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Valve: no Steam data for digital sales charts

Jason Holtman says "idea of a chart is old"

PC publisher Valve has confirmed that it won't be releasing its sales data from download service Steam to any digital chart tracking service.

Speaking in an interview with MCV, head of Steam Jason Holtman said that he felt that the data would be counterintuitive if released to the world at large, preferring to retain it for developers and publishers only.

"The idea of a chart is old," claims Holtman. It came from people trying to aggregate disaggregated information. What we provide to partners is much more rapid and perfected information."

Valve provides those who have games hosted on Steam with hourly updates of download figures in an attempt to keep them up to date with the precise effects of marketing pushes and offers. But releasing that data, in the form of monthly figures, to anybody else, would be a mistake, says Holtman.

"If you look back at the way retail charts have been made, they have been proven to be telling an inaccurate story. They apparently had shown how the PC format was dying when it was actually thriving."

Whilst the essence of that argument is surprisingly in harmony with the requests of sales trackers NPD and Chart-Track, which have both pledged to try and include digital sales in their figures, Valve reaches very different conclusions.

"The point is, it's not super important for a publisher or developer to know how well everyone is doing. What's important to know is exactly how your game is doing - why it's climbing and why it's falling. Your daily sales, your daily swing, your rewards for online campaign number three. That's what we provide."

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Latest comments (32)

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 5 years ago
I'm with this motion, have the figures there for neccessity.
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Graham Simpson Tea boy, Collins Stewart5 years ago
Of course the real reason is that Gabe doesn't want every one to know he's sitting on $100m
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If you inofficially own 70% of the market there is not benefit for you to release your data except for making it official that you own the market.
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Show all comments (32)
Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
Yes, the PC charts have been showing an inaccurate picture of PC gaming in decline, but surely this is only because companies like Valve won't release their digital figures? (assuming that PC gaming has significantly moved over to digital distribution).

Surely, by providing an argument justifying them not supplying figures that amounts to suggesting that 'such charts don't give an accurate picture of the PC gaming sector so we shouldn't do it', seems to be circular: supply the data and maybe we'll get a more accurate picture of the state of the PC gaming sector!
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Alex Dawson Technical Art director, Firing Pin Games5 years ago
Sounds to me like he is saying... Business suit types want to see charts so they can predict where the easy money is rather than doing any actual work making good games, suit types Valve doesn't like you and neither do the gamers... or at least that's how I read it anyway :)
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 5 years ago
I can't fault them for not wanting to share their information. It's up to them or the publishers. However, i think his very flawed "argument"/justification is totally ridiculous. Charts are very useful things - not only for investment purposes but also for comparisons during various economic times and events. The idea that half-informed charts as useless is true... but saying that charts are an old idea is rubbish.

Knowledge is power - as the old adage goes...

@Alex Dawson: I really don't know what Kool Aid you're drinking. There's nothing altruistic or getting "at the man" in this. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 21st April 2011 2:41pm

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Jelle Schut Managing Director, Only Network5 years ago
They just don't want the world to know who many games are sold through Steam. That's fine, but don't hang up some nonsense story about the idea of charts being old and inaccurate. They are inaccurate, because Steam refuses to talk about sales data.
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Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
@James

I agree totally; his reasoning just doesn't follow.

If Valve don't want to release data, fine, that's their perogative, but don't justify it with b******t.
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Alex Dawson Technical Art director, Firing Pin Games5 years ago
@James Prendergast - I think it's just me then, I have been sitting in the sun drinking coke at dinner!
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Another reason is he doesn't want a race to zero to happen like the App Store.

