2015 End of Year Statistical eXamination

eXplorminate is a 4X-centric strategy site dedicated to promoting and understanding the 4X genre. As part of that mission, I’d like to begin a new tradition at the site. At the end of each year, I’m going to publish a few vital statistics for all the new 4X and 4X-lite games that were released that year. The aim of this article series is to provoke discussion in our forums and hopefully, after a few years, allow us to examine some trends and draw conclusions from those trends that can inform various aspects of game publishing such as design, crowdfunding, marketing, and so on.

The four areas I want to eXamine are numbers of copies sold on Steam, All-Time Peak Concurrent Players on Steam, Peak Monthly Average of Concurrent Players on Steam, and Crowdfunding Success. Links to my sources will be provided.

01 GalCiv

Copies Sold

There are a number of obstacles when it comes to measuring sales. Up until this year, there was no publically available data on game ownership at all, but thankfully a source tracking game ownership on Steam came online this year. 2015 sales figures for games are estimated using the peak ownership level according to SteamSpy.com. Thanks to some very generous developers, we are able to compare internal and verifiable sales data with data from SteamSpy. Based on data from multiple companies both large and small, it is our conclusion that the peak owners statistic on SteamSpy most closely correlates to actual sales. Because of non-disclosure agreements we have with several game companies, we will not publish their actual sales data, thus our reasoning for using peak SteamSpy ownership for the purposes of this article. Keep in mind these are estimates only and that SteamSpy has a not-insignificant margin for error, and I am going to sidestep issues regarding when a game was launched, early access sales, presales, and the like. I am focussed merely on quantitative data, not qualitative judgements.

Title Estimated Copies Sold
Galactic Civilizations III 204529
StarDrive 2 58879
Star Ruler 2 35298
Thea: The Awakening 31608
Sorcerer King 24844
Worlds of Magic 16526
Arcane Sorcery 4114
Galactic Inheritors 3353
Apollo4X 1683
Total: 380834

02 Stardrive

Peak Concurrent Players

Here we measure the most players who were playing our selection of 4X games at a single time. The record for most concurrent players will be calculated using SteamCharts.com. SteamCharts gets its data directly from Steam.

Title Peak Players
Galactic Civilizations III 6225
StarDrive 2 3571
Thea: The Awakening 1691
Sorcerer King 499
Star Ruler 2 360
Worlds of Magic 202
Arcane Sorcery 90
Galactic Inheritors 17
Apollo4X 13

03 Starruler

Peak Monthly Average of Concurrent Players

This data set measures the average number of players that were concurrently playing a particular game at any given time over the course of a month. As with the above category, our data comes from SteamCharts.com.

Title Peak Average
Galactic Civilizations III 1895
StarDrive 2 974
Thea: The Awakening 403
Sorcerer King 129
Star Ruler 2 97
Worlds of Magic 54
Arcane Sorcery 9
Galactic Inheritors 2
Apollo4X 1

04 Thea


Data for this section comes from Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go. If you know of a crowdfunding revenue stream that any of the below games employed other than those two, please contact us via Steam or post in the comments section.

Title Crowdfunding
Galactic Civilizations III No Campaign
StarDrive 2 No Campaign
Thea: The Awakening 2 Failed
Star Ruler 2 No Campaign
Sorcerer King No Campaign
Worlds of Magic 2 Successful
Arcane Sorcery No Campaign
Apollo4X No Campaign
Galactic Inheritors No Campaign

05 Sorcererking

I will not be doing any editorializing of these statistics in this article. They are here only to provoke discussion in our message boards and for future reference. I plan on producing one like this every year. Ideally, in the future, we will be able to look back at this article series and draw some conclusions from what we discover.

13 replies »

  1. Other than pointing out the obvious that GC3 sold the most I will note that even though Star Ruler 2 was 3rd in sales, it doesn’t seem to have that many players.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Galactic Civilizations is the elephant in the room in every chart, really. If the word “outlier” hadn’t been invented yet, it would be now.

