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Cheese Talks: The Steam Hardware & Software Survey

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With Valve's content distribution/social/DRM platform, Steam, having supported all three major desktop platforms for nearly a year now, I've been intending to write something about the Steam Hardware & Software Survey for some time. In the coming months, the impact of Valve's recent SteamOS and Steam Machines announcements is likely to begin shifting some attitudes, perceptions and ultimately (dramatically or subtly) changing the landscape that the survey results depict.

Below is a combination of excerpts and thoughts from the full article (which contains more detail and fancier charts, so take a peek!).

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What Is The Survey And Why Should We Care?

From sometime prior to 2004, Valve have been collecting and publicly publishing what is most likely the largest survey of consumer gaming hardware and system configuration ever conducted. What presumably started as a tool for Valve to help understand their audiences has grown into something that gamers, journalists and even other developers get excited about and attempt to draw upon as a resource.

Being tied to a title agnostic distribution platform that spans the breadth of gaming genres, the Steam Hardware & Software Survey is positioned to inherently sidestep most of the issues that face the types hurdles to data collection that technical groups, journalists, individual software developers and hardware vendors encounter when trying to draw understanding of broader industry behaviour. By providing a moderately unobtrusive opt-in prompt to randomly selected users when Steam is launched, the survey is able to target gamers specifically, cross demographic bounds and have a higher likelihood of response.

The frequency and regularity of the survey also provides what is perhaps the most detailed picture of gaming system configuration over time that has ever been compiled.


What Should We Consider When Interpreting The Survey Results?

  • Percentages are ratios
  • As a distribution platform, Steam has a clear platform bias in title compatibility
  • The survey results highlight statistically insignificant fractions
  • A best guess margin of error renders anything less than 0.065 percentage points meaningless



How Could The Survey Be Improved?

In the article, I highlight a number of uncertainties and ambiguities that reduce the reliability of the Steam Hardware & Software Survey's results. To finish off, I offered some suggestions to counteract this and boost credibility and confidence.

  • Post-publishing changes need to be documented (numbers fluctuate too much after they go live)
  • The sampling method needs some level of transparency (this wouldn't impact on the anonymity of the survey, it would just clarify how it's conducted)
  • Survey results need more detail on presentation aspects (such as rounding, population size/fluctuation, whether "change" values are percentages or percentage points, what thresholds push things into the "Other" category, and some indication of how invalid or unrecognised values are represented)
  • The survey needs a F.A.Q. (see here for what little information I've been able to cobble together over the years)



Whilst looking at platform bias of games available on the Steam store, I discovered that just over 10% of games on Steam offer Linux support, 25.39% of games are playable on a Mac, and all but one title (a Mac specific version of one of the Call of Duty games - thanks to xPaw from SteamDB for quickly identifying that for me!) are Windows compatible.

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This lead me to start to look at what the Linux user base percentages would look like if they were adjusted for the number of titles available. By running the percentages found in the survey results across Steam's estimated 54,000,000 active accounts and then dividing those by the number of titles available on each platform, I was able to get an estimate of users per title, which appears surprisingly similar to the platform revenue ratios seen in Humble Bundle promotions.

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It's hard to say whether that correlation has any meaning, but at the very least, this users-per-title view sheds an entirely different light on Linux representation within the Steam Hardware & Software Survey results.


Whilst this article is probably a bit more theory heavy than my earlier Humble Bundle articles, I hope it's still of some interest and I'd love to hear any feedback or thoughts that people have :)

Enjoy! Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Editorial
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Game developer, Linux helper person, and independent writer/interviewer.

Currently working on Winter's Wake, a first person text adventure thing and its engine Icicle. Also making a little bee themed base builder called Hive Time :)

I do more stuff than could ever fit into a bio.
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12 comments
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Mohandevir 25 Oct, 2013
I would like to see a survey on a cross-platform game. Let's say L4D2 and see what are the marketshares for each platform, for this game. I'm curious...
Cheeseness 25 Oct, 2013
Quoting: Quote from MohandevirI would like to see a survey on a cross-platform game. Let's say L4D2 and see what are the marketshares for each platform, for this game. I'm curious...

