In April, Valve made changes to Steam that bolstered user privacy while hammering a few nails into the coffin of unofficial sales tracking monolith Steam Spy. The service is not 100 per cent dead, but developers have been searching for alternatives. Last month, they found one. Now it’s been shut down, too.
Tyler Glaiel, a developer who worked on games such as Closure and The End Is Nigh, outlined the new method to track other games’ sales in a Medium post published on June 29.
People could look at Steam’s achievement data and form a rough estimate of how many players a game had. For instance, if 50 per cent of users had a certain achievement, that implied at least two players had bought the game. Thirty-three per cent meant there were at least three, and so on.
Publicly available Steam community data wasn’t exact enough for this to be useful, because Steam rounded achievement percentages to one decimal place. The Steam API, however, offered 16 decimal places of data.
Using this, Glaiel developed a tool that he claimed offered even more accurate sales data than Steam Spy had at its peak. He then offered the tool to Steam Spy and made the code open source so anybody could access it.
This new breakthrough didn’t last long. On Wednesday, Steam API achievement data suddenly began rounding numbers, rendering Glaiel’s tool ineffective.
When Steam Spy initially went dark, it seemed to be a casualty of Valve’s newfound, probably GDPR-influenced focus on user privacy. This time, however, Valve quietly snipped crucial wires and offered no explanation.
Right now, developers are assuming this was a targeted strike on their ability to estimate sales numbers.
“Yup, they’re rounding numbers now,” Glaiel wrote on Twitter. “Looks like the GDPR thing was just an excuse after all.”
“Valve killed the achievement user numbers trick faster than you can say ‘GDPR was never the issue with Steam Spy’,” concurred Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail.
Other developers chimed in with similar sentiments. Valve has yet to explain its actions. Kotaku reached out for comment, but as of writing, Valve has yet to reply.
If nothing else, Valve has hinted that it might be working on a Steam Spy replacement of its own.
Speaking at last week’s Business Conference for Games Industry event in Russia, Valve business development head Jan-Peter Ewert said that the company understands the need for a tool like Steam Spy, but thinks that Steam Spy itself wasn’t accurate enough.
“So yes,” he concluded, “we are very much working on new tools and new ways of getting data out of Steam, and we hope that data can be more accurate and more useful than what Steam Spy previously offered you.”