Gaming

Indie developers suggest Steam Summer Sale confusion is hurting their games [Updated]

Despite the exciting imagery, Steam's Grand Prix promotion may be inadvertently harming some low-cost indie games on the platform.
Enlarge / Despite the exciting imagery, Steam’s Grand Prix promotion may be inadvertently harming some low-cost indie games on the platform.

As part of this year’s annual Steam Summer Sale, Valve is hosting a new “Grand Prix” promotion that gives participants a chance at free games if they complete certain daily “quests” on the platform. But confusion over how the promotion works seems to be leading Steam users to delete some low-cost indie games from their Steam wishlists in a misguided attempt to maximize the value of their potential winnings.

“We lost 1,500 wishlists in the first 24 hours of the sale,” No More Robots Director Mike Rose told Ars regarding the four indie games the publisher sells on Twitter. “Usually you lose, like, 20 in a day.”

No More Robots is far from alone. Mode 7 Games‘ Paul Kilduff-Taylor tweeted a graph showing wishlist deletions spiking to over 1,100 following the start of the sale on Tuesday. SixtyGig Games‘s Raymond Doerr showed a similar increase in deletions for his game at the same time, outpacing a smaller rise in additions and purchases from the wishlist. There are now enough anecdotal examples of this effect across multiple indie games, all starting on the first day of the sale, to suggest this marked increase is something more than random chance.

Some developers have noted that wishlist activity (i.e., additions, deletions, purchases, and gifts) always increases somewhat during Steam sales, as users pay more attention to the games they might want to buy on the platform. But the effect seems to be markedly higher during this year’s Summer Sale. Rose told Ars he’s seen small blips in wishlist deletions in the past, but nothing like the nearly 100-fold increase of the last few days.

Just a misunderstanding?

The proximate cause of that larger-than-normal spike, it seems, could be a misunderstanding of how the Grand Prix works. As Steam’s FAQ lays out, hundreds of Steam users “from the top three [teams] on a given day will be selected at random to receive the top ranked item from their Steam Wishlist [emphasis added].” Presumably, some Steam users are misreading those rules as suggesting that the free games they could win will be “selected at random” from their wishlists, rather than just taken from the top of their personal wishlist ranking.

Thus, thousands of Steam users seem to be deleting low-cost games from their wishlists in a futile quest to maximize the potential value of their potential Grand Prix prize.

This isn’t an academic concern for the affected game makers. As Gunpoint developer Tom Francis notes, Steam users that have wishlisted a game get an email whenever it gets discounted. Wishlist numbers also seem highly correlated with sales, especially for new games, and wishlist popularity has a direct effect on a game’s visibility in the Steam discovery algorithm.

It would be a shame if a misunderstanding over a generous free-game promotion inadvertently led to a downturn in popularity for these games. Valve has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars, but we’ll let you know if we hear more on this.

Update, 5:08 p.m. ET: Valve has since posted a statement about the widespread misunderstanding among Summer Sale participants. In addition to explaining how updates to the sale’s “Grand Prix” metagame works, Valve acknowledged the confusion directly: “Our goal is to host a fun event where you get to explore and use Steam in new and interesting ways, but it’s clear that this time around we could’ve done better.” Potentially affected users will receive a bonus in the promotion’s “points” currency as a result.

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Gaming & Culture – Ars Technica

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