The Anacrusis is a co-op swarm shooter from Stray Bombay, the studio co-founded by former Left 4 Dead developer Chet Faliszek. It's currently making its way through Steam Early Access, but Faliszek says he "will never do Early Access again" due to "how player counts are seen by steam and then downwind by the community."
"SteamDB will say we have 1 player yesterday, [when] we have 10,000. Some cross play sure, but also some just how [player numbers] get counted for small games," says Faliszek in a post on LinkedIn.
"That stat gets thrown out every time we do an update, any time anyone mentions us. There is some small number of people on Steam who just instantly want to post 'Dead Game' and then state a stat sheet from SteamDB not just on our game, but any game that is under the threshold for the real numbers to be counted... and instead a number is synthesized on bad data and always amazingly low.
"And the reality of us growing, bringing in more players every day is lost on that, and works against smaller developers trying to use the Early Access ecosystem for how it was designed and for us working towards our Dec 5th launch.
"For future projects, it will be closed beta all the way."
The Anacrusis launched into Steam Early Access in January 2022 and has been regularly updated ever since. We spoke to Faliszek one year and 28 updates later, who said that launching in Early Access was about garnering and reacting to feedback from players - a process he felt had made the game better.
Games media is also guilty of fixating on player counts. Recently it was reported that Starfield had fewer players than Skyrim, a much older Bethesda game, as a way of dunking on the scifi RPG. I'd argue that Skyrim has high player numbers in part because of its age and the long-term support and frequent discounts its had over that time - but more fundamentally, good art is not always popular art. Most games media sites purport to be about culture and entertainment but then cover video games as you would share prices, sharing who's winning and who's losing as if that should matter at all to players. (RPS generally skips these stories, but not always. We remain a work in progress.)
As a co-op game, player counts are more relevant to The Anacrusis than they are to Starfield, but they still say nothing about whether the game is worth your time - particularly if they're as inaccurate as Faliszek says.
The Anacrusis will launch out of Early Access on December 5th.