Steam Spy lives on through machine learning

April 30, 2018 // 10:50 a.m.

Tags: #digital-distribution #sergey-galyonkin #steam #steam-spy #valve

Game sales tracking platform Steam Spy has shaken off its planned closure and announced a re-launch, though with the warning that its statistics may no longer be as accurate as they once were.

'After multiple websites reported that Steam Spy is dead, I think it is time to discuss what is actually going on,' Steam Spy founder and maintainer Sergey Galyonkin announces in a blog post, seemingly choosing to ignore that these reports - including our own - were based on his statement that 'Steam Spy relied on [information now removed from public view by Valve] being visible by default and won't be able to operate anymore,' published on his own Twitter account. After some apparent soul-searching, though, the news is good: Galyonkin has gone back on his initial plan and is working to keep Steam Spy alive and well.

'I received over two hundred emails and messages from developers telling me how Steam Spy improved their lives,' Galyonkin explains of his decision to keep the service running. 'There was an indie company from Berlin that managed to secure financing from the government for their niche title because they had the data to prove that this niche is big enough. The title got released and succeeded. Then there was a successful mid-sized publisher that entered the business after it was able to see which games are selling and which don’t. And then there were your usual stories of developers being able to navigate the space because they knew how the market behaves now. So, after a very stressful week at my day job I decided to try a couple of new things with Steam Spy.'

Galyonkin's solution for Valve having hidden key information about sales volumes on its Steam digital distribution platform from public view is clever: A machine learning algorithm, inspired by work carried out for a doctorate which was never finished, which infers sales volume from 'coincidental data.' Results, however, vary: sales figures estimated by the algorithm for indie city builder Frostpunk showed considerable accuracy, guessing 252,000 sales in three days versus the developer's own figure of 250,000, but while the majority of games show a 10 percent margin of error Galyonkin confesses that there are 'some crazy outliers, where the difference between the estimates and the real data could be fivefold.'

The switch to a new estimation system also brings with it a loss of core data for free users: All ownership data is now presented in a range and without the handy graphs of the old Steam Spy, with more precise estimates and visual graphs locked away exclusively for those who contribute to Galyonkin's Patreon crowdfunding campaign. Galyonkin has indicated that this may be temporary, however, pending improvements to the algorithm and repairs to other sections of the site.

The new Steam Spy is available now at SteamSpy.com.


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