Steam value: What game genre is the best bang for your buck?

  1. Hot Steam-ing dumpster dives: Climbing The Tower
  2. Hot Steam-ing dumpster dives: GASP-ing for air
  3. You’re probably spending too much on Steam games
  4. Akuya or: Purgatory, when a game is designed to not be a game
  5. Steam value: What game genre is the best bang for your buck?

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

You’re broke.  You also have an unhealthy gaming obsession. Go hungry or go bored? How to reconcile these competing impuleses?

The answer: Value games. Bang for buck.  The people’s choice.

So, where should you focus?  MMOs? RPGs? MOBAs? Some other different randomly-arranged letters picked out of my alphabet soup?  Sports games (ok, kidding there.  It’s totally not sports games).

How does the discerning citizen tell the difference?  To the rate-o-matic!

The question

What genres have great cheap games, and which have better premium ones?  Which are just bad across the board? 

The short-short version

As we established in the last section of this project, free games are pretty well received, and games from about the $6-$30 range tend to make the peoples happy, as well. Beware the dumpster diver who wants to try the $1-$2 games, though.  Woof.

This varies quite a bit by genre.  Adventure games, for example, tend to actually get higher reviews with higher prices.  Sports games…do not.


Important note: Since we’re pulling this data off of Steam’s massive market, we’re going to be using their definition of genre.  That means “RPG” is tagged by Steam itself, and there are only a limited number of categories to choose from.  “Tags” on Steam are user-added, and so thus way too inconsistent to use as a sorting mechanism here.  Thus, “indie,” for example, is a little all over the place, since it’s a studio designation more than a stylistic one.  Mostly.

Mouseover (or click) to interact with dashboard.

  • There’s a lot of herding in game pricing. This isn’t a huge surprise, of course, but it leads to some weirdness in the data. For example: In action games (including shooters), at the $14 level, there are 333 titles, at $16 there are 18, at $18 there are 20, and at $20 there are 324 (all those price points are rounded).
  • Many expensive adventure games might be worth it — Looking for the highest-rated games at about $30? Adventure is the way to go. In the Steam categorization, this includes both action-adventure and more traditional point-and-click style adventure/puzzle games, and a bunch of the high-priced high-rated games like Dying Light and Rise of the Tomb Raider fall in the action-adventure subcategory.
  • $8-15 action games are good and $30+ are pretty good. Super-cheap and (weirdly) mid-priced ones are all over the place.
  • Simulation games do not do well here. Pretty much across the board, the pink line is noticeably near the bottom of the ratings grouping.
  • You get what you pay for with low-priced MMOs. Whether freemium or just cheap, low-budget MMOs tend to make their players displeased.

Mouseover (or click) to interact with dashboard.

  • Taking the medians for both price and positive review percentage, casual games show up as a good value pick (unsurprisingly, given the typical price of a casual game).
  • Indie, strategy, adventure, and action all cluster in a group between $8-10 and 78-83% positive. That bodes well for fans of those genres.
  • RPGs tend to be a bit more expensive, but are rated just fine (76%), while Simulation and Racing games are expensive and do less well.
  • MMOs actually have a median price of $0, at least on the label (“freemium” ≠ “free”, remember), and man, are people upset at even paying that much for them. 60% positive!
    • The logical hypothesis: when a game is pitched as free, even with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, but includes pretty-much-obligatory microtransactions, gamers tend to leave grumpy reviews.

Mouseover (or click) to interact with dashboard.

Go ahead, just play around with this one. I seriously lost about half an hour before writing this paragraph mousing over the different genres.

  • Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds is getting fantastic reviews from critics, crushing Twitch, and yet….it has pretty horrible player satisfaction (53% positive).
  • A few games (both good and bad) get insanely high numbers of reviews. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has over 2.5M alone, PUBG has over 600k. DOTA2, 886k. This is one of the reasons that we looked at game averages rather than player averages (weighting by number of reviews). Otherwise, a few games would pretty much dominate the numbers. There is an argument to be made that we should also look at things from the perspective of “players in this genre” than “games in this genre.” Sure, why not? But that’s a future project.
  • I’m fascinated with some of those games on the bottom of the rankings. How is it possible to get 4% positive reviews? Apparently, the answer is a lot of comments like “the controls barely work” and “while the concept is great, playing the game is near impossible.” Jurassic Island: The Dinosaur Zoo, you win the three poop emoji award.

Methodological minutiae

The data was collected with a series of webscrapers written in bash script pointed at each of the steam genre categories (Steam assigns each of its 10 official genres a category code and appends it to the url), iterated over the number of pages in each category. Each page contained 25 games, in reverse chronological order of publication, with all of the ratings and price information contained in the source code.

Basically, pull the page source with curl -sL (for the last page in steam’s tag #112 – RPGs as of 4/28/2018), then run a bunch of grep searches to find your specific variables (price, percent positive ratings, game name, url, etc) for the 25 gams on each page. Iterate all of that inside a for loop for the number of pages in a given genre.

The resulting data were then pulled into a MySQL database and filtered for games that met the minimum review threshold, then pushed to the Tableau server to create the dashboards.

What next?

The answer to this is kind of obvious: Use this as the germ for a new set of strategies about game buying, some general Rules of Acquisition. More good games for less monies is more good, right?

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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