Valve Shuts Down New Way Of Estimating Game Sales On Steam

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.”


Comments

    The GDPR says that combining pieces of non-personal data can become personal if the combination is reasonably unique. If Glaiel found a way to get accurate sales data (more accurate than SteamSpy used to be, even) then it sounds like he found a GDPR breach that Valve had no choice but to close.

    Yeah, it sucks that precise sales information isn't available to developers, but customer privacy must take higher priority.

      A broken clock is right twice a day, lets not blind ourselves to the fact that Valve goes out of it's way to keep sales Data out of the hands of the "Public".

        That's not information most other companies release to the public at any fine grain level either. EBGames doesn't say "we sold 15,400 copies of Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge" just on their public website or on a sign in-store or anything, and if you ask they're probably not going to tell you.

        It can be useful for developers looking at trends, but I'd argue that's a bad metric to be basing design decisions on (reviews would be considerably more useful). Even so, Valve said they're working on exposing some data that could benefit that purpose, it just has to be done without leaking any personal information or aggregate data that can be used to build an identifiable profile.

    Something just came to mind. I remember a little while watching a video by TotalBiscuit about Valve inviting a bunch of people to visit and to have a chat about improving Steam or something. One of the things brought up was public access to Steams' meta-data. Now I have my own thoughts/criticisms to how/what Steam was trying to achieve by making it public, but I wonder what happened to that plan and how, if at all, it would interact with quantifying game sales.

      I think Jim Sterling can atestvto that meeting being full ofvideas and promises with no substance.

      Everything they promised was half assed. Steam Direct went live without the promised protections resulting it being easier to crap on Steam, Curator changes were not complete as the metadata from them seems to have no influence on Directs garbage pile and their promise to be more open resulted in them blocking data and still refusing to comment to actual spec with develooers and publishers on things like Anime tiddy debabcle (took valve a week to respond) and they still refuse to respond to AAA publishers concerns on the store fronts ongoing issues to the point they took away the data sources from market researchers that were proving Steam is pile of broken games.

      Steamspys developer works at Epic games on Fortnite, he speaks at developer conferences about sales and player trends... shutting down Steamspy is a bad move when they dont have these new analytical tools available now. Why are they so quick to redpond to attempts to get meta data, but slow to rwact to CSGO gambling and Scam Game Publishers. Valve are so disorganised behind the scenes each action gerls like the action of an individual, not a corporation.

    ALL DATA HARVESTING IS GOOD (unless it hurts our business).

    Off-the-cuff initial knee-jerk thought:
    It’s not about blocking access to the information wholesale… it’s about blocking it selectively. It’s about control of the information, and it’s being driven by the relationship between Valve and major publishers.

    Big game publishers treat sales figures as a marketing tool; the only time they want anyone to know sales figures is when they’re good. And they don’t want anyone to know the digital to physical split, for fear of affecting retail distribution negotiations. Major publisher figures distort the market to the point that they also benefit the least from an accurate reporting tool.

    It's not necessarily a malicious thing. Steam devs have repeatedly indicated that SteamSpy did not provide a usefully complete picture (and that they would never get that complete picture), and that many indie/armchair analysts were drawing incorrect conclusions from the data provided. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to assume that this was occurring to the point that it was resulting in counter-productive if not outright harmful/self-harming marketing/pricing behaviour based on those faulty conclusions.

    Hence the, ‘We’ll build our own thing, and it’ll actually be correct,’ statements a few weeks or so back. Essentially trying to keep the desperate/fools from accessing only enough knowledge to hang themselves with it.

    Alternate/complementary theory:
    SteamSpy data has value. Reporting has value. Data analysis has value. Valve is uniquely positioned to capture that value, but the value diminishes if just anyone can do it. Locking off the usefulness of publicly available data increases the worth of Valve’s analysis/reporting services.

    Third theory I didn’t think of: What @zombiejesus said. The core, underlying principle behind the data-scraping of SteamSpy was around inspection of individual user profiles. En masse, but inspection of individuals nonetheless.

    Analyzing a percentage against an achievement seems far less likely to tie back to individual user data, so the fact that this feature has been attacked makes me figure the GDPR consideration is not the driving factor behind data lockdown. That said… I’m gaining increased awareness about just how paranoid and overzealous InfoSec units are as professionals, to the point that many would only be happy if users couldn’t log in at all.

      Yep. Selling data is probably what's going to happen. AppAnnie offers a service for mobile apps and hides it's most useful data behind a paywall. No doubt Steam will begin offering something similar

      (Seriously, anyone who has doubts about the plausibility of an AI deciding that the only way to secure peace for humanity is to eliminate humanity needs to work in InfoSecurity for a while. We are already fucking there, with real human beings, let alone an AI.)

      Steamspy, despite the name, has been more open than Valve... Valve is a closed door system who doesnt like answering to anyone... and when they do its always wierd. Csgo gambling, Anime Tiddy apocalypse, ACCC case, Digital Homicide etc.

      Noclip had a podcast talking to the Steamspy developer about this drama back when Valve mafe the GPDR excuse. Interesting listen... didnt know he worked at Epic Games on Fortnite

      Yeah if they roll their own solution it'll probably require a steamworks developer account and locked behind the NDA they have associated with that. So devs can get the info (but can't share it) and armchair analysts won't.

    I can guarantee that Valve shut this down because their plan is to release a paid for data service.

    Dear Valve, it will not be ok to provide my data to anyone in a paid format in the future - but you know what is ok, Steam Spy.

    That's is why Sony is the Best!

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