Valve put out a big announcement today broadcasting the fact that “there’s been a continuous increase in the number of games achieving success on Steam.” Of course Valve would celebrate their own platform, but in sharing the success stories, it’s easy to lose sight of the increasing number of games that are failing.
Valve shared some data in a community post called “Data Deep Dive: How are new releases on Steam performing?” with findings like: “More new releases than ever are finding success,” “Many recent successes would never have previously been on the platform,” and “Most games did better in 2019 vs 2018.”
Those things are all true! But anyone who uses Steam for any amount of time will also know that the platform is absolutely clogged with games, many of them falling somewhere between the range of “whatever” to “absolute trash,” others being pretty good but just drowning in a sea of competing releases.
Kyle Orland at Ars Technica has approached Valve’s sales data from the other end of the scale, writing, “even as the number of successes on Steam has increased, the number of failures has increased even more, both on an absolute and relative basis.”
The key takeaway from the bottom of the market is that even some of the games Valve cites as success stories, those making $20,000 to $60,000 in their first 12 months, can often still be a commercial failure if that game’s creation has been the full-time work of any more than one or two people. And when 80 percent of games aren’t even making $5,000, that’s even worse.
And while you could argue that’s the same as loads of other creative fields, many of those don’t require the same full-time workload a video game does or are products supported by publishing houses and production studios.
There’s no easy answer to this! There’s only so much money and so much time out there, so loads of games are inevitably going to go unnoticed/unpurchased as the market does what it does and speaks for itself.
The only thing we can do is continue to keep this in mind as purchasers of games, and to really keep this in mind if you’re at all crazy enough to actually be considering making a video game in the hopes you make money off it.