Skip to main content

Valve's move against SteamSpy isn't such a big deal, says No More Robots founder

Mike Rose: "There's no doubt people right now are making games because they thought SteamSpy told them to"

Following Valve's recent actions to block data harvesting by SteamSpy, many in the industry were dismayed at the prospect of having less access to the valuable information it provided. After all, data doesn't lie - except perhaps for when it does.

SteamSpy was more guilty of this than many developers would have realised according to Mike Rose, industry veteran and founder of independent publisher No More Robots.

However, that's less a problem with SteamSpy, and more a problem with the way in which people interpreted the data in front of them, said Rose.

Speaking with at EGX Rezzed, Rose argued that giving people access to every single bit of data sounds like a better idea than it actually is.

"A lot of the time when people go into data, they've got a thing they're looking for, a conclusion they want to come to," he said.

"They're not doing it on purpose, they're just looking at the data to see how their game will sell, then they find a bunch of games that look like theirs that sold well and go 'there's our proof'. But actually they're not looking at the 99 per cent of games that tanked that looked exactly like their game."

SteamSpy creator Sergey Galyonkin has always been candid about the flaws in his system, but that doesn't necessarily stop them from being ignored.

The 'copies owned' number is another pitfall that can catch developers out when trying to understand the market's thirst for any given game, said Rose.

While it looks useful, 'copies owned' is undermined by free weekends, Humble Bundle sales and, in one instance, a developer giving away 40,000 free keys.

The most useful data -- user reviews and day one concurrent users measured against subsequent decline -- is still readily available said Rose. It's worth noting that this data has to be adjusted based on how expensive a game is, as pricer titles will attract more reviews.

Even so, the data can be modelled around games for which there are existing sales figures, and while not every developer is willing to share that information, enough are said Rose.

"Fact of the matter is, if you then know that... you can still go into your launch knowing how much money your game will make," he said.

"You don't have to be a crazy maths person to figure it out. Those numbers are right there and they always have been even right before SteamSpy came along."

Even Galyonkin himself insisted it's still possible to analyse market trends based on the information available, but conceded it would "be harder, and take way more time than before."

Critics of Valve's decision to essentially block SteamSpy have argued that it damages industry transparency, and is a step backwards on what has been a long road to getting reliable digital sales data.

However, Rose argues that while SteamSpy is a useful resource, the data is readily mishandled by inexperienced developers and veterans alike.

"I don't want to be the person who says transparency is a bad thing," he said. "Of course it's a good thing, but it depends on how much transparency you give people. If you literally give people every single number, then you get people who -- not on purpose -- mistreat the data.

"Transparency is cool when it's used correctly. When people are misusing it, and that always happens when you give people every number, it becomes a problem.

"There's no doubt people right now are making games because they thought SteamSpy told them to. They thought SteamSpy told them a game would sell because they misread the numbers. How is that good for anybody? There's going to be loads of games like that."

Read this next

Ivy Taylor avatar
Ivy Taylor: Ivy joined in 2017 having previously worked as a regional journalist, and a political campaigns manager before that. They are also one of the UK's foremost Sonic the Hedgehog apologists.