For sure! Comparative platform breakdowns between Valve's Linux titles (and any others, but Valve doing their own thing seems more likely than a bunch of developers coming together to share that sort of information) would be very interesting to see.
Ba7a7chy 25 Oct, 2013
Thats a valid point, never thought about the Win titles v.s Linux titles %, I would like to see more numbers :) a cross-platform title specific chart could be awesome.
manny 25 Oct, 2013
Great analysis.

Would love to see how SteamOS will change the balance of power.

and how long it will take for us to beat macOS in number of titles / users.

Indeed we need to take share from windows and consoles, else there won't be enough users for the number of titles expected (and needed) to come for the steam machines.

For the current number of steam linux titles, Humble bundles and kickstarters there seems to be a sustainable revenue stream or get fully funded from the start, so that's a sure thing.

But for the Steambox/linux project we will need for the user base to grow at a more rapid pace. We'll need a lot of hardware with the OS preinstalled shipped.
Guest 25 Oct, 2013
Nice article!
QuotePercentages are ratios

I'd say proportional, but swings and roundabouts.

I think this is the biggest thing people miss; a lower percentage != lower usage.

Eg, 10% of 100 is 10, 1% of 1000 is 10.

New accounts are created every day, and we can't suggest that they will all be on Linux.
FoH 25 Oct, 2013
Quoting: Quote from CheesenessFor sure! Comparative platform breakdowns between Valve's Linux titles (and any others, but Valve doing their own thing seems more likely than a bunch of developers coming together to share that sort of information) would be very interesting to see.

The problem I see with this is that, since Steam is a platform with multiple games it means that users who play several games, of which a few isn't available on Linux, would most likely remain on Windows. It would be interesting to see the numbersfor one of these titles nontheless :)

One can't really draw any conclusion on Linux marketshare from the Steam numbers, right?
minj 25 Oct, 2013
A somewhat more statistical interpretation, at last. Thanks for the article.

Valve people should really shed more light on the methodology they use. Hopefully this article will attract their attention.
Cheeseness 26 Oct, 2013
Thanks, everyone!

manny, it's possible that we may never match Mac OS for title counts. I am expecting that moving forward, we'll eventually see a time where almost every game is cross platform. This won't mean that people will be interested in porting their legacy titles though (and it's clear that many aren't), so Mac OS will likely always have a ~500 title lead.

Edgely, ratios are proportional indicators as well. I feel that either would be an appropriate term. Reminding people that percentages aren't absolute values and that without the population size being known, fluctuations can't indicate anything other than dominance was one of the key reasons I had wanted to write the article to begin with.

FoH, you're absolutely correct, but that does raise the question of whether or not people who would consider using Linux, but don't can be taken as a part of Linux market share (I'm going to go out on a limb and say they shouldn't be).
unstable 27 Oct, 2013
I am using only Xubuntu 13.10, but steam for Linux is useless for me without Torchlight 2, Sonic Generations, Evoland, Final Fantasy 7, etc...

Steam for Linux needs more time, but is it worth to me or others to wait?
Cheeseness 27 Oct, 2013
Quoting: Quote from unstableI am using only Xubuntu 13.10, but steam for Linux is useless for me without Torchlight 2, Sonic Generations, Evoland, Final Fantasy 7, etc...

Steam for Linux needs more time, but is it worth to me or others to wait?

It's a tricky situation. How do we communicate demand to developers and still play the games we like which don't support Linux?

Personally, I've more of less stopped playing non-native games. It seems like a small sacrifice to make to avoid skewing market size figures - on Steam, when a Linux user purchases a Windows only game, that makes for a difference of two sales in favour of Windows (+1 Windows sale and -1 Linux sale because Steam doesn't let you purchase a game for yourself a second time when a native version becomes available). Worse still, if Windows only developers see that sort of buying behaviour, they may believe that they are able to service the Linux market without a native port.
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