Earlier this year Valve created new privacy measures that essentially locked out third-parties from viewing data that would let them map sales data of games on Steam. But a loophole in Steam's data from earlier this week might have created the most accurate snapshot of video game player count on the platform to date. Too bad Valve closed it.
A leak in Valve's API allowed third-party developers to measure the number of players on any given game sold through Steam thanks to the way Steam Achievements worked. The End is Nigh developer Tyler Glaiel discovered a way to use those figures to track game sales thanks to the fact that the Steam API tracked Achievements to the incredibly precise 16 decimal place. The Steam website by contrast only rounds the data to two decimal places.
The extra precision let Glaiel reverse-engineer the number of players on a given game through Achievements, and thereby an accurate sales report of the game.
While Valve closed the leak eventually, it wasn't before Ars Technica was able to publish a list of the 1,000 best-selling games on Steam thanks to Glaiel's method which Steam Spy developer Sergey Galyonkin then used with his Steam Spy machine learning algorithm. The combined effort created a CSV file with sales data for every game sold on the platform.
In April Valve announced new privacy changes that effectively killed sale trackers like Steam Spy from correctly collecting accurate sales data. Developers, especially smaller devs, relied on services like Steam Spy's to help gauge interest in their games and attract investors. Valve's changes could have been a result of European GDPR rules which put greater protection on privacy, but the backlash from the development community was strong nonetheless.
Now that this new source of data has also been closed, it will probably be a while before we can get accurate sales data from Steam again.
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