Valve recently revealed Steam’s top-selling games of 2016, and the list has a lot to say about the year and the ways that the video game industry is changing. As reported by PC Gamer, the methodology has changed a bit this year; the 2016 list, strictly speaking, features the top-grossing games of the year rather than the top sellers.
With free-to-play titles getting bigger, that’s an important difference, and it catapulted a few surprises into the top slots. Interestingly, it also left a lot of games from years past still strong on the list – Bethesda’s Fallout 4, which was released in November 2015, made second place that year. In 2016, it took the top slot. Other past-year top-rankers, what Valve is calling “Platinum” games, include Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V, Valve’s own Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (released in 2012 and still holding strong,) CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and many more which only slipped a tier or two.
Perhaps more importantly, the list provides a more comprehensive look about which free-to-play games are showing a success, placing Valve’s DOTA 2 (2013) in Platinum, Valve’s Team Fortress 2 (2007) and Digital Extremes’ Warframe (2013) in Gold, and more.
In addition, the 2016 list shows a somewhat significant shift away from the AAA first-person-shooter style titles. While they’re still on there, in many cases, they’ve been supplanted by different genres, smaller budgets, and some flat-out upsets by indie titles like 16-employee indie studio Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky, which also took a Platinum slot.
So, looking at the full list, what does it mean for video games as a whole?
AAA titles still have a fairly dominant hold on the Steam top grossers, easily holding more than half of the top 36 spots (Valve’s Platinum, Gold and Silver tiers.) But they’re starting to give up those spots to indie and free-to-play games, and they’re struggling to surpass the success of past titles with staying power, particularly competitive and arena games. One also has to take into account the relative price points of those titles; while Fallout 4 held the top slot through 2016, its selling price almost never fell below $59.99 USD; the same applies to other Platinum-tier titles like Firaxis’ Civilization VI, Firaxis’ X-COM 2, FromSoftware’s Dark Souls III – all titles listed at $59.99. And most of them still lost out to Psyonix’s Rocket League priced at $19.99.
Fallout 4, meanwhile, is a game which cost $270 million to develop; the game had to sell 4.5 million copies before it even began to see a net profit. Compare this to Stardew Valley, a Gold-tier game by a single developer which retailed for $14.99 of essentially pure profit. In fairness, Fallout 4 easily tripled its development cost in the first 24 hours of release – but not every game is going to be that lucky. And then there are the free-to-play games with no sale price at all which still stomp all over games with a hefty barrier-to-entry in the form of a high price tag.
In honor of the list’s release, Steam itself has, as per Tech Times, put nearly every title that made it on sale for up to 80 percent off the list price. That sale is only slated to last until January 2 at 1 p.m. EST, so anyone looking to pick up some best-selling Steam titles will want to hurry – assuming that they have anything left to buy them with after the Steam Winter Sale.
Meanwhile, it’s looking like the dominance of AAA game titles – at least on PC – may finally be grinding to a halt, as studios see less reason to risk hundreds of millions in a market where they can be beaten by a single person with a PC and some free time.
To see the full list of 100 top-selling games, head on over to Steam and maybe stop to pick a few up while you’re there.
[Featured Image by Valve Corporation]