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Steam Deck: everything you were afraid to ask!
Also: plenty of game discovery news, of course.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
It’s definitely the middle of the week, so time for the second dose of GameDiscoverCo newsletter, isn’t it? And this missive comes just as we hit the ‘20,000 free newsletter subscribers’ milestone. (A million thanks to everyone who helped us to get there.)
Today’s newsletter concentrates on Valve’s handheld SteamOS-based device the Steam Deck, which was announced in July 2021, with pre-order shipping starting in Feb. 2022. How many units are out there? What do people like playing on it, and why?
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Steam Deck: how many units have shipped so far?
The simple answer to this question is: nobody knows how many Steam Deck units are out in the wild, and Valve has never officially released stats on it. But we have some data points that we’d like to present, and a guesstimate at the end of it.
Firstly, we know that Deck pre-orders started in February 2022, as mentioned above, and there was a leak from KDE Linux’s David Edmundsen in October 2022 that 1 million Deck units had shipped. (A culinary leak in Nov. 2022 backed that up.)
So this is a good starting point. But we’re in October 2023, and we know that hardware production ramped up & pre-orders were all shipped out by October 2022, which likely increased the pace of devices sold.
If we just pretended the same speed from February to October 2022 continued until October 2023, we’d be at somewhere around 2.5 million Steam Decks in the wild. We think this is conservative, though.
Why? We took a look at owners of Valve’s Steam Deck demo Aperture Desk Job, which we presume a majority of - but not all - Steam Deck owners grabbed. We’re estimating (via GamingAnalytics.info data) 2.9 million owners and 1.6 million players of that software toy/game.
It’s possible that some non-Deck owners grabbed Aperture Desk Job just to add to library, of course. But with a combination of these two extrapolations, we’d guesstimate between 3 and 4 million Steam Deck owners ‘in the wild’ right now.
(And that pretty decent figure is largely without Steam Deck being available at retail, except in Asia, where Komodo is distributing it in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, among other countries.)
But which countries are people playing Steam Decks in? We can (partly) see by looking at the country breakdown of Steam public profiles owning Aperture Desk Job:
These are simply the countries that the player profiles have been set to. So perhaps some countries (Turkey, Argentina, etc) are inflated by ‘lite piracy’. And if a lot of people just grabbed the game to desktop, this may be less accurate. But still… data!
There’s one final view we can check out here. Steam’s Hardware Survey does reveal operating system and GPU splits. And while Windows is still 96.9% of players, Linux (Steam Deck’s OS!) has been growing, and is now 1.63% of players. The custom SteamOS Holo is 43% of that total - so 0.7% of all surveyed Steam players are on Deck.
You can also doublecheck this in GPUs, where AMD’s custom Van Gogh processor for Steam Deck has a 0.7% share of all GPUs surveyed. (And was previously slightly higher, at just over 0.8%, in the previous month - surveys will naturally fluctuate.)
The issue here is ‘0.7% of what?’, of course. Especially since the hardware survey may be a bit fiddly to conduct on a Steam Deck, the number of people finishing it may lead to under-reporting. (And other internal Valve ‘hardware survey’ rules may be in place!)
We know that Steam had 131 million MAUs (monthly active users) in 2021. Is it possible that 1-2% of those 130 million++ MAUs are on Deck nowadays, but only half or a third of those people filled out the Hardware Survey? (And some Decks don’t get used in a particular month.) Yup! But ultimately, we don’t quite know…
Steam Deck: the state of the player-base!
So hopefully, the above has given you an idea of the scale of the Steam Deck audience. (It’s big & active enough that you should always get your game working on Deck, but not big enough that you should solely target Deck players?)
But what do these mythical Deck players want? Well, Kevin Wammer & Chris Brandrick at Overkill.wtf talked to over 3,000 Deck owners for this year’s ‘State Of Steam Deck’ survey, and here’s some of the takeaways we had:
Deck is a portable device, but people still play it in their house: according to the survey: “86% of people have used their Steam Deck outside of their homes. Most people still predominantly play their Deck within their own four walls, with most playing primarily on their couch, followed by their bed.” (And yes, there’s some toilet players.)
Cloud gaming/streaming is used by a notable minority of Deck owners: the survey says that 956 people (32% of surveyed Deck owners) use ‘local’ streaming options (e.g. Moonlight, Steam Remote, PlayStation Remote Play) and 520 people (17%) use offsite streaming options (e.g., Nvidia GeForce Now, Xbox Game Pass Cloud).
Deck’s open structure means it’s also ‘an emulation machine’: over half of the survey respondents - tho probably more ‘hardcore’ than the median player - had run emulators, with “PlayStation 2, the Game Boy family, the GameCube” the top choices, but Nintendo Switch emulation (yuck? piracy?) also up there.
