Steam has always been a little… opaque when it comes to its numbers, both for sales figures and user activity. The inner workings that drive its infernal money vortex have been well-hidden from prying eyes, barring the occasional escaped squeak of its gears and pistons greased by the tears and blood of developers.
Well, no more. While certainly not official by any means, Ars Technica has prepared a very thorough analysis of Steam activity based on readily available information from Steam user pages (currently at around 172 million user IDs), and random sampling of 100,000 pages a day to get an idea of everything from the most-owned versus most-played games, time spent in multiplayer versus single-player, and other interesting facts.
While not entirely perfect (for example, they can’t access the habits of 6% of Steam users who have set their profiles to private), the data has been verified through external sales and playtime data provided by developers.
Firstly, what’s the most popular (and therefore obviously best) game on Steam? Well, it depends. Dota 2 leads the pack significantly both in ownership and total hours played — 25.9 million users and a total of 3.8 billion hours played. That’s around 430,000 years. You know, just twice as long as Homo sapiens have been bashing rocks together. That’s all well and good, but throw a million monkeys at some keyboards and they may just NOT FEED LRN2PLY NUB FF.
Ars Technica also looked at the number of hours each player has dedicated to the games they play, and it paints a very different picture about which games keep players coming back — or at least which ones have the most dedicated fanbases. Football Manager 2014 has the most love with a median average of 100 hours per owner. Skyrim sits at 53 hours, while Assassin’s Creed IV proves quite enthralling. Surprisingly, Farming Simulator 2011 makes an appearance, as does NBA 2K14. You can view the alternative mean average chart here.
Developers betting on the long tail for profits had best take a seat. According to Ars Technica, there are only a few, super-high grossing titles that are actually driving usage on Steam, the rest falling dismally off the sheer cliff of sales onto a plateau of despair and mediocrity. I think it’s illustrated nicely by the Slide of Doom below. Similarly, Steam seems to defy Pareto’s Principle (which states that, in a typical distribution, 80% of the output is generated by only 20% of the input); according to Ars Technica, the top 20% of Steam’s games are responsible for 83.1 percent of all sales and 87.7 percent of all played games.
There’s a lot of good info to work through, so I’ll just direct you over to the Ars Technica article and let you revel it in, but I’ll leave you with one last factoid. Wesley’s written before about how most players don’t actually finish their games, but it turns out we also suck at starting them. At all. Out of 781 million registered games sold, 36.9% of them have never been played. Ever. Most seem to sit quite comfortably in the one to ten-hour mark, with only 21.6% of gamers putting in the hard graft.
Good work on the part of the Ars Technica team. What do you think? Reckon the numbers add up? Let’s hear it.