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The risks of using Steam Spy to evaluate a dev's performance

Lots of folks are using the third-party Steam stat tracker to study how games are selling, but developer Dave Gilbert cautions us not to get carried away -- 'copies owned' rarely equals copies sold.

Alex Wawro

April 6, 2015

2 Min Read

"Nobody knows more than me how easy it is to collate data, study it, compare it, and then come to the absolute wrong conclusions."

Wadjet Eye Games founder Dave Gilbert on the potential pitfalls of using Steam Spy data to guess a developer's financial health.

Programmer Sergey Galyonkin's recently-launched side project Steam Spy is still in alpha, but people are already using the free Steam stat-tracking tool to guesstimate developers' financial health based on how many people own their games. 

Over on the Wadjet Eye Games blog, long-time designer Dave Gilbert makes a good case for not using Steam Spy in this manner: even if Steam Spy's estimates are accurate (and some developers say actual sales of their games do fall within the tracker's estimation of copies owned), it accounts for how many copies of a game have been redeemed to Steam accounts, not how many have been sold at full price.

"This is the age of bundles, extreme discounts, and rock bottom sale prices," writes Gilbert. "All of our games have been in various holiday deals, Humble Bundles, flash sales, and so on. So it’s only natural that their sales numbers are significantly higher, but it’s important to remember that those games were sold with steep steep discounts during that time. In some cases as low as 35 cents a copy during a bundle sale!"

So while a look at Wadjet Eye Games' Steam Spy page shows older games far outpacing the company's latest release, Blackwell Epiphany, in terms of copies owned, Gilbert says his assertion that Epiphany has been the company's most profitable release to date is still accurate because of factors Steam Spy can't account for -- the fact that Epiphany is internally developed rather than published, for example, or that all the copies sold to date have been sold at full price.

"Nobody knows more than me how easy it is to collate data, study it, compare it, and then come to the absolute wrong conclusions," wrote Gilbert. "This new data trove is no exception. Steam Spy is a useful tool, [but] there are many many unknown factors to consider."

For more details on how Wadjet Eye Games does business, and how that business lines up with (and diverges from) Steam Spy's estimates, check out Gilbert's full blog post.

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