Ultimately if number of downloads and chart position doesn't matter then there's no pressure to lower the price. Even Apple look to be trying to get away from the pure download chart model as it encourages huge winners and everyone else struggling.
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Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
Could they not satisfy both their partners (with detailed data) as well as NPD (more general data)?
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Chris Tux Consultant 5 years ago
Um...wouldn't keeping the numbers private simply give Valve an edge in development? What Alex said is partially true...they don't want every 3 man Dev team catering just to fotm games. By keeping all the trending data private, THEY can cherry pick titles to invest in or projects to begin on.
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Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
@Chris,

Doesn't that give them an unfair advantage? Given that Steam is the dominant digital distrubtion platform, and that the majority of PC games are probably now digitally distributed, isn't leveraging Steam to commercial advantage unfair?
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Justin Titus Writer 5 years ago
If no one released sales charts, then how can fanboys ever be right?!?! Someone think of the fanboys please!!!
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Chris Tux Consultant 5 years ago
@Ben,

Absolutely! That was my point. Steam has gotten to the point that they ARE a major player in gaming, not just for players, but also as a major retailer, making them a necessary evil for all developers.

They've become a standard install on new systems for gamers - I just built my kids both new machines just a few weeks ago - installed Windows updates, antivirus, anti-malware and Steam.

Keeping this information private really only benefits Valve doesn't it? Their "mind your own business" attitude just screams hypocrisy to me.
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Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
@Chris,

I guess Valve would say that they share the information with their partners so they're not being unfair. Although this doesn't change the fact that they have information pertaining to EVERY game sale, whereas their partners only get information specific to their own titles.

Even if it is unfair, I've yet to hear a decent argument for them to NOT release figures. How would the release of such information (even in the most generalized of forms) harm Valve? They don't have to release detailed information (trends, promotion-sale, conversion etc) just the hard numbers.
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Chris Tux Consultant 5 years ago
@Ben

The only argument I can come up with as to WHY they won't release this data is because they play a HUGE role in the marketplace - a lot of people discount Steam as "insignificant" - releasing the full data would show just how vast their business is.

While Steam is pretty standard on gamers machines, there is a LOT of room for improvement with it. Their customer service is terrible, the connecting of all games to a single account can cause a multitude of problems and they have a laundry list of features I feel they lack or should improve on.

I guess I just think the reason to NOT release the data is fairly obvious - Steam is a business. If competitors knew just how many people actually did use Steam, they would face a decade of people trying to take their place. And truthfully, it wouldn't be that difficult.

Yesterday alone (past 24hrs), 3,080,627 played a game via Steam.
source: http://store.steampowered.com/stats/
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Temi Web design 5 years ago
I wonder if they can be forced to divulge the information. Valve knows the sales of ALL publishers whilst they are keeping such information private. Considering valve themselves are game developers its funny that they have this kind of info. They know what others do and can correlate the effects of that with the sales figures they get in addition to trends and whatever other information they have. Level the playing field and publish it.

Everybody already knows steam is big. They are or are becoming a monopoly. Why can't they provide publishers with up to date information and still provide entities like the NPD with monthly figures or so?
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 5 years ago
Well, the only real reason I can think of, is they got something to hide.. They don't want you to know how much they really cash in from steam.. Saying charts are old, is real BS..
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
This will prevent the ability to do pre-sales, ever, with Steam. The talent will always be on the hook to provide the initial funding. We will never be able to introduce a completion bond or an external financier, because we won't have a body of data in order to gauge the likely risk levels.

Investors need this information to gauge an overall best-case, worst-case, likely-case scenarios when they are considering investing in a new game by a new team. Without this information, they are blind.

Way to go, Steam.
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Reilly Smith Studying Film and Video Studies, University of Oklahoma5 years ago
If for some bizarre reason you're dissatisfied with your gaming experience on Steam because they choose not to release sales figures, then don't use it... No one is forcing other companies to release data - that would be immoral. They have a "monopoly" as you say because they put out absolutely amazing content. The market chooses Steam; there is nothing wrong with that. Don't conflate their large market share via quality product with legally enforced monopolies that actually hurt people. That's not fair to Steam nor is it accurate to suggest they're some kind of unjust goliath that was imposed unilaterally.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
@Reilly, you know nothing about early investment. This does hurt developers, because they don't have sales figures to point to to entice third-party investors to get involve. You need large volumes of figures on many different games to figure out what the likely-sales scenario is going to be. With that data, you can actually get a pre-sale, and then go to the bank and get a loan for initial funding. In other words, you can pre-sell the game before it's even made. This is done all the time in film, but it's a creative financing technique. Also, Steam would need to at least consider the notion of doing a pre-sale.

