Today is an incredibly exciting day. Do you know why? Today, we get to unravel the secrets of the gaming world by looking at through a lens of analysis instead of baseless conjecture. I have actually been very excited for quite a long time to be able to provide this information to you all, and to unravel its deepest secrets. As an aside, I work with statistics and data, in a very real way. I have several systems at my work with hundreds of thousands of records that I can use to try and mine out information from the data. My boss told me when I first started that one of the larger failings of courses in statistics is that analyzing the data is the last 5% of the project; the real bulk of the work is in collecting the information. So today, I get to that juicy five percent and get to find out information! What information? How long have I been collecting? Well...I have been collecting information starting on November 6th and ending December 30th. Every day I had it in my bookmarks to copy the results from Valve’s top 100 games by the current player count, which you can view
HERE (but don’t click just yet, it will be fun to see some stuff in the blog, I promise!)
And if you want to see the data I collected, it is available HERE
So, already, we have to talk about some of the flaws in this method. I am using current players at my time of sampling to determine a game’s rank. That is to say, 1 is the most popular game for the day, and 100 is the ‘least’ popular game (least being a very relative term considering the 1000’s of games for sale though). However, current players could wax and wane much more than peak players, so I am using peak players for some volume trending, which we will see later. Now, I tried to capture this data as soon as I checked my bookmarks on my computer, which for most Monday through Fridays would have been at about 5 PM. I think that the data may be a 48 hour period, but that timeframe should always be consistent. Weekends I tend to forget to check at the same time, and we also had 2 major holidays making my checks slightly inconsistent. There were even a few days that it slipped my mind completely! In addition, the holidays and the Steam sales will skew these stats in a horrible way, but they will provide some interesting details later, so I think the timing is just fine. It can also be neat to see how much a good sale affects a game! (protip...a lot) However, I still believe that the data is representative enough for what I want to show, so we will say that it is probably good enough. If it wasn't so bothersome to collect and analyze the data, I would be very curious to keep going with it, as there are some games I would love to see more on (Rust and Revengeance come to mind).
Also, one last side note before I get started: Anything that isn't Excel sucks. This makes me very sad. I tried to use Google Docs to analyze the data, but because it is cloud based it runs very slowly. In addition to that, the way that it creates charts is flat out terrible. It was unworkable. I would have done it on my work computer with Excel, but unfortunately, Docs are blocked as a site, so I couldn't move the data over. I ended up using OpenOffice, which is an open source office like product, meaning it is free. It has similar tools to Excel, but it just feels clunky...one of the biggest things I miss was being able to drag a range for a chart up and down the data set to change what the chart was showing, as that would let me see what the charts would look like for all 200 some games. I hate to say it, but when it comes to this kind of stuff, you really can't beat Excel. Who knew? Anyway....
WHAT IS A POPULAR GAME
So obviously, the most important thing it what the top five games played are. Going into this, I could have made a few guesses for one or two, but I don’t think I would ever nail the top five. In the number five slot, taken as an average of rank by the entire timeframe:
#5. Football Manager 2014.
Hah. Wait. What? With an average peak of 58,000 players, those crafty Eurpoeans with their sissy ‘no padding’ ball game managed to crack the top 5. It is worth noting that other iterations of the series are all over the top 100, making bald eagles everywhere cry.
#4. Civ 5
Boasting a lowly 48,000 average players, yet getting an advantage over football manager 2014 by abusing my numbers, the strategy game managed to work its way into the top 5. I actually don’t know much about Civ 5, but I am going to have to learn, clearly…
This game has been around in some form or another for at least a decade, and apparently shows no sign of slowing with 67,000 average peak players each day. Online, refined, strategic, and incredibly tense, its no small wonder that people still love this game today.
This doesn’t surprise me in the least. At 66,000 average peak players, it consistently ranks in the number 2 slot every day. Going free to play may have revitalized this game, or it could have always been this popular, but apparently, headware sells.
No, I can't write a blog NOT about DOTA. Its in my contract
Turns out, DOTA isn’t just ‘popular’ it is incredibly popular. How popular, you ask? Whereas the average rank for TF2 was 3.22, DOTA was uncontested in the number one slot. An average rank of 1. The best, and highest. So how many people play? Take a guess. In terms of TF2, how much more popular is DOTA?
Would five times be insane?
Try eight and a half. With a whopping 567,000 average peak players per day, DOTA is king of Steam.
INDICATORS OF SUCCESS
Successmanship 101 right here
Now, obviously, success is not just having people play your game, but in this instance lets define it as such. The more people playing, the more people bought the game if it was sold for a price, otherwise, the more chance you have to sell people microtransactions.
So let’s talk about these results a bit, while diving deeper into the top 25 games. Out of the top 25 games, 21 are online capable, with many focusing entirely on an online only, PvP or MMO style. Again, out of the top 25, 5 are free to play games, with a few more as the list goes on. So what can we learn from this? Well, if you are an executive in a suit looking at these games, it is almost impossible to argue against multiplayer. Successful (in our definition, remember) single player games are only 20% of the market. Naturally, there is a bunch of crap that isn’t on the top 100 with multiplayer - say, Homefront - but the fact remains that multiplayer PvP action is incredibly popular. Next, we see that the F2P model is wildly successful, with the top 2 most played games being completely free (and also super well made). Are these systems abused? At times. But are they successful? No one can argue.
