business conference (as captured by Oleg Chumakov on Twitter), Ewert said that Steam’s general position is to “provide open APIs so that when we don’t offer the amount of tools that we should, the community can step in.” In Steam Spy’s case, however, randomly sampling user data from that API to extrapolate sales data led to “a broad variance in how accurate it was. It was very accurate for some things but very inaccurate for others.”
That said, Ewert explained that he felt Steam’s game makers need “something better than Steam Spy” to help them track sales and popularity trends in the Steam marketplace. “To be clear, we don’t have a business selling iPhones,” Ewert said in apparent contrast to Apple’s model of App Store downloads supporting hardware sales. “The only way we make money is if you make good decisions in bringing the right games to the platform and finding your audience.”
The kind of detailed sales information that helps game makers with such decisions can be hard to come by in the games industry, unless you’re willing to pay analysts for expensive reports that is. Members of the public and smaller developers have to instead rely on extremely limited regional sales rankings released by sources like NPD, Chart-Track, and Media Create to get some small idea of the shape of the market (one which often leaves out purely digital sales, to boot).
Better sales reporting directly from a platform as big as Steam would do wonders for the public understanding of how the gaming market works; it would be something akin to the regular releases of Nielsen TV ratings and movie box office receipts. Even generalized Steam-level sales reports based on genre or Valve’s tagging system would help add transparency to a sometimes opaque market.
Growth, VR, and the “taste police”
Elsewhere in his presentation (as captured in photos by attendee Michael Kuzmin), Ewert presented slides stressing that Valve “are not the taste police” when it comes to games on its service and that the company does not “sell ad space or pick winners or losers.” That statement comes weeks after Valve rolled out new Steam content guidelines which only restrict games for content that is “illegal or straight-up trolling.” That latter group apparently still includes games like Active Shooter and AIDS Simulator, leaving open the question of where monitoring “outright trolling” ends and where “taste policing” begins.
Ewert’s presentation acknowledged Steam’s overcrowding problem—which now includes about 180 games released every week—as “the elephant in the room” when it comes to developing for the platform. But his presentation also reiterated Steam’s position that “great games find their audience” thanks to filtering algorithms that help players find the games that will interest them.
The presentation also highlighted the continuing growth of Steam’s player base, which now includes over 40 million daily active users and which added 13.5 million first-time purchasers in just the first four months of 2018. A lot of that growth may be attributable to Steam’s growing presence in China—Ewert’s data shows that Simplified Chinese is now roughly equal to English in its use among Steam players.
The slides once again reiterated Valve’s commitment to virtual reality as a “thriving marketplace,” too, citing the company’s continued work on new controllers and base stations for the SteamVR platform. Steam data indicates a 160 percent year-over-year increase in monthly VR usage on the platform, according to Ewert’s slides, which certainly doesn’t suggest a shrinking fad that’s on its way to market irrelevance anytime soon.
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