Steam Spy is done for – unless Valve reverses course

Did you like having a clue how well games were really doing in terms of population on Steam? That might be coming to an end. Valve announced new privacy-oriented changes to the popular gaming platform yesterday that are good for the individual; by default, your list of owned games and status with them will be hidden instead of public, and you can fine-tune who can see what. There will also eventually be a new “invisible” mode.

But the downside of hiding everyone is that trackers like the Patreon-funded Steam Spy can no longer scrape play data, aggregate them, and turn them into something useful on a per-game basis for the entire community to see.

“Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default and won’t be able to operate anymore,” Steam Spy boss Sergey Galyonkin posted on Twitter. “To reiterate – it’s not because of the new privacy settings. It’s because Steam just made everyone’s gaming library hidden by default (this wasn’t in their blog post).”

It’s not clear yet whether Valve will eventually release the data itself or work with Galyonkin, whose work the company has repeatedly praised.

Source: Valve, Twitter
Update: In a Eurogamer interview this morning, Galyonkin says while he always expected this, he didn’t have any warning but doesn’t believe Steam Spy was being specifically targetted. He also doesn’t expect communication with Valve, as Valve has been almost entirely nonresponsive on queries about the platform and Steam Spy in the recent past. Fortunately for Galyonkin, he also works for Epic Games and will likely close down the Patreon supporting the platform.

“I’m trying to figure out what would be my next best step. It seems like I have several options, relying on different methods of gathering information. […] I also have something called Twitch Spy, which is pretty much a database with no front end. It allows me to check on people’s streaming, the games that are being streamed, who’s rising and who’s not. How subscriber counts and follower counts are influenced by the games they play.”

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Mick the Barbarian

Making public a person’s purchase history is wrong. In the wake of the Facebook scandal, Steam had to do something. That data could be misused by unscrupulous and malicious people or organisations out there. Thank God they did this.

To help studio’s though, there’s no reason why they couldn’t anonymise the data, stripping user details from the API. That was, Studios could have access to overall statistics.

I’m amazed that anyone is mourning the loss of this. In the interest of personal privacy, it was an abomination. Sure … if developers, publishers or even customers want numbers, Steam should provide that service. It should never be in the hands of a third party doing GOD KNOWS WHAT with the data.

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Arktouros

This is pretty disappointing.

While some people may throw out shade for people “being lemmings” it was super useful to actually see user data for largely multiplayer based games. Buying a game like Vermintide which is primarily multiplayer only to find that no one actually plays it years after release would be a huge disappointment. SteamSpy actually let us check when multiplayer games had population so we knew to play them and when they were pretty much dead and not worth the purchase price.

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Mick the Barbarian

You don’t need to expose a user’s purchase history to do that. Valve can strip user data from that, simply just giving numbers of players and companies. After Cambridge Analyitica, do you think it’s a good idea to make all YOUR Steam data open to the public for anyone to view …. including purchases. I certainly don’t.

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Yuri Geinish

What’s wrong with letting anyone know what games you bought and when?

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Mick the Barbarian

You can draw a conclusion about anyone when you know their purchasing habits; it doesn’t matter if the conclusion is wrong. I’m sure all the information that was gleaned by Cambridge Analytica seemed completely benign at first …. but it wasn’t.

By way of example, look at all those “seedy interactive novel” games that seem to proliferate on Steam. I’m sure if you know who bought those, you could draw could draw certain conclusions. Not that I have … but if I had, what would my purchasing history tell you?

Another example would be the volume of things you buy. It can tell people that you have a high disposable income.

There are many ways to abuse that information. Now, do you get the idea?

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Yuri Geinish

Abuse that information how exactly? Show you ads?

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Brother Maynard

In many cases it’s not as much about what you can do with the information directly, as it is about how it can be linked with other data.

It all forms a big mosaic that is your life. Every piece and its place within the image counts.

Also, don’t forget that what we’re discussing here (which games people play) is merely a tiny tip of a large iceberg. Much more under-the-hood information is collected, even through your Steam pages visits (not only them, obviously).

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Yuri Geinish

> It all forms a big mosaic that is your life. Every piece and its place within the image counts.

Counts how? So someone knows what games you buy, how is that bad?

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Yaner

As both a consumer and as a someone who works with a game on Steam this is really disheartening.

