Game development requires a careful balance between keeping system requirements low enough to make the product accessible to a wide range of players while incorporating attention-getting features and a helping of eye candy. Steam's Hardware Survey is one of the tools that coders can use to make sure their software targets the the right hardware specs. The latest round of stats has some pretty big changes, but the wildest swings probably come from a correction in the way Steam counts internet café machines operated by many users. As it turns out, the last few months of stats may not have been entirely reliable.
The latest results come with a note explaining that the figures started changing in unexpected ways back in August of last year. Valve's engineers thought it had taken measures that would prevent PCs from net cafés from being counted multiple times, but the way administrators tend to those systems inadvertently circumvented Valve's workarounds. The company says it has taken these details into account and that the latest results are more representative of true state of the gaming-PC install base. As a result, we suggest taking the deltas presented in the latest set of results with a boulder of salt. The biggest change is a large swing away from the 64-bit version of Windows 7 to Windows 10 64-bit. This change is almost certainly a reflection in the way that Valve now counts machines in East Asia.
Entry-level and mid-range graphics card from Nvidia's Maxwell and Pascal families appear to have lost a combined share of about 16% of the Steam player base, but we'd wager this large shift was also caused by the change in the counting of multi-user systems. The gains didn't seem to go to any one card in particular; the only card to grow its Steam hardware share by more than 1% was the almost-two-year-old Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070.
The high price of memory might be affecting the buying habits of PC gamers. The latest results show a 4.1% drop in the share of gamers with 12 GB or more of memory, a 2.7% drop in systems with 8 GB of RAM, and a 3.2% rise in players gaming on just 4 GB of system memory. The share of users with just 1 GB of video memory also increased, while the share of players with 2-5 GB of VRAM dropped by just over 12%. The changes in system and video memory could just as likely have been caused by the change in the way systems are counted.
The share of four-core processors dropped by a bit over 8%, while dual-core processors saw a big 5.8% jump, and six-core chips made a smaller 1.3% leap. The results also show a 5% increase in the number of AMD-powered systems, all at the expense of Intel's gaming CPU market share. Valve's notes specifically mention that the number of four-core CPUs started rising in time with the growing numbers of players using the Simplified Chinese language within the Steam application, so we wouldn't suggest reading too much into these changes, either.
In the realm of VR headsets, Oculus' Rift continues to gain ground on HTC's Vive. Windows Mixed Reality headsets are also making inroads, though players with VR headsets of any type still make up only 0.3% of the player base.
In other Steam-related news, those without any XBox or Playstation controllers to use in Steam can download the beta version of the client and use a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller instead.