Steam Makes Discovering New Stuff Easier as Estimated “Average” Game Sales Drop 70 Percent

Sep 12, 2019
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Separating the wheat from the chaff on Steam isn’t always easy. Valve’s open-door policy means a lot of small developers get chances they wouldn’t otherwise, but it also means a lot of promising games are lost in the shuffle. Unfortunately, according to the CEO of indie developer No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw) Mike Rose, the Steam overcrowding issue is having a direct financial effect on “little guy” publishers.

Rose attempted to estimate what the “average” Steam game sold during July 2019, compared with the same period last year. In this case, average excludes big triple-A games, games with fewer than 10 user reviews, and the top and bottom 5 percent of money makers. Rose didn’t have access to direct sales figures, basing his numbers on Steam group numbers, review numbers, prices, algorithms, and his own experience selling on Steam. So yeah, these numbers are just estimates, but they’re fairly well-educated ones. Long story short, according to Rose the average Steam game sold about 5,000 copies in July of 2018, but only 1,500 in July 2019, down 70 percent year on year.

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Valve hasn’t responded directly to Rose’s estimates, but it’s clear they know overcrowding is an issue on Steam, because their latest store update is all about discoverability. Basically, going forward, Steam’s recommendation feeds will focus less on big-name, popular games, and more on stuff specifically tailored to that gamer’s interests. Based on beta testing, recommending lower-profile, yet more diverse games actually results in more people clicking on recommendations…

We want to ensure that we’re showing customers a diverse set of games while keeping the games relevant to them. But would they engage with those recommendations? Would they click through? Would they wishlist these games? Would they buy them? To answer these questions, we made some changes to how we show customers games in the places on the store that are driven by recommendation code, bundled that up with our bug fixes, and shipped it to 5% of customers to test for the past few weeks.

In these changes, "Recommended for You" became less biased towards popular games, and showed games that are more relevant to individual customers. As it turned out, customers in the experiment group were more likely to click on the games shown in the recommendations section, at a rate almost 15% higher than the control group. The increased personalization means there is an even greater variety of games being shown in this section, and customer impressions are more evenly distributed among them.

To get a feel for the breadth of titles that were being visited, we measured how many games members of the experiment group visited via the "Recommended For You" section compared to a sample of customers who were not in the experiment for a few days. The results were very promising: we saw a 75% increase in the number of unique games visited, and a 48% increase in the average visits per game.

Hopefully these changes will help the “average” Steam game out a bit, but the platform’s big issue -- that there’s just too much damn stuff – still persists. I don’t think Valve is going to be able to fix that problem with a few algorithm tweaks.

What do you think? What should Valve do to make things easier to discover? When was the last time you took a chance on an under-the-radar Steam game?

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