    But Thea, the Awakening is the clear winner here. And the testimony for a team belief in their vision and how that belief was rewarded. A non standard strategy game that failed all its crowdfunding objectives got finished regardless. The rest is history: repeatedly in the top 10 at Steam and, as the charts show, played by a number of people well within the average number for strategy games.

    Gal Civ III may have the numbers. But Thea got to the heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Troy … I’d love to see a just a little more objective data analysis. For example, look at when games were first available for preorder or EA. Some games (e.g. StarDrive 2) were released earlier in 2015, and others (e.g. Thea) much later. Given the amount of time both games have been out, as a monthly sales average I’m guessing Thea is selling better.

    – StarDrive 2 (April 2015 release, 9 months, 6542 sales/month)
    – Thea (November 2015, 2 months,15,804 sales/month)

    Of course we can’t really compare these because they haven’t been out for a similar length of time and surely there is a declining curve in how the sales work. StarDrive probably made the majority of its sales in the first 2-3 months as well.

    Really, we need to decide on games we want to track and pull the stats on a monthly basis so we can compare similar time extents (e.g. first year of sales/activity post-release).

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re comparing games, which is really not what I want to do with this data. I want to compare years. And the problems with SteamSpy go deeper than you know. How do we count game keys that are handed out to users as the result of a Kickstarter? The “sale” may have taken place YEARS before the Steam Key is ever generated and it can involve thousands of copies. How could we verify which are rewards and which are new sales? Especially since we don’t know how many backers claimed their reward. Also, what about keys that are bought as gifts? Those are not counted by SteamSpy because they are registered under a user’s Gift profile. SteamSpy only scrapes Libraries. Not only that, SteamSpy can only scrape the Libraries of public profiles, so anyone who keeps their profile private cannot be counted. Also, there are people out there that will try to scam keys in one way or another and resell them on the Grey Market. How can we account for those? Not only that, SteamSpy didn’t get started until the spring of 2015. There’s no way to account for data from 2014.

      The difficulties in using SteamSpy data as a precise measurement are already well known and well accepted. The reason I didn’t offer any qualifiers for the data is because the data gathering process is already so apparently problematic, but it is equally problematic for each game. There are a dozen different variables that make using SteamSpy’s numbers as an accurate account of a game’s sales very difficult. So I don’t think we should even try. In fact, I think doing so would be a fool’s errand. These numbers are only meant to be used to give a general impression on how a game did in a given year. And more importantly, I think it will give us good impressions on how the 4X genre as a whole preforms year to year with regards to new releases.

      I don’t think measuring games in sales/month is all that helpful either. For instance, StarDrive 2 hit 50k sales in the first three months and then plateaued. It’s numbers for the first two months would be very comparable to Thea’s, so if we reported it as you suggest, I think that would be very misleading and not all that useful since a game’s sales always trail off more and more the longer it is on the market as you said.

      Finally, the swings in data for SteamSpy can be so wild month to month, that I don’t think tracking them that way would give anyone a clear picture at all. It’s too short of an interval, IMHO. However, if you sign up for an account on SteamSpy (they’re free), they have a way for you to track any number of games you want. So if doing a monthly tracking of a particular set of games is something that interests you, I believe the resources for you to do that are already easily available.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I think a useful additional metric is development team size. Some of these games were developed on a shoestring budget, so selling even 10,000 copies is already respectable for that scale, while others could be losing money at much higher unit sales. Given 4X is niche, and the proliferation of crowd funding, we need to keep in mind how sustainable these efforts are and this is one metric that helps.


    • That can be difficult to measure too. Some studios higher on temporary workers for the project then lay them off afterwards. A number of them outsource various aspects of the game. Other companies have multiple people working on multiple projects simultaneously and honestly couldn’t give us an accurate count on how many worked on a game. Plus, there are some companies that don’t wish to divulge the size of their workforce.

      I do see what you’re saying though, and for the companies where that data is available, measuring the income-to-staff-size ratio would be a fascinating topic for discussion.



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