Trends in the PC Video Game Market

According to a research report by Superdata, the PC video game market was worth an incredible $36 billion in 2016.  Interestingly, this impressive revenue is mainly driven by “free-to-play” games which generate revenue from optional in-game purchases. While the future of the PC video game industry seems to be invested in free-to-play games, I was interested in exploring the recent past of the industry.

I used data from Steamspy, a website that scrapes data from Steam, the world’s largest digital game distribution platform with over 125 million active users in 2015. Steamspy has data on games released in 2008 or later. After removing games with missing data, the data set has about 11,000 games.

Most games are in more than one genre and are thus counted among multiple genres. For example, an Action/Indie game contributes to the total number of both Action and Indie games.

One of the most striking insights that this graph reveals is the overall explosion in the number of available PC games starting from 2013. It’s also interesting that although free-to-play games generated half of PC video game revenue in 2016, only 1.7 percent of games available on Steam were free-to-play. Another thing that stands out is the incredibly fast and substantial emergence of indie games, which grew by 137 percent between 2008 and 2016.

Data from Userscore is the percentage of Steam users who give a game a positive review. 5,887 out of 11, 825 games had a userscore. Note that in this data set only one Violent video game was released in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

A game’s userscore on Steam is the percentage of its reviews (written by Steam users) that are positive. The trend that stands out the most is that while the first few free-to-play games seem to have been highly rated, their perceived quality has dropped significantly from its peak by 35 percent.

Overall, there isn’t much variability in userscore by genre with most of the average userscores ranging between 70 and 80 percent.

A game is indicated as being DRM-free if it is on this list of DRM-free games available on SteamWiki. The list is not exhaustive so the graph likely underestimates the proportion of Steam games that are DRM-free. Note that in this data set only one Violent video game was released in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

Digital rights management (DRM) encompasses a variety of technologies that are meant to prevent the unauthorized use of digital media. DRM for video games ranges from requiring a CD key for game installation to requiring a constant internet connection while playing the game. The graph shows that the newest games are the most likely to be protected by DRM.

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