In an article published in PC Gamer, it is shown that the amount of games released on Steam in 2017 has already eclipsed the amount released for the entirety of 2015. People are very quick to assume that is because of a deluge of low-quality games, call them shovelware, call them asset flips, or call them whatever moniker you prefer, PC gaming enthusiasts know all about Steam’s ever expanding bottom-of-the-barrel. What Valve themselves have dubbed “fake games” are ubiquitous, proverbial Frankenstein’s monsters stitched together in a grotesque patchwork of ill-fitting Unity store assets, they had become a sort of cottage industry for those farming trading cards and managing to profit on Steam’s marketplace.
Similarly, last year it was revealed that nearly 40% of all games on Steam were released in 2016. There was an outcry from a lot of YouTube gaming personalities and customers alike, the common logic being that the increase in the volume of games being released was down to these cobbled together monstrosities being let through the floodgates, as these were the games being brought to the attention of the PC gaming public. It’s an easy assumption to make; the ever growing notoriety of Steamshovelware and the revelation about the thousands of new games being released, up from mere hundreds in previous years? Put 2 and 2 together, and it’s a simple conclusion. But what if I told you, that not only is there another explanation, but that it’s a good thing?
Back in June, Steamspy said that contrary to popular belief, the average user score for new games on Steam actually went up since Valve opened the floodgates, and showed us the above chart. User scores highlighted in yellow have indeed been steadily climbing since lows in early 2014, and it doesn’t mirror the sharp ups and downs in years previous to that either, it’s showing a very consistent increase in quality. This is the exact opposite of what you’d expect if the gigantic increase in new releases consisted of the kind of garbage, low-quality games people assume. So the question is, what exactly are all of these (relatively) newly released games, and what portion of them are shovelware/asset flips? Well, I have no statistics or hard facts, but I have some suggestions.
Firstly, crowdfunding. While now we take crowdfunding as a normal part of the PC gaming landscape, it’s still a relatively recent development in games as a medium, and Steam as a platform. There’s examples of games that were funded through Kickstarter such as FTL appearing back in 2012, or Shadowrun Returns and Risk of Rain in 2013, but it was really from 2014 onwards that we saw crowdfunded titles become far more common with the likes of Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight, The Banner Saga, Divinity: Original Sin, and so very many more. 2015 continued to solidify this trend to the point where it has become commonplace, Pillars of Eternity, Undertale, Sunless Sea, The Escapists, Tabletop Simulator, Massive Chalice and Shadowrun: Hong Kong were among some of the crowdfunded games that saw a release in 2015.
This appears to line up perfectly with the steady increase of games being released on Steam in the last few years. There were 565 games released on Steam in 2013, and we saw this number more than triple to 1772 in 2014. Crowdfunded games in general have been very well received (bar a few well known disappointments like Mighty No.9) and this too lines up with what we see in the chart, a steady increase in average userscores in that timeframe. It is ’14 where we see the blue mountain on Steamspy’s chart really start to spike, but that’s not to suggest crowdfunding is solely responsible, it’s merely one factor. There’s another that I feel is making an even greater contribution.
In 2014 Valkyria Chronicles was released on Steam, a port of an older PS3 title from 2008. Publisher and developer Sega said that sales for Valkyria exceeded all expectations, and that in the first 24 hours, blew all predictions out of the water. It was also praised for being an excellent port, something that was quite rare for a Japanese game being released on the PC, with many being notorious for having technical issues that modders have had to fix post-release. I’m looking at you, Dark Souls. There was a huge turn-around from Japanese companies either doing poor ports, or ignoring the PC entirely, to being routinely praised for the quality of their ports. Also released in 2014, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was another hugely successful port. Earlier that year we also saw the release of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which was not only a bloody good game with an excellent port, but it was also the first taste us lowly PC peasants got of Platinum games. It was evident that Steam users were hungry for quality Japanese ports.
That’s not to say that Japanese titles hadn’t appeared on the PC platform before 2014, Konami’s own Castlevania: Lords of Shadow appeared a year previous, and the Ys series was localized and released on Steam in 2012 by XSeed. Silent Hill 2 even saw a Windows version back in the days before Steam even existed, as did Metal Gear Solid before it. Japanese games weren’t an anomaly, they were just far less common compared to the last few years.
But it was around 2014 onwards we began to see publishers realize that they could re-release their older titles on Steam, and eager customers would snap at the chance to play games that were previously confined to console, handheld, or never saw a Western release at all. Niche genres such as visual novels and dating simulators began to appear regularly, with titles like Hatoful Boyfriend, Nekopara and Sakura Spirit being among the first to appear. Osaka based publisher AGM Playism has brought us dozens of titles since it’s first release on Steam with La Mulana in 2013, and similarly UK based Ghostlight first began to publish Japanese titles with a release of Agarest: Generations of War, originally relased on PS3 in 2007 in Japan, and later Way of the Samurai 4. Since the much maligned Steam Greenlight program started in 2012 we’ve seen a lot of older Japanese titles appear, such as Ikaruga, a bullet hell/shoot ’em up game from 2001 that saw a release through Greenlight in 2014.
Pictured above, Idea Factory released 14 games in 2 years. That is a lot of games in a relatively short space of time, and they are far from Steamshovelware. Today we are swimming in Japanese ports, Bandai Namco’s Tales of… series saw releases on Steam, including a port of Tales of Symphonia from 2003. Capcom ported Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen in 2016 which pleased a lot of PC gamers. But in 2017, I saw my own personal dream lineup of older games being ported to PC, from Bayonetta back in April, to Vanquish in May, and in December, Okami HD. Not to mention the game I was perhaps anticipating the most this year, Nioh. Speaking of which, publisher Koei Tecmo has seriously increased their catalogue on Steam since their release on the platform, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z back in March of 2014, with this year seeing Toukiden 2, Berserk, Atelier Firis, Knights of Azure 2 among others. We also saw Koei plundering their back catalogue and releasing Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Taikou Risshiden, Nobunaga’s Ambition, and other games from as far back as 1988, a tremendous back-catalogue!
What we’re also seeing are various remasters of older games, some even seeing their first releases on Steam. We’ve had high-profile games like Skyrim and Bioshock getting special editions/remasters for example, Double Fine have given us remasters of Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle, while Beamdog have given the Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment games enhanced editions and Steam releases for the first time.
The point is, there is a multitude of reasons why the amount of games being released on Steam is steadily increasing, and not of all them are Steamshovelware. I know that for me, 2017 has been an absolutely incredible year for games, so much so that there’s been a lot of games that I would have been interested in any other year, but had to pass on because I’ve bought so many new releases this year. My own personal experience gels with Steamspy’s report that the average userscores for new games have been going up, it’s far from doom and gloom.
Now, with all that in mind, does Steam have problems? Yes, absolutely. I am not for one second saying that the deluge of garbage that’s come with the former Steam Greenlight, and now Steam Direct, is acceptable. Nor am I excusing Valve for allowing such content on their platform. That’s not what my argument is, I’m not making excuse for, or justifying the presence of low quality, achievement farming meme games. Yes, Valve should absolutely hire people to manually approve games submitted to it, but that’s a drum well beaten on by other people. What I’m more interested in, is examining is the steady increase in games on Steam just to do with the Steamshovelware, or are there more factors at play? And if so, is it necessarily a bad thing?
I would say on the whole, no. It’s not.