Food for Thought

posted by on 16th May 2014, at 3:15pm | Discuss Article

I’m sure by now most PC users (if not all) use Steam. Estimates suggest that Steam represents as much as 70-75% of the PC gaming market. Gone are the days when PC gamers bought CDs or floppy discs. With Steam, all a PC gamer needs to access their games whenever and wherever is an internet connection. However, with greater access comes less playability (and no, I’m not trying to use a play on words from Uncle Ben in Spiderman *wink*). Even though we are more connected than ever before and are able to play more games than we could have possibly wished for, we simply don’t have enough time to play everything.

My remarks stem from a report published by the tech website Ars Technica. The author and researchers uncovered some interesting statistics concerning Steam users, namely their purchasing and playing habits. By looking at 100,000 profiles daily for two months, they were able to compile data on game ownership and playing time. It is well worth it to check out the report and read it yourself. It is well written and provides a lot of good information. But, if you’d like to read the summed up version with my thoughts thrown in, continue reading.

At the very beginning of the report, the author gives a shocking statistic. On average, out of 781 million registered games (every game purchased and owned by all Steam accounts), 37% have never been loaded/played a single time. In other words, if you looked at the average player’s Steam library, over a third of their games have never been played let alone installed. That’s a lot of game purchases going to waste… at least until players decide to play them.

Steam users are atypical consumers and a business marketer’s dream. For example, imagine you run a gas station. Let’s say you pre-sold fuel to customers. They can come get the fuel any time they want no matter if it’s a month, a year, or a decade from now. As an added bonus, you sell your gas for half of what the current price is. With this pitch, you are able to pre-sell 1000 gallons of gas to people. Remember, they can come get this gas anytime during their lifetime. However, of those 1000 gallons, 370 are never “collected on.” However, since you pre-sold the gasoline, that’s money you get to keep in your pocket. Not only that, but you are able to sell the pre-sold gas to other people since it will never be collected on. Steam operates in pretty much this same fashion.

Now, if you are an avid PC gamer such as myself who uses Steam frequently, this finding shouldn’t surprise you. No doubt, you are like the average player. Steam has so many great deals and you buy a lot of games on sale. It’s hard to pass them up. But after you’ve bought a game, you never get around to playing it because you already play other ones. But hey, at least you still have the game anytime you decide to play it, right?

It is also fascinating to note what games people play the most. Surprisingly, the top two most played (and most owned) games are both free to play: Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2. Is that really surprising? If a free to play game is good quality on top of being free, who wouldn’t want to play it a lot? We know that MOBAs have a strong following with Dota and League of Legends being the top two. FPS games also have a large following, although Team Fortress 2 is unique in its play style and class structure not to mention it is now free.

All in all, since 2009 when Steam first started logging user play time, Steam users have spent 3,828 million hours playing Dota 2 and 1,444 million hours playing Team Fortress 2. The next top four games by play time are Counter Strike: Source (1,281), Counter Strike (1,251), Sid Meier’s Civilization V (743), and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (632). Comparatively, the combined play time for all other games not in the top 6 is roughly the same as the top 6 (approximately 9000 million hours).

The last notable finding detailed in the report relates that most games with a singleplayer and multiplayer mode such as Call of Duty have much different play times for each mode. Singleplayer tends to be played for roughly 20 hours whereas multiplayer gets played for hundreds of hours. This is significant as this means multiplayer is much more important to famers even though it likely takes less development time than singleplayer. We also know that multiplayer is much more popular given the fact that the top two games, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 which are both multiplayer only, have been played by over 20 million users each over millions of hours.

What should we understand in looking at a report like this or what are we to do? Should Steam users play every game in their Steam library so they aren’t a statistic? Yes, they shouldn’t just play one game for hundreds of hours, but branch out and play every game they intend to buy. More importantly, gamers like anyone else need to be wise consumers. So often, they get wrapped up in the great deals Valve gives on games that they forget to actually think before buying. Steam users need to ask themselves honest questions like “Do I really need this game?” or “Will I ever play it?” If the answers are maybe or eventually or no, then don’t buy. Games always get cheaper over time. There’s always another sale in a few months. Of course, I’m sure by now everyone has already bought the games they can so it does no good to say it now. But I’ll say it anyway. Be smart with your money.