Other platforms owned by Deck users? PC & Switch leads the way: of the 3,150+ respondents*, 95% of whom own Steam Decks, PC & Mac was also owned by 2,710 people; Nintendo Switch by 1,850; PlayStation 4 by 1,013; PlayStation 5 by 901; Xbox Series S/X by 564; Xbox One by 483. (*Respondents can own multiple devices!)
There still isn’t that much Windows usage on Steam Deck, partly because it’s fiddly to set up. Only 1% of respondents use Windows as their primary OS, although 33% are at least considering installing it. (But SteamOS & cloud streaming has a lot of what they need, anyhow!)
And when Overkill asked people what they wanted to see in a Steam Deck 2, “the two most requested answers were an OLED screen (1230 replies) or a bigger battery (1198 replies)”, like previous years. (Neither of which are very imminent, but may eventually arrive.)
So, definitely read the full Steam Deck survey and support Overkill, understand the top games played on Steam Deck by looking at Valve’s official monthly round-ups of most-played titles, and watch for official sales numbers from Valve (eventually?) Tada!
The game discovery news round-up..
And finishing off the free newsletters for this week, here’s all the game discovery and platform news we could fit in just ten paragraph of content:
Want to see something clever? Above is Steam’s ‘midweek deal’ pop-ups for Paradox’s Hearts Of Iron IV from last week. The left one is shown if you don’t own the game. But the right-hand one, shown if you own the base game already, pivots the promo to highlight discounted DLC. (Great UX content adapt, Valve.)
Sounds like Roblox, which launched on PlayStation 4 & 5 last week, officially got to 10 million downloads already, which is incredibly impressive. (Some of GameDiscoverCo’s internal estimates have it at 3.2 million DAU, about 4x that of its current Xbox DAU. We’ll see it if settles down - or goes up - over time.)
We don’t talk much about disposable income surging during COVID lockdowns & then dipping again as a game biz downturn cause. So it was interesting to see this GI.biz piece on the mobile game market downturn directly referencing that. (You can see the spike and then decrease on this U.S. Federal Reserve chart, too.)
Circana has released highlights from its September 2023 U.S. game hardware & select software chart, with Starfield and Mortal Kombat 1 topping the (paid) game charts. M. Piscatella’s views: “Lots of churn in subs atm. GP got a bump [due to Starfield], but offset by other [subscription] service declines… Premium content doing great, but considering slate strength, I expected a bit more growth, tbh.”
This interview with Roblox CEO David Baszucki has loads of great takeaways, but this (anecdotal) aside def. maps to Roblox’s long-term desires: “I was in Canada hanging out with some third cousin at a family reunion, a 24-year-old guy who works on the railroad as an engineer, and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m really excited to meet you because all of the mechanics at CN Railroad [Canadian National Railway] are playing Roblox.’”
Now the Activision acquisition closed, Xbox’s Phil Spencer is reassuring Call Of Duty players on PlayStation & (later!) Nintendo re: ‘exclusive to X platform’ content: “I want you to feel 100% a part of the community… I don’t want you to feel like there’s content you’re missing out, skins you’re missing out, there’s timing that you’re missing out on… that’s not the goal.” Aw.
An interesting possible leak on Fortnite Creative monetization: “Epic Games is updating Creator Economy 2.0 on November 1! They are adding a new metric to the engagement payout formula that rewards creators when individual players spend V-Bucks in Fortnite before or after engaging with their island.” Makes sense.
There’s an intriguing new report from Ipsos & Video Games Europe on how children spend $ in games: “On average, parents spend €39 per month on in-game purchases for their children in 2023… 89% of parents monitor their children's spending on games. Half of them have agreements regarding spending levels. 38% require seeking their permission, and 23% impose spending limits.”
Netflix things: “Netflix is expanding its games streaming beta to the U.S., the company announced”, allowing select folks to stream two ‘test’ games to TV or computer; and The Verge also notes: “According to a Monday report from The Wall Street Journal, the company is planning to release games based on its own hit franchises like Squid Game, Wednesday, Extraction, and Black Mirror, and it had discussions with Take-Two about licensing a game from the Grand Theft Auto series.”
Microlinks: Xbox’s imminent Game Pass roll-outs include Cities: Skylines II, Dead Space, Jusant, Mineko’s Night Market & more; neat blog on the idea of ‘tech gates’ for game genres & how to bypass them by using minimal product sets; Texas Chain Saw Massacre had Top 5 MAU on Xbox in August 2023 thanks to its Game Pass launch, according to Circana estimates.
Finally, one arcade game setup you’re probably never going to get to play is Sega’s 1989 game Super Circuit, subject of a new retrospective, “a multiplayer driving game, with players sat in sitdown arcade cabs… and the cabinets’ screens gave the player a first person view, streamed from cameras mounted on real life RC cars.” Check out the madness:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]