Unlike the world of cinema, music and television, the video game industry has traditionally been very protective of sales figures. Unless a specific game is remarkably good in terms of units sold, it can be quite difficult to determine how well a game has done in the market. Most companies choose to keep sales figures private, and some companies, such as Microsoft, do not even report how many hardware units they have shipped (all sales figures for Xbox One consoles are estimates).
It's worth noting there are not so many companies and institutions that spend their time tracking video game sales. Movies, for example, are relatively easy to track, since ticket sales are reported by individual theaters. Video games are a little more complicated. The NPD Group serves as the de facto source for the sale of games, but does not provide actual figures, only monthly classifications. Worse yet, the market research company does not have access to all digital sales numbers.
As you can imagine, this has made it especially difficult to estimate how well the PC games were sold over the years. Almost all PC games are sold digitally, and the gaming giant Valve dominates the market with its digital showcase, Steam.
For a brief moment, we really knew how many games Steam had sold. https://t.co/4mC1hXX6Hd pic.twitter.com/SdcHNdCvtS
– Polygon (@Polygon) July 6, 2018
Since 2015, Steam Spy website has provided sales numbers estimates when polling user profiles to determine what software titles users have. From there, the data was extrapolated to provide an approximate number of sales in any game. Unfortunately, this method became useless earlier this year, when Valve updated the privacy of the data and issued user data, most likely in response to the General Data Protection Requirements of the European Union (GDPR).
However, as reported by programmer and game designer Tyler Glaiel found a new method to estimate sales numbers by tracking the performance data of a game. By verifying the percentage of users who unlocked certain achievements, Glaiel was able to reverse the sales figures.
Glaiel detailed this process in Media .
"This was raised with a development group I'm in, and it was quickly pointed out that if you get performance data through the steam API, you get 16 digits of accuracy instead! I set out to try to replicate the algorithm of barter.vg based on the description of it on your site, & # 39; Calculated by finding the lowest number of players that produces whole numbers of players for each achievement (percentage reached * all players). & # 39;  "So I made it work, with a simple brute force. He checked each possible whole sales number up to a limit, and multiplied it by the achievement percentages. None of them reached exactly an integer, so I had to set a threshold for what counts as a "whole number." It worked for most games with less than one million sales. "
Unfortunately, Valve has already cracked down on the Glaiel method." Earlier this week, the company began rounding the completion of achievements data to the nearest whole numbers, instead of showing 16 digits of accuracy. Without this additional information, Glaiel's method is no longer accurate.
Fortunately, he was able to compile a list of the 1,000 best-selling games, which he can see for himself in Ars Technica.
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