Boy, the folks in charge of Steam sure do love their data, don't they? They're not alone in that regard, but unlike certain other organizations we'll refrain from naming, Steam shares its data with the rest of the world. The digital content delivery platform just announced its "Best of 2018" results, and the information is enlightening. Let's take a peek.
Before we get started, I want to make it clear to anyone confused that these lists are not related to The Steam Awards. Those community-picked awards are still open for voting through January 3, and the winners will be announced in February. No, these lists—one each for Top Sellers, Top New Releases, Top Played, Top Early Access Graduates, and of course Top VR Titles—are based on sales revenue or player count, not community favor.
The most interesting of the bunch is probably the "Top Sellers" list. It's broken down into Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze categories and lists the top 100 revenue generators on Steam in 2018. Many of the titles in the top three tiers of this list (comprising the top 40 money-making games on Steam in 2018) are older titles. Only three games out of the top 12—Far Cry 5, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, and personal favorite Monster Hunter: World—came out in 2018.
The situation doesn't change much as we move down the list, with older games like The Witcher 3 and Cities: Skylines filling in the roster alongside newer titles like Kingdom Come: Deliverance. For the most part, this trend can be explained by noting that the majority of the top games are titles like Warframe and CS:GO that have been continually supported with major content updates. Certain other titles on the list have transitioned into being "living games" after a major retail release, like GTA V, which persists primarily on the strength of its surprisingly rich online mode.
The fact that the "Top Sellers" list is propagated primarily by older titles might explain the existence of the "Top New Releases" list. Alternatively, Valve may have simply wanted to highlight some smaller titles with this category. That would make sense given that the list, which names the 150 most profitable games released in 2018, is sorted by month rather than by revenue.
There are some real surprises in this list. As Valve itself noted, the distribution of the 150 games among the months is pretty uneven. Twenty-two games from February and 18 from August make the cut, while July put up only six releases, and April just five. Also notable is that a huge portion of the month-to-month top sellers in 2018 were indie games. Smaller, arguably niche titles like Dungreed, Cultist Simulator, and Lethal League Blaze appear alongside much larger releases like Final Fantasy XV and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
The "Top Played" list includes every game that had over 15,000 simultaneous players in 2018, and the list is longer than you might think. It's split into groupings of games with over 15,000, 25,000, 50,000, and 100,000 concurrent players. The trend of PC gamers preferring old favorites continues here, where only one of the games (Monster Hunter: World) was released in 2018. As you'd expect, most of the top of the category consists of persistent online experiences, but there are a surprising number of offline, single-player games to be found here, too.
Valve's Early Access program has been met with similar amounts of criticism and acclaim, but the company clearly wants to trumpet its victories with the "Top Early Access Grads" category. This list, again sorted by gross revenue, highlights the most successful games that came out of Steam Early Access in 2018. Many of these games, like The Forest, are titles that launched in Early Access years ago in a very rough state, but that are now some of the most praised titles on the platform.
The last category in Steam's Best of 2018 is the "Top VR Titles" list, because of course it is. VR is still a vanishingly small portion of the market in 2018. It's hard to blame Valve for trying to push it, though, because the experiences offered by modern VR headsets are pretty incredible. This list is composed entirely of games that require a VR headset and doesn't include games that are VR-optional. With that said, many of the games on the list are VR adaptations of popular titles, like Fallout 4 VR and Superhot VR. Here, too, we see a preponderance of older games populating the list.
If you look at the Steam data, it might seem like the games industry is in a bit of a slump. Players are primarily playing older games, and save for a few exceptions, newer titles have been striking out on the sales floor. Steam's data doesn't tell the whole story, of course. A number of big titles hit consoles this year, like Red Dead Redemption 2 and the recently released Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Some bigger titles for PC aren't represented here either, like Activision's Destiny 2 and the entirety of EA's catalog on Origin.
What have you been playing this year, gerbils? Let us know in the comments.