New Default Setting Makes Popular Steam Tracker Redundant, Maker Says

Amongst the wake of concerns around user data and privacy, Steam announced they would be changing some default privacy settings for all Steam accounts. And while that sounds positive on the surface, there is one unfortunate downside: the change will result in the popular third-party Steam tracker, Steam Spy, becoming completely redundant.

In an announcement, a Valve developer explained that Steam accounts now "have the option to keep your total game playtime private". The expansion of the privacy settings also lets users choose who can see the game details of their Steam profile, including achievements, playtime, and what games an account has wishlisted or purchased.

What's not expressly said in the update, however, is a change to default privacy settings. A Steam account's owned games were publicly viewable by default, but as of today they are hidden off the bat. That means third-party trackers won't be able to estimate how many accounts have bought (or own) a game unless everyone universally opts-in, which isn't something the majority of people do.

As a result, it's no surprise that Steam Spy creator Sergey Galyonkin announced that his third-party service has, in one fell swoop, effectively been made redundant:

While not 100% accurate, the Steam Spy tracker has been a resource for the industry - public, press and publishers - about Steam and as a gauge for the PC market in general. Galyonkin previously told Kotaku over email last year that the industry's introversion when it comes to figures had created "a skewed picture" of the industry. "Without several years in publishing business under your belt it’s hard to estimate both the costs and sales of other games," Galyonkin said at the time.

And with this change - as understandable as it was from a privacy perspective - the industry is now a little more opaque. By changing the default setting, Galyonkin explained that "Steam Spy can't extrapolate" the data it uses for its estimates.

"Valve doesn't expose any identifiable information about its users, so it should've been safe with their previous default settings," Galyonkin said over email. "And by hiding owned games they don't really make themselves more compliant, as GDPR is mostly about handling personal information, such as names or addresses."

The Steam Spy creator surmised that the drama around Facebook and the incoming General Data Protection Regulation laws - which go live in Europe from May 25 - might have been a factor, but that's a speculative guess on his part. I also asked whether SteamDB, another popular resource for changes on the Steam platform, would be affected. "Steam DB will lose some of its features, but should continue to operate," he said.

It may not be the end of the road entirely: one of the developers on Turbo Killer cyberpunk-adventure noted that a Valve developer at this year's GDC specifically called out Steam Spy as "the most useful developer utility" available. With that in mind, it's not out of the woods that Galyonkin could get access to Steam's statistics - although nobody knows at this stage whether Valve would approve such a measure, and whether it would be allowed under the new GDPR legislation.

In the interim, developers will be the most affected. Developers still can make manual estimates on their own by researching the various genres on Steam, but it's a substantially time-intensive process. "It used to take me weeks to research a single sub-genre. Most devs can't spare the time to do this," Galyonkin said.

"The manual estimates would be impossible with the current API, I'm afraid."


Comments

    Hopefully they will build a work around for Steam Spy.

    "Won't be able to operate anymore" is not the same as "redundant." Redundant might imply that Steam itself now has functionality to track the things that Steam Spy used to track, which would mean that you could get the same data from Steam itself. This article implies that the functionality is now gone.

      You can still get the same data from Steam, but it's not publicly accessible any more unless every user chooses to opt-in. So yes: Steam definitely has the ability to track the same data, but third-party trackers won't be able to access it.

        I agree with Ogre, redundant is the wrong word as it implies there is replacement functionality for Steam Spy elsewhere and there is not.

        I came to say the same thing as the others... you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

        "Redundant" means replaced by something else similar, usually better, and inevitably newer. The fact that Steam privacy settings now make it more or less impossible to get the data required to run this particular application means that the word you are looking for is something like "unworkable" or "impractical".

        It's not like Steam has suddenly introduced equivalent functionality. In fact, for the purpose of this type of application at least, what they've actually done is reduce functionality and only reduce functionality.

          Redundant’s primary definition is something that’s no longer useful or needed. And given the Steam Spy data will be outdated, that fits the definition. Being replaced by something newer is a cause for something to be redundant, but that isn’t the precise definition.

            Except Steam Spy is not no longer useful or needed or outdated.

            As you say yourself in the article, it's actually very useful, it's just that it can no longer easily collect the data it needs.

            A car isn't redundant if it's run out of petrol. A business isn't redundant because the bank decides not to continue its line of credit and it goes bankrupt. A coal mine isn't redundant if it has to close because it can't import enough skilled labour on 457 visas. And a website isn't redundant because the primary source of data it needs is no longer easily accessible.

            Obviously, this is a classic internet double-down rather than admit to error, but seriously, there is only one person in this thread arguing that redundant is the correct word to use in this instance. And even if this is a dictionary-acceptable use of the word, clearly there are better and less confusing alternatives available.

              Hey, I'm always super quick to fix things if they're broken. People in the comments remind me all the time, and you can dig through my profile to see plenty of examples.

              But you can't call me out for using a word, get the definition wrong, and then say "well you should have used something else instead" and blame me for not admitting fault when I'm using the word as defined.

              Steam Spy exists to offer a live snapshot into the state of the Steam marketplace, and if the data isn't updated, it's not fit for purpose and therefore no longer useful.

              Galyonkin also said he'd leave Steam Spy up with its existing data so people can browse it if they wish, too, which muddies the "not able to operate" aspect a bit. The site will be up, but it won't be current.

                How can you even be Alex Walker if sometimes you don't walk? Your name is wrong, fix plz.

                You have to love language, it's an every evolving ever changing thing, language is akin to a living orgasnism adapting itself to it's surroundings.

                But yes as it is no longer useful it is redundant.

                And for his car analogy, yes the car is a redundant mode of transport until it is refuelled.

      I am a developer myself who used the steam API for programs / websites and have been checking for a different method to get the playtime of accounts which didn't change their privacy settings after this update.

      There is literally no way.
      So we are not able to revive steam spy or do anything similar..

    I feel like theres more going on with effectively neutering steamspy

    There has to be a shitty greed driven reason why they would do this, its valve after all, maybe the triple A publishers pushed steam to do this so people wouldnt see how fucking terribly thier games do when they push microtransactions or release broken games

    Because quoting steamspy data when talking about how a triple A game failed on launch for being broken or terrible is now almost a online media standard

      Hanlon's Razor explains that we should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. In this case, I think Valve are merely being stupid.

        Why is increased privacy settings stupid or malicious? It seems like a positive change to me.

          I merely meant that the impact that it had on 3rd party services was possibly unintentional rather than malicious.

            Definitely agree with that. It may be that they can come up with a secure arrangement for Steam Spy to still access data, or it may be that regrettably Valve's new privacy policy moving forward simply won't be compatible with Steam Spy any more. I think defaulting to not sharing info is a fairly prudent choice personally.

              Definitely agree, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We have been too lax about infosec for far too long wrt the internet.

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