As an aside, the wild success of DOTA really proves a point for the MOBA trend...it literally is as popular as the next 15 games combined. Out of the total of the 200 games on the top 100, DOTA makes up 31% of the total peak volume, and 7% of all players on Steam, assuming 7 million concurrent users. Any business man will tell you that is worth trying to crack into. Yet, we see Awesomenauts, another MOBA, sitting down in 148th...maybe not fantastic, but still in the top 100 at times.
Sorry, but I do have to soapbox just a little bit here, as well...out of the 200 some games that appeared in the top 100 games in a given day, Call of Duty shows up in 11 of those slots. Ghosts was in rank 18 for multiplayer with nearly 20,000 users (and 78th for single player). These games are actually really popular, and many iterations are still being played today. Despite the imbalance, despite the not updated engine, and all of its flaws, the games are still really fun and popular. Its sort of strange to affirm that with numbers, but there ya go….why Ghosts was made, and why we will see another one this year.
IS IT REALLY SUCCESSFUL?
So, what does the bottom of the top 100 look like? It should come as no surprise when good games do incredibly, but how many games are really in rotation at one time? It reminds me of a concept known as the monkeysphere, where we only consider a good 50 people as humans, and the rest as just filler space. The bottom of the top 100 has games like Poker Night 2. Mass Effect (the first one). Half Life 2. Serious Sam 3. Portal.
If someone asked me to name 100 games that over 2 months would have been more popular than the original Portal, I would have chuckled and rambled off any game made in the past 2 years. And yet...There really aren’t that many games out there. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, but it seems so odd to me that Half Life 2 is still one of the most popular games played on Steam, with 1,000 concurrent users at a time. It just seems like there should be more games to bump it off the top 100. And more recent! But maybe games just fall off.
Speaking of falling off..
BEING AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Arguably, the most interesting part of all of this is looking at what happens to games over the course of two months. How fast do we latch on, and how quickly do we forget? So to start, let's look at Path of Exile.
The game was released to the public in late October, meaning it was basically brand spanking new at the first data point. And after two months, we see that the number has fallen to about 15,000 players, down from its peak of 30,000. So in about 2 months, half of the player base dropped off completely. Now obviously, there is a good reason for this with any game: people have beaten the game. Once you complete the game once, you have less reason to go back to it. In the case of PoE, the game has a large multiplayer base, along with several different builds, so the 50% drop off doesn't seem too harsh. Another thing that I really like about this chart, and many of the others, is that you can clearly tell when the date is a weekend. When dealing with daily data, it can often resemble a ECG machine - or whatever those are called...I am on a long list of people you shouldn't ask for medical advice. In this case, we see the weekend volume get a small bump up, then decline when it is back to the weekday. Weekend gamers are really a thing.
So lets look at something else!
Haha! My dumb sampling time with the holidays pays off yet again, as Call of Duty was released just at the start of the window as well! As a note, all Call of Duty games have separate games for single player and multiplayer as far as Steam cares, so this is only looking at single player, for now. Remember the 50% drop rate for PoE? Well, Call of Duty actually drops off the top 100 within the same time period, meaning it has a horrid drop off, but one could argue it levels out at about 2000 (still, 14% is nothing to be proud of). Also, the time it takes to get there is significantly shorter than PoE. Then again, the campaign is much shorter, and is less robust as far as multiple playthroughs. However, as mentioned above, the game was still pretty successful, at least from a 'broke the top 100' perspective. But no one plays for single player, right! So lets look at the multiplayer:
For Ghosts, the playerbase ends at about where the single player begins, which definitely passes the sense check. No one really buys the games for campaign. Again, that dropoff of pretty horrendous. After what looks to be only a week, the game suffers a 15,000 player drop, with spikes for each weekend, as expected. However, we see that all of the multiplayers for COD are still well represented in the top 100, and are in fact pretty reliable. Apparently, people still have fun with these! Combining every non-Ghost game gives an average of about 30,000 players putting its combined count in the top 10 most played. Really, not a bad showing for a game that people shout about so often. Also, props to Modern Warfare 2 for staying relevant 4 years after release. A small community, sure, but still bigger than many others! Another amusing tidbit, is that I believe the popularity is more or less in order of year released. Now I know I'm being preachy here, but these are online focused games, and after years they still have a large player base. PvP keeps a game alive, folks!
On the topic of picking up momentum, staying relevant, and multiplayer, how about a game that was released 3 years ago (2010), and was recently given life by the modding community?
Chart is for multiplayer only
Wow! Talk about some good press! Pretty much out of nowhere, the game skyrocketed out to 10,000 players. Various avenues covered the mod, and word of mouth really helped the game's popularity rise up out of complete obscurity....for a little while at any rate. I think this shows a really interesting example in what good a little press does. There were several examples of games that went on sale and had similar trends, but this one was particularly awesome.
And finally, just because I thought it was funny, here is what Portal 2 was doing:
I just....what....how does it? What does it mean? It looks like there were 3 different sales in the 60 day window, but that doesn't make much sense. What is that middle hump? Was there an LP somewhere that revitalized the Portal 2 community? I missed it. Sometimes with data, you get your Portal 2's: somewhere out there is the rhyme and reason for what is happening, and if you aren't tuned into it, the data is just meaningless.
If you want to see the charts for any games, let me know, and I can pull them up and post what the chart is. Otherwise, what do you think? Is there anything on here that doesn't match up to what you would expect?