As many of you know, there has been a change to the way Valve handles users’ libraries. What once was open information for anyone to view, is now private by default. The reasons and ethics of that change have been hotly debated. This article is not about that. Instead, I’m doing what may be my last roundup of statistical data for 4X games. I’ll be presenting ownership rates through the first quarter of 2018. Normally, I do this sort of article in January, but as it is very unlikely that Valve reverses its stance on users’ libraries any time soon, so I decided to present this to you now.
Estimated Owners Charts:
Obviously this methodology is unfair to the 2018 titles, but we’ll start there anyway. Unlike previous years, this year’s chart includes titles that were in some type of early access or beta test program on Steam. 2018 was looking to be an intriguing year at the very least with a number of diverse titles slated to launch. However, none of them were creating much buzz on our forums – not even Warhammer 40k Gladius or Thea 2: The Shattering. I find that somewhat surprising.
Please note, the numbers for 2018 are so tiny that they are very unreliable. I wouldn’t put much faith in any of them. About the only thing we can glean from them is Space Tyrant (the only title that actually launched in the first quarter) was met with a mild response. Word of mouth is spreading, but not enough to ramp up the game’s ownership to levels we would expect for such a well-executed game. Perhaps Space 4X fatigue has set in harder than even I imagined.
I was really looking forward to analyzing how Three Kingdoms: The Last Warlord performed relative to the other titles in 2018. It’s being developed in China primarily for a Chinese audience though an English version is available. It would have been fascinating to watch how it faired vs. games developed by Western companies. At the time Valve turned off the data, TK:TLW was doing quite nicely in early access. I certainly think there is a market for 4X games set in China, as Oriental Empires proved last year. Alas, I’ll have to resort to comparing the player base of TK:TLW’s using steamcharts.com in order to get some idea of its market penetration.
Of all the 2018 titles listed, Predestination has been in development the longest. Yet, it only accumulated around six thousand owners in all that time. Predestination had a chance to really affect the market – if it could have come out in 2012 when it was Kickstarted. However, I think most of the interest in this title has waned, and even a full launch is unlikely to rescue it. So much has changed in the last six years. Today’s market is nothing like the hopeful one that existed half a decade ago. The 4X garden has become overgrown and looks like it’s choking out any new sprouts.
The 2017 titles had an extremely tepid first quarter in 2018. Endless Space 2 was the most successful with roughly 70k new games sold in the first three full months. That puts it on pace to double its year-over-year ownership base, which isn’t bad at all. It is lagging somewhat behind its sibling Endless Legend at this point in EL’s lifespan, but still, almost 400k is a respectable number.
All of the other seven titles except for Dawn of Andromeda showed some growth; however, they could only muster about 21k new owners in three months combined. That doesn’t seem like it would be a sustainable number for many of those studios. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most if not all those sales came during price promotions or in game bundles. It would appear that going forward 2017 will end up being the second worst performing year since I started tracking ownership data back in 2015.
The top games from 4X’s best year (2016) in this data set kept on chugging, though. Civilization VI added around 600k new owners in just three months! That’s astounding. Stellaris added around 200k and maybe would have been higher if version 2.0 had a better launch. Yet, other than those two, not much else happened for games from 2016. Only Planar Conquest, Last Days of Old Earth, and Stellar Monarch showed any growth and the increase is so small, one might as well chalk it up to a rounding error. The imbalance of owners concentrated in the top games of 2016 has only increased as time has gone on.
Similarly, 2015 games showed almost no growth at all in the first three months of 2018. Only Worlds of Magic and Apollo4X increased, and again that might just as well be related to algorithmic variance than actual sales. I will see someone post on the WoM forums every now and then, but A4X has been a dead game almost since it launched. Galactic Civilizations 3 did not seem to get much of a bump from Intrigue prior to the data blackout. It’s probably too early to make a judgement on Intrigue’s impact, but it doesn’t seem to be motivating new owners the way Crusade did.
2014 has had slightly more success. Endless Legend added about 30k owners, which is very nice for a game going on its fourth year. Age of Wonders 3 also garnered about 30k new owners in the first quarter. Triumph should be pleased, and I’m sure AoW3’s performance bodes well for their new project. EL and AoW3 have demonstrated great strength over the last five years and the fact they are still adding thousands of new owners each month is a testament to their quality. If you haven’t gotten those games yet, you should really consider picking them up during the next sale. Pandora: First Contact, Lords of the Black Sun, and Horizon all registered small growth. That might just be variance once again, but at least those games aren’t standing still like most of the titles from 2015 and 2016.
The main thing I take away from the first three months of 2018 is that the 4X Renaissance could well be over. Increases in ownership crawled to a halt for everything but the best-selling titles. Even GalCiv3 failed to register a new high on SteamSpy before the data spigot was closed. That is a very bad sign for the dozen or so 4X games that we know are in development. Perhaps Gladius, Thea 2, or Interstellar Space: Genesis would have rescued the genre this year, but there’s no way to know. I’m dubious whether they could despite the fact that all three look like good quality games that I’m personally looking forward to.
If I had to bottom line this for you, 2018 looks like the tail end of a very good run for our beloved genre. We have one good historical title (Civ6) three great fantasy titles (EL, AoW3, and Thea), and four solid space titles (Stellaris, GalCiv3, ES2, and Master of Orion). Without taking a new direction or bringing some revolutionary gameplay to the table, I don’t see any new titles being able to break through all those gatekeepers. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Valve is hiding the data. Now we won’t have to witness the carnage first hand.
Links to previous Statistical Analysis Articles