The Impact of Steam Greenlight

On 30th August 2012, Steam launched Greenlight with the idea of bringing promising games on Steam with added exposure. However, Greenlight has since received a lot of criticism for not doing its job very well. Because I gathered info about games released from August 2012 to July 2015 (as discussed in this post; for those who won’t read it – I excluded free-to-play games and those in Early Access), I decided to take a look at how successful all these games have been.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out which of the 3,021 games in my dataset have been Greenlit as Valve doesn’t really like to mention Greenlight (I wonder why). But it can be safely assumed that most of the games released since the beginning of 2014 have gone through Greenlight.

How does one measure success of games? Since Valve doesn’t make sale numbers public, this is quite a difficult task. has been gathering the number of owners for each game but not for long enough. I decided comparing games between each other will have to suffice for now, hence I used to obtain the average number of players in the first two months after a game’s release. In addition to not being a reliable measure, I had to compensate for the fact that the provided tables only contain numbers for calendar months. Still, it should be enough to give us an idea as to how popular each game was after its launch.

Let’s begin by looking at a histogram of all games with respect to the average number of players. This divides games into groups (columns) based on how many players on average they had. The height of a column represents the number of games.


Ouch. The only interesting bit here is that there was one game within the given time frame which surpassed all the other games. That was Grand Theft Auto V. There are some more big releases which I’m going to exclude to give us a better view. Let’s try again with games having less than 10,000 players and hope we get something more meaningful.


That didn’t help much. However, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise. AAA titles and a couple of successful indie titles can be expected to be far more popular than the vast majority. Let’s zoom in to games with less than 1,000 players.


This is starting to look a bit suspicious. Although, 100 players on average in first two months is a pretty solid number for small indie dev teams. Let’s look at the games with less than 100 players.


To be honest, this made me a bit nervous. 64 % of games get less than 10 players on average! I need to do more research on this, but that should equal to roughly 10,000 sold copies. I’m not a game developer. If you are, you can probably give a better answer as to how good or bad that is for a small team or an individual. Perhaps not bad at all but how many games do actually get those 10 players?


Not many. 25 % of all games are confirmed to completely lose their player base at some point, at least for a while.

Out of the 1,945 games in the <10 group, 13 % offer multiplayer and 2 % are multiplayer-only. That’s actually not as tragic as I expected.

Let’s look at all games again. This time, the intervals have been adjusted to make the histogram more meaningful.


It could be interesting to look at 2013 and 2014 separately (sadly, I won’t be able to obtain older data, these are the only years I have complete data for so far):

Games released in
Players 2013 2014
0-3 85 657
3-10 91 290
10-30 100 174
30-80 65 101
80-250 59 64
250-750 35 42
750-2,000 20 31
2,000-5,000 8 9
5,000-15,000 4 4
15,000-115,000 1 2

Or in percentages:


There is quite a difference between the two years. It would probably make more sense to look at individual months. What follows is the graph from my previous post, this time with the added information about average players. Each column says how many games were released that month and the colors say how many players on average those games had after release.


To celebrate one year of Greenlight, Valve decided to allow a batch of 100 games to be released on Steam after August, 2013. Since then, Greenlight became more open, allowing far more games to get on Steam. I think the graph clearly shows what it started.

Sure, some games gain popularity months after their release thanks to sales or other influences. However, post-launch success still remains vital.

I hope this brought some insight into what launch of games looks like on Steam and perhaps how well executed Valve’s Greenlight has been. In the future, I will hopefully find out what hidden or unexpected factors can influence success of games released on Steam.


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