"I don’t know why they did it." said SteamSpy creator Sergey Galyonkin today, in an interview with Eurogamer, after Valve had changed default user settings to effectively kill the three-year old analytics tool.
SteamSpy was an essential tool for many in the industry, and those of us who report upon it. It provided data on the ownership of Steam titles that gave developers and publishers some idea of what games were big, what genres were growing, and a rough idea of how much a certain game might sell.
Without it, the biggest PC platform in the world goes largely dark, much like the console-specific digital stores and Amazon, in terms of the information that most in the industry can glean from it.
Valve is largely unresponsive these days, preferring to maintain near total silence, barring a few blog posts. The main blog post that accompanied the changes which effectively shut down SteamSpy made no specific reference to the key change in default privacy settings.
Galyonkin said that Steam didn’t contact him beforehand: "Valve never informs anyone of any changes, so it’s not surprising really. What they did was post it in their blog post, while rolling out their privacy changes. They made users’ game libraries hidden by default and that’s what makes SteamSpy operate. SteamSpy uses user libraries to understand what users have and then extrapolate data based on that. I don’t know why they did it."
In fact, in three years Galyonkin has only received a single email from Valve about SteamSpy. Despite it being the most-widely quoted dataset in PC gaming market analysis.
He posited it might be a first move to come in line with upcoming GDPR restrictions, but then notes that seems unlikely as so much personal information is still available: "The user’s real name, twitter handles and all this stuff. It’s all exposed by default."
He also thinks the move wasn’t targeted at his tool, as it prevents players from finding friends to play with easily as well. "I think if they wanted to just shut down SteamSpy, they would have taken an easier route," he told Eurogamer.
Of course, Steam is also brilliant, it’s independent, deals with everyone fairly and has done its best to solve what looks to be a nigh-on-unsolvable discovery problem. Best of all, it simply works.
But its continuing to grow, especially in emerging markets, and its almost total dominance of the market is somewhat concerning – the fact it doesn’t share its long-term goals and strategies makes that only more so.
Yes, the platform has to be very careful to maintain a certain level of neutrality, but it could be a huge power for good in better promoting the successes of the PC gaming market as a whole, successes that will remain even more hidden now that SteamSpy is no more.
As for Galyonkin, worry not, he has plenty to keep himself busy in his day job as director of publishing strategy at Epic Games.