The video games industry loves numbers. They talk about gigahertz and teraflops, about “ping” and polygons. Distributors want to talk about number of players, players talk about number of hours played. The industry is obsessed with Metacritic scores, and their impact on sales. Though, perhaps it’s better to say that the industry is obsessed with data.
Data is king in the games industry. Distributors use data to suggest games that players may like while game studios use that data to decide on pricing and discounts. Players leverage databases that compile stats like median playtime and average concurrent users to make informed decisions. Through data, the industry can better understand players, their interests and habits, and create a better environment where all sorts of players and games can thrive.
Using data to generate recommendations
Steam is one of the largest online distributors for PC video games and is a cultural force. Most online purchases for PC games flow through Steam, which makes it a hub for many consumers looking to find new games or to finally purchase a game they’ve been following in other channels. With so many different customer expectations for the store, it’s hard to develop a platform that caters to all users perfectly.
Valve, the company behind the storefront, acknowledged the importance of data in their recommendation algorithm for Steam. They’ve even offered a peek into their black box recommendation engine, showing that it uses metrics like playtime, shared tags from previously played games, games that their friends have played, and more to tailor the store experience for each user. These insights are combined with more options for players to train the store’s algorithm by saying, “I’m not interested in this game.” Both players and distributors benefit. Users get better recommendations and Steam improves its systems.
But even with the power of an ever-improving curator, it’s incredibly difficult to get any one game in front of the right players. Last year, over 10,000 games were released on Steam. Even with all the data telling users and creators who might like a certain game, financial success is not guaranteed.
Using data to improve sales and visibility
Indie development studio Broken Arms released a small wine-making simulation game called Hundred Days back in May of 2021. After the dust had settled and the team had time to relax and debrief, they took to Twitter and industry publications to talk about their launch day data and how it influenced the sales of their game. The company revealed various metrics that illuminated just how much data, and the presentation of that data to consumers, impacted sales. The team noted that waffling between “mixed” and “mostly positive” reviews on Steam had a significant impact on how well a game sold on a given day, swinging from 300,000 page views to 2.5million views.
Another independent studio, Brave at Night, shared an internal spreadsheet that showed the conversion rates of users who had a game on their wish lists to sales and how that impacted the studio’s ability to break even. Even with all the data at their fingertips, the games industry is a competitive field.
Advanced data toolsets and analytics allow industry leaders to dive deep into pricing strategies — how consumers view the value of a game, and how to make money when the game is deeply discounted. A balancing act between pricing, reviews, wish lists, play-through time and other player touchpoints then informs the marketing strategy for independent studios to engage and attract new players.
Leveraging databases to make informed decisions
Much like the data that puts games on the front page of Steam or the info that offers business strategy for developers, players, too, see the utility of data. Due to the explosion of the games industry, it’s a challenge for players to make informed decisions. While user reviews remain important, there’s too many voices and tastes to call them definitive. Critics can provide some color commentary on a game, but nothing beats the data behind the game.
To match this demand for comprehensive data, independent websites are offering more detailed insights to players before they buy. While Steam may tell you you’ll like a game, SteamDB can tell you how many concurrent players there are online at a given time and SteamSpy can tell you the median playtime for a given selection. Information like this is critical for consumers to make informed decisions about a given game being worth their money, but it can also help smaller games stand out.
By playing around with the filters, users can uncover hidden gems using databases like SteamBD and SteamSpy. Games with fewer than 10,000 sales but a 90% or higher score get second winds thanks to sites like these. With aggregated data, these “little games-that-could” can get in front of more eyes and connect with more players, even if the developer didn’t have the means or resources to market their game. The myriad of resources available to consumers helps connect them and developers to happy and passionate fans, a mutually beneficial relationship for small businesses around the world.
Distribution, marketing, and sales for the video games industry are all driven by access and the implementation of data. And, ultimately, that benefits everyone, from the smallest businesses to the most conscientious consumers. In the end, it’s not so different from how commerce has always worked. Consumers still seek the best information they can find, and companies still look for more insights about their customers. Now, it’s just that much easier.