Without this, developers either have to 1.) self-finance (e.g. eat pizza and work out of their apartments while they burn up their savings); 2.) sell the game to a large established game publisher; 3.) win the lottery.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 21st April 2011 7:28pm

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Chris Tux Consultant 5 years ago
Great points Tim.

While it may be a short term gain for Valve with a few hand picked games they could develop (or privately invest in), the loss of overall revenue from a plethora of gaming titles would surely be counter productive long term.

I guess I just don't understand this move by them.

That's the beauty of this industry right now though...Steam is FAR from perfect and it will most certainly be improved upon by some savvy developer. It has an impressive base to build from, but the areas it could be improved upon are bountiful. Kinda reminds me of myspace and how quickly that died when facebook was launched.
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Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware 5 years ago
The publisher / developer can release their data cant they, if they wanted to?
Why blame valve here? Let the developer decide what to do with the figures Valve gives them.
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Ben Hewett Studying MA Philosophy, University of Birmingham5 years ago
@Aleksi

I don't think anyone is blaming Valve here, merely trying to understand why they're refusing to give figures.

As to your suggestion that individual developers could make the data they receive from Valve public, I'd say absolutely. However, it would be far more efficient for Valve to do it instead, as the platform holder.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online5 years ago
As many have commented before, his reasoning is pretty weak.

The real reason for not disclosing numbers which oftentimes dwarf those of retail stores, even with big hits: Valve doesn't want to get the retailers unite against them with a similar offer of their own, starting an enormous price war.

I am curious however why no other company has started a service that would take on Steam. They've been king of the hill for how long now, seven years?
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Max Priddy5 years ago
As much as the fanboy in me craves to see Portal 2's sales figures, I agree with why they're not releasing these figures, particularly with this whole mindset of a game being a flop if it doesn't sell 10 million+ copies, or at least this is how I interpret this statement, plus as stated developers who have content sold via steam can see their download figures so publishers/developers aren't exactly in the dark.

Like someone said above, knowledge is power, but at the same time blowing your own trumpet only makes you look like a dick. That's my 2 pence anyhow :p
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Daniel Harty Audio Capture Specialist, Electronic Arts5 years ago
Hmmm. Bold but defensive.

Not sure I aggree with it but if this approach were taken on industry wide, it might help reduce the habit of the press writing off DOA (dead on arrival) new releases, which in turn would derease the probablility of these titles undeservedly dropping right off the gaming horizon within weeks or even days.

These DOA games have often taken years and millions of dollars to develop and more importantly, some of them are not bad games.
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Andrea Phaneuf Management 5 years ago
@Aleksi: Developers on Steam are contractually bound to not talk about their sales figures. I did find one source of data for Indie Game RUSH. Steam gave them permission to show a chart with percentages of their initial sales [link url=http://twotribes.com/message/rush-sales-statistics/
]http://twotribes.com/message/rush-sales-...[/link]

And for Investing I completely agree with Tim.

As a start up video game development company looking for funding from investors, and gearing our game towards Steam, not having stats is very inconvenient. Without concrete sales stats of that distribution channel and companies associated with them not allowed to release any sales data, its very risky starting a company based on no sales data. I have come up with very realistic sales forecasts for my company based on experience and lots and lots of research and cross referencing, but I can't be positive that my calculations are correct and its really very scary diving into a industry with no data to drive your financial forecasts for your own company and to impress investors.
I do respect their decision to keep their financials private, which our company will do as well. But geez, help your potential game developers out!

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Andrea Phaneuf on 22nd April 2011 6:27pm

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Aleksi Ranta Product Manager - Hardware 5 years ago
Oh, didnt know about that contractual side. Interesting.
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Diego Santos Lećo Creative Director, GameBlox Interactive5 years ago
What a load of... excuses. But good PR, as always.
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Even if this might not go well with investors and market research, their reasons are understandable. If you had data that shows information on an hourly basis, releasing this data only on a monthly basis has very little informational value and may not correctly represent actual sales statistics or benefits of the platform.

The developers and publishers receive their detailed information about how their games are doing on Steam anyway and on top of that on a much more granular level than NPD or other charts trackers can deliver.
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