Steam has long been regarded as a pit of doom, loaded with asset flips and scams, where where indies go to die and MMO temports show up for one last hurrah before free-to-play and abandonment. But it’s our pit of doom. And Valve would like you to believe it’s getting less doomy all the time. But it’s kinda not.
In its latest blog post, the company contends that the “number of games achieving success on Steam” has seen a continuous increase, and that “earnings prospects for most” titles increased in 2019. Granted, the total number of games on Steam overall also keeps going up, thanks to Valve’s persistent loosening of centralized approval control in the last decade. Even so, when looking at strictly paid games making $10,000 at launch, Valve found that the “increase wasn’t just due to a larger number of games on the platform – the proportion of games meeting success increased by 11% in 2019.”
That still requires us to accept Valve’s premise that making $10,000 at launch actually constitutes success, of course. So the company also looked at percentile comparisons – how did the top 25% of new games do from one year to the next?
“Here, the news was more mixed. On the upside, the 75th percentile release (meaning the release earning more than 75% of new releases in each year, but less than 25% of new releases) earned 56% more in its first two weeks in 2019 vs. 2018. However, the 25th percentile release earned 17% less. More generally, we found that releases above the 35th percentile earned more money in 2019 vs. 2018, and releases below the 35th percentile earned less.”
In other words, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. As Kotaku and Ars Technica put it, the key takeaway here is that the vast majority of Steam games are colossal failures, and the worst failures are failing harder all the time. Awesome.