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Valve's breakdown of Steam launch earnings says 'success' is on the rise

The Steam team over at Valve has poked at the platform's earnings data to paint a picture of how earnings trends on the digital storefront have shifted over the years.

The Steam team over at Valve has poked at the platform’s earnings data to paint a picture of how earnings trends on the digital storefront have shifted over the years, ultimately noting that successful launches are up 18 percent year-over-year.

That’s by Valve’s definition of success of course, which is described in the full breakdown as a game earning over $10,000 on Steam within two weeks of its launch.

By that same data, Valve says games in this pool typically go on to reap earnings of between $20,000 and $60,000 in their first 12 months, but it’s not stated if these figures mean total sales before Valve’s 30 percent cut or the actual takehome devs see from their game’s earnings.

In 2019, nearly 1,200 games cleared $10,000 earned, up from just under 1,000 the year before. The exact figures themselves are a little approximate thanks to the fact that the data is presented in a series of charts, but even with that vagueness there’s enough info offered to see the trend.

In a similar vein, Valve’s research notes report similar increases in games seeing $5,000, $50,000, $100,000, and $250,000 in their first two weeks from year to year, though the number of games hitting each milestone naturally wanes as earnings go up. Just under 300 games, for instance, earned $250,000 in their first two weeks on Steam, up from just over 225 in 2018 and 2017.

Valve notes as well that the year-over-year rise isn’t solely due to more games releasing on the platform with each passing year: the proportion of games meeting that $10k-in-two-weeks success is also up 11 percent from 2018. Looking at median game earnings, Valve also says the median game on Steam in 2019 earned 24 percent more than the median game in 2018.

Earnings aren’t up for every game on Steam however. As Valve notes in the full blog, those below the 35th percentile actually earned less than comparable launches in 2018.

“We opened the platform because we believed that ‘hand curating’ the titles released on Steam had led to some great titles being missed,” Valve writes, referencing below the graph projecting earnings if it had continued heavy curation. “While we can't say for sure, we think the green portions of the bars above the dashed line are, largely, games that would never have previously found success on Steam... because they never would have been released on the platform at all.”

There's more data for devs to chew through in the full report, including deeper dives into those games falling below the 35th percentile and graphs to go with many of the figures only mentioned here. 

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