People do seem to like numbers, don’t they? Scores, sales, profits, records, comparisons, biscuits eaten, angels on the head of a pin, and other statistics I find a curious part of gaming fandom. The holy grail for numberfans is, as far as I can see, Steam sales figures.
The latest site trying to guess at Steam numbers by extrapolating from what little data we can see is SteamSpy, and not everyone’s happy with it. In response to folks poking at SteamSpy statistics and asking personal questions, adventure game house Wadjet Eye Games have talked a bit about the reliability and uses of data and their unease about sharing numbers.
Wadjet head honcho Dave Gilbert wrote in a blog post over the weekend:
“Everyone is lauding it as this Awesome Thing, but I have to be honest – I am super conflicted. For most of Wadjet Eye’s existence, the majority of the profit went to me and my wife. So giving away sales stats was the equivalent of letting you peek into my bank account to see how much was in there. We are fairly private people, and giving away that kind of personal information was just not something we were mentally prepared to do. Even now, with several developers and two full-timers on our payroll, we aren’t comfortable with it.”
He adds that they’ve had “people looking at our sales stats and doing comparisons and adding things up and trying to determine how much money we have. Some are even going as far as to ask me personally if their estimates are correct. Some expressed worry that we are going out of business.” Oh dear oh dear.
He calls the SteamSpy sales estimates “close enough” to the truth, but goes on to explain that yes, the game which seems to have sold worst (last year’s The Blackwell Ephiphany) really has been their most profitable. It was self-made, self-published, and hasn’t been on sale or in a bundle yet, so yes, it has made more than games which have sold several magnitudes more copies.
Which is part of why, I suppose, I find number obsessions curious. We have such an incomplete picture, and what are we even to do with those numbers? Please don’t go around asking strangers if your guesses about how much money they’ve made are correct. I certainly see the uses for folks who sell games, but many folks sadly seem to deploy statistics as weapons in territorial arguments.
SteamSpy maker Sergey Galyonkin is quite open about his system’s limitations, mind. He explains that it draws data from public Steam user profiles to analyse and extrapolate from, that it can have a fair margin of error, that copies “owned” aren’t copies “sold”, and that it’s only Steam and not other stores.
Please be careful with numbers, chums. They can be dangerous things. Especially the 4 – he’s a jagged little fella, that one.