Find out how to kick start your games industry career

Get Your Free Ticket Today

Free-to-play dominates Steam

Valve's free-to-play titles are the most played games on the service by a wide margin

Despite the massive library of games available on the Steam marketplace, and the popularity of Steam sales, Valve's own free-to-play titles Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 dominate the service.

Dota 2 alone has an estimated 25.9 million players, with a total play time of over 3,800 million hours, according to research published by Ars Technica today. Team Fortress 2 has a comparable 20.3 million players, but less than half the played hours, at just over 1,400 million. However, that's still more than twice the amount of hours put into mega-hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The top six most played games, of which four are Valve titles, together account for almost half of all play time on Steam. In perhaps the most impressive finding, Dota 2 alone accounts for over 20 per cent.

The stats also reveal the large 'backlogs' of unplayed games owned by Steam users. An estimated 36.9 per cent of owned games are never played, and a further 17 per cent are played for less than an hour. This is likely a result of Steam sales, which see games regularly sold at substantial discounts.

Last month, Kotaku reported that, of the gamers surveyed, the average person bought 60 per cent of their games on sale, and that out of 11 to 25 games purchased in the last year 40 per cent would not yet have been played. It also found that nearly a third of gamers have over 50 games in their Steam library that they are yet to play.

In March, Positech Games' Chris Harris aired his misgivings about this culture of extreme discounting. In a personal blog post, he claimed that "the endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually playing the game".

He also suggested that this "devalues" games, preventing proper player investment and leading to games being discarded at the first sign of confusion or difficulty. Given the overwhelming popular time investment in the free and highly complex Dota 2, however, the truth seems far more nuanced.

What is clear is that the free-to-play business model is more important to the PC gaming market than ever before.

Find out how to kick start your games industry career

Get Your Free Ticket Today

More stories

Valve releases game compatibility details for Steam Deck

Company says the categorization of games with portable device will be an ongoing evaluation process

By Jeffrey Rousseau

Valve files for dismissal of Wolfire Games' antitrust lawsuit

Steam's parent company filed a motion to dismiss, saying its practices do not harm competition

By Marie Dealessandri

Latest comments (8)

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments7 years ago
Hmmm. How much is that due to the business model, and how much is that due to who made them? There's not much sign of non-valve f2p titles doing as well (planetside 2 seems to be only one that shows up at all), whereas the various premium valve titles seem to do fairly well.
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
The bit with 44% of all games being played less than an hour or 36% never played at all is kind of worrying. It's like piracy, if a product is devalued enough, you just download and hoard it because you can, but never actually play it.
I know that the business model is still sound and devs make money, but I still can't help feeling a little sad about it.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext7 years ago
F2P Titles from other developers will not rate as high on Steam, as they are also published elsewhere, and Steam is the secondary (rather than primary) market. There are many other F2P titles that are doing just as well.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Brian Lewis on 16th April 2014 3:15pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (8)
Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments7 years ago
@Felix - it doesn't sound good on first reading, but is it actually a problem? The 8% who only play for an hour are probably equivalent to borrowing a friends copy to try a title out, and I imagine unused budget/clearout copies were an undetected aspect of physical distribution.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 7 years ago
@ Felix
The bit with 44% of all games being played less than an hour or 36% never played at all is kind of worrying.
Something to remember about this is that, with the proliferation of bundles, it's actually more cost-effective to buy a bundle of 7 games with only 2 you want for $5, than a couple of games that each cost $5. Everyone activates all games on their Steam account, but the people who only wanted those 2 games will never play the remaining 5.

And that's just one of the things to remember about these figures. Other things include:

Steam didn't start tracking playtime til 2009.
People idle games for cards without "playing" them.
Collectors and double-dippers will buy a game on Steam even if they've already played it/completed it on consoles, or a rival service, simply because of the benefits of it being on Steam.

As an example of that last one, read the Gaf threads on Dark Souls 2. People are going to be buying the PC version even though they've completed the console version, because of better graphics, shorter loading times, etc. That doesn't mean that they'll be playing it straight away, though.

I cannot emphasise enough how these figures shouldn't be the be-all- and-end-all.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 16th April 2014 8:48pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Pablo Santos Developer 7 years ago
According to this, NCSoft F2P titles are doing pretty fine as well.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
Hmmm.... This is why I hate tracking and data acquired from it used to prove some point that's not 100% valid. Not getting every reward in a game doesn't mean the game hasn't been "completed" as some games make it a chore to get them and if all one wants to do is see the credits roll, in most cases it can be done without being an achievement whore.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Tom Keresztes Programmer 7 years ago
How about not having time to play them all ?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.