Steam’s latest report is titled “Data Deep Dive: How are new releases on Steam performing?” and it has a lot of fascinating information inside. The TL;DR boils down to the optimistic fact that more games than ever are finding success on the platform thanks to Steam Greenlight and now Steam Direct, and earnings for developers are on the rise.
You can read the report when it’s published here.
We are going to explore this data, discuss the controversial nature of Steam Direct, and tell you what it means for the world of VR on Steam.
A shallow dive into the deep dive
As you can imagine, Steam as a platform wants to be a place where games find success and developers thrive.
Defining success to make a measurement like this is challenging, but the Steam team chose to measure games that had earned over USD$10,000 in the first two weeks of sale, which broadly gives even weight to a game regardless of when it released in the year.
With that metric in place, the upward trend in their data is clear:
Source credit: Steam
There’s a jump between 2013 and 2014 there which is likely due to Steam Greenlight being introduced, allowing more games onto the marketplace.
These year-on-year increases continued and, in 2019, 18% more games than in 2018 had hit success. On a longer scale, that means that there were over 3 times more games earning over $10,000 in their first two weeks in 2019 compared to 2013. Steam Greenlight did a lot of good for the indie scene.
In fact, if GreenLight hadn’t been introduced the graph would look very different indeed.
Source credit: Steam
They suggest everything in green there wouldn’t have even made it onto the platform prior to Greenlight or Direct. Completely undetected, potentially amazing games.
This trend is consistent with higher success metrics, with the appendix of this report showing the same pattern all the way up to USD$250,000 in the first two weeks. Pretty robust stuff.
The report also goes into detail on median game growth between 2018 and 2019 (revenue was up 24% between them), and provides more info on game revenue in general. It is completely worth a read and, once again, the link to access it when it’s live is here.
Instead of talking about this data alone though, we want to bring it into the realm of VR. But first, a history lesson.
Controversy, algorithms, successes; Are Greenlight and Steam Direct bad guys?
It’s impossible to talk about this data without thinking back to the challenges that Greenlight and Steam Direct had and still have.
To understand that, we have to go back to Steam’s early years. A time when they were criticised for how hard it was to get a game onto the platform at all due to all games being hand picked by Valve staff. In this report’s own words, Steam were worried that they were getting in the way of success for a lot of innovative titles, and thus Steam Greenlight was born.
Greenlight was a voting platform for potential new games. It was born in 2012, started outputting in 2013, and the games that were voted in hit Steam around 2014 (thus the jump in the graphs above).
In 2017, Greenlight sadly passed away in favour of the current Steam Direct. A much more streamlined version of the process, again designed to make publishing to Steam easier.
Both systems introduced countless innovative games to Steam, and countless niches that may never have had an opportunity in the world before them. But there’s a dark side to this story.
As much as the systems brought successes to the store, they also brought criticism. Games being voted into the marketplace as a joke, low effort work being given disproportionate attention, barriers of entry that were too low in contrast to Steam’s early selective days. The gaming public were frustrated to no end. But was it justified?
This report suggests that Greenlight and Steam Direct are not bad to the bone by any means. They have downsides, that can’t be denied, but they have both clearly introduced a lot of success stories and allowed many developers to keep doing what they do best.
The real solution to those negatives actually seems to be Steam’s new algorithms for suggesting games to users. Between the Interactive Recommender and Search Steam Lab experiments – both designed to make finding new games suited to you easier – the problem of a flooded marketplace is mitigated. Good work is suggested and niches are fostered instead of being buried.
And this is acutely important given the state of VR on Steam today.
What this report means for VR on Steam
The best we can do is to repeat the title of this article, or at least part of it: Success is more achievable than ever.
VR on Steam is in a very different place to the rest of the market. It’s still a growing market, with a modest barrier to entry for many gamers right now. With that in mind, it’s a rapidly growing market. Steam’s monthly hardware survey is constantly showing increases in the amounts of devices out there, with small percentages often meaning millions of headsets in new player’s hands.
But the best part about this is that the VR userbase is growing now, not three years ago.
Steam’s very recent work on their marketplace algorithms mean that VR games can be sifted to the top of the pile far more easily than ever before, and – as this report is showing – those games meeting success is easier than it ever has been. This sector is getting all the benefit’s that Greenlight and Steam Direct have brought, without the controversy or challenges.
And, as Steam Direct makes it straightforward to publish, now is the perfect time to develop VR games and get them onto the marketplace.
It’s always nice when data makes you feel good about the world.
Ian Bousher has been writing for advertising and film since 2016, with the later end of that dabbling in immersive tech. That grew into an obsession and he soon joined Admix, a platform to deliver subtle non-intrusive advertising in immersive experiences, to write about the topic full-time.