By the Numbers: Steam Leaving Consoles in the Dust

More than 130 million accounts by the end of 2016. That’s where Valve’s Steam is headed if it continues on its annual average growth rate of 25%, a number that would make it easily the biggest gaming platform in the world.

Valve doesn’t report sales numbers or revenue for Steam, but it typically shares account data annually. Gamasutra took a look at all of the info Valve has shared since 2007 and then plugged in some estimated figures to try to determine just how big Steam is and how much bigger it will be in the near future. The answer in a word: massive.

“What is particularly interesting to me, from a mathematical point of view, is that the data from 2007 through today, is almost exactly exponential, with a continuous annual growth rate of 25 percent. That works out to doubling in size every 36 months.”

Most recently, Valve reported 65 million Steam accounts, and that’s where Gamasutra gets its 130 million accounts number. If, over the next three years, Valve continues on its annual growth rate and doubles in size, it will surge past Sony’s reported 110 million Sony Entertainment Network accounts (which includes many non-gaming accounts) to become the undisputed No. 1 platform for gaming.

How does that data translate into cold, hard cash? That takes a great deal more speculating. Valve has never shared software sales numbers other than to say Steam has enjoyed 100% growth in “unit sales” annually except for that one down year in 2010 when unit sales were up 200%. (It’s worth noting, as Gamasutra points out, ‘unit sales’ likely include even the smallest of digital items sold, like a Team Fortress 2 hat. Valve launched its in-game Mann Co. Store in 2010, so that likely accounts for a big portion of that 200% unit sales growth.)

Gamasutra cautiously assumes 2 ‘unit sales’ per Steam account and even more cautiously $1 per unit sold to estimate Valve brought roughly $1 billion in 2011. And if growth continued at its average rate in 2012 and 2013, Steam is likely easily surpassing $2 billion in unit sales per year. To put that in perspective, in 2012, the NPD Group reported retail software sales for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and the various gaming handheld devices totaled $6.7 billion. Chop that figure up for each console and it’s quite possible Steam is already surpassing Sony and Microsoft when it comes to annual software sales.

With 2014 set to be the year Valve brings Steam into the living room with Steam Machines, there may soon be no doubt Steam is the world’s biggest platform for gaming.

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