As a consumer it was nice to check player populations of a game before diving it. Now it’s a gamble to see if this strictly multiplayer game has 10,000 people player, or 10. Which could make a purchase a waste of time for a dead game.

On the developer side of things it was nice to have free metrics available for your product. Of course we have our own ways of checking player population, it was nice to be able to check on Steam Spy for a quick glance. It also allowed players to see our game had a healthy playerbase and was worth giving a try.

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Mick the Barbarian

Do you need to have your Steam purchase history exposed to the public to achieve that result?

Veldan
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Veldan

No, but what are the chances of Valve caring enough to provide us with an alternative?

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Mick the Barbarian

They cared enough to stop exposing our private information. Actuslly that was probably more to do with avoiding their own “Cambridge Analytica” crisis.

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Alex Malone

I know this has barely been mentioned on this site, but I suspect this is related to the GDPR.

For those who haven’t heard of it, the General Data Protection Regulation is coming into force on May 25th this year. It is an EU ruling but covers every single business that handles personal data of EU citizens (i.e. everyone). It is a fundamental shift in the way businesses approach personal data and puts the data subject (us) back in charge of our data.

The new laws have been in the pipeline for 2 years but as we’re now just a month away you’ll start seeing more and more businesses updating their policies and privacy stuff.

So, Valve hiding away their user’s personal data…..yup, that is now required by law. Any piece of data that can be used to personally identify someone (names, addresses, IP addresses, photos, biographies etc) has to be protected and can only be collected and used with permission of the user.

I imagine that this blocking of data is probably just the first step because it’s the easiest. Expect more updates over the next few months whilst Valve make sure they comply with the new laws. Later on, I expect Valve will start opening up some of the data again, they just have to ensure it is all anonymised first.

The maximum penalties for not complying with the new laws are 2million euros or 5% of annual turnover, whichever is largest. So, if Valve get caught, they’d be paying out a hell of a lot of money

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David Goodman

Yeah – my own company deals with customer information and we’re making updates as well, though we aren’t anywhere near the gaming industry. It wasn’t in mind for this issue until I read this comment, but I would be willing to throw my hat in that this was the reason as well.

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Brother Maynard

It’s actually 20 million and 4%.

According to the author of Steam Spy, Valve has only made this specific change, while other personal information is handled exactly as before. That includes much more sensitive data than the games you play – including your ID, name, etc. which seem to be set to public by default.

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Alex Malone

I stand corrected on the fines issue, thanks :-)

xpsync
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xpsync

I’d love to see this disappear and never return.

Steam says your game sucks cause like it’s not as popular as “whatever flavor of the month game is”.

Your game is going to die cause; rinse repeat above

Uggg

So tired of hearing such dribble, f’in lemmings of society today, can’t think for themselves, can’t make choices for themselves, imagine the terror of making decisions for themselves.

So yea i’d love to see this disappear then omg right? how will they know what to play? i guess they would have to start trying new things… Oh wait metacritic… gamerankings… NM

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Toy Clown

I don’t have an issue with this. A lot of times I hate the fact we live in a Capitalist country where it’s “okay” to pilfer through people’s private lives in order to garner information that can be used to psychologically get people to spend more money.

The older I get, the more experience I have with gaming companies, the warier I become of parting with my money. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions without needing graphs to show me where I’m being led to spend my money.

Yuen
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Yuen

Privacy right? …this has gotta be FB-related…

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Cosmic Cleric

If I was a betting man, I’d bet that the same info is still available for sale (aggregated of course) from Valve.

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FG3000

Yall are really funny about this privacy thing, nobody cares youre playing Trove all day. And all people would see via steam spy is 5000 players playing.

Really useful information to gauge populations of games since so many online games really need a healthy population to be fun. Sucks that people might join a game without knowing the game only has 12 people playing.

great…..

Zulika Mi-Nam
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Zulika Mi-Nam

spear phishers care…this can make their job much easier.

Line
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Line

Makes sense sadly, Steam did reveal a ton of information without asking for consent.
Useful to get stats indeed, but definitely not that welcome in the current environment.

Maybe videogames won’t be tracking your every move and sniff all they can on your PC, one day.
I you think that Microsoft or Facebook are big evil companies profiteering from your data… well, you’re right. But everyone spies one everyone, and in complete legality.
Thanks EULAs!
Let’s hope that the EU will crack down on that shit, too.