SteamSpy Restores Sales Data

Polygon are reporting today that SteamSpy are restoring sales data despite previously honouring developer and publisher requests to remove their titles from the service.

“The point of Steam Spy is to be a helpful tool for game developers,” he Polygon. “Removing several important independent games from the service will hurt everyone else while not necessarily benefiting the publishers of the removed games.”

It’s an interesting situation.  I can understand why some developers might not want their data shared – if sales aren’t going too well, then that can have a negative impact on their business, particularly when reporting back to shareholders and investors.  It could potentially affect their ability to raise more funding for future projects.

However, it’s unlikely to have a huge impact on actual sales as players tend to be more savvy when it comes to making a decision to buy a game and I would suspect that very few look at sales data when they’re making a decision.  Even for multiplayer games, where a higher sales volume means more people playing, players are more likely to look at current players online and Steam reviews – information that’s readily available on each Steam store page.

SteamSpy is a very useful service for developers, particularly indie devs.  While the data isn’t 100% accurate, it does give a reasonable insight into how your game is performing compared to similar titles.  This can be great for new indie devs looking to get an idea of potential sales before launch and also works as a great research tool for marketing.  If you’re monitoring similar games and see a spike in sales, then it’s not difficult to find out where those extra sales are coming from (press attention, recent YouTube videos, a Steam sale, etc) and integrate those activities into your marketing plan.

One metric that’s not factored into the data is refund rate though.  I would suspect this will continue to be the case as Valve are likely constricted legally and cannot provide this data.  However, there has been a lot of discussions lately about No Mans Sky and in particular, players are discussing the value of including refund rate as a metric on the Steam storefront.  That would indeed be an interesting metric to sit alongside review scores as it does indicate that a game is viewed so poorly that more people are refunding it than “normal”.

However, Steam reviews are a notoriously poor metric and in dire need of improvement.  Adding hugely negative data out of context doesn’t really help that situation.  As with most people, I have many games in my library that have mixed or even negative reviews, but I love them.  All it would really serve to do is to add more fuel to negative situations like a player backlash and that’s not particularly productive for either developers or players.

What do you think?  Should developers and publishers have the ability to mask their public data or is there more benefit for the industry and its customers having accessing to accurate information?

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