Monday , February 19 2018

What the Hell Happened to the Steam Hardware Survey?


For years, Valve has consistently published a monthly update on which systems and components its users own. It’s never been a perfect metric. It only captures computers that log into the service over a period of time, it isn’t always updated promptly when AMD or Nvidia launch new GPUs, and it doesn’t always detect GPUs correctly. It’s also not unusual to see Steam reporting a relatively high percentage of “Other” GPUs. Despite these issues, it remains the best publicly available metric for what gamers and enthusiasts are buying–or at least, it was.

Over the last 4-6 weeks, Steam’s reported metrics for virtually every major component classification have radically changed. You can see the current report for October here, but we’ve graphed the changes out to make them easier to parse. The slideshow below steps through four major areas where Steam’s rankings have radically changed and presents historic data to back up that argument.


We’ve split our VR market share out from the other slideshow because we need to talk about this one a bit more. We’ve been following the VR market growth through Steam for over a year. In the past two months, Steam has completely reversed itself on VR usage and in ways that make no sense.


This graph shows data presented by hundredths of percent, meaning the “1” at the top of the y-axis should be considered 1%. For a year, Steam appeared to move more-or-less as one would expect, with VR adoption jumping sharply, holding fairly steady for much of 2017, but with Oculus’ market share rising again over the summer, thanks to an excellent sale. Now, according to Valve, VR usage has plunged on both platforms, despite the fact that both ran massive summer sales to drive product into customer hands.

Why We Think The SHS is Broken

There are three possibilities in play here. One, the SHS is terribly broken. Two, the SHS was terribly broken and has just been corrected. Three, the SHS’s data processing and aggregation are being processed by a mentally deficient giraffe on an old VAX terminal. We’re leaning towards #1 and/or #3.

These new results ask us to throw out everything else we know about the PC market. OEMs have not sold hundreds of millions of systems over and above quarterly projections to transform the market so quickly. The bulk of Intel laptops on the market are still dual-core + Hyper-Threading; the 8th generation family has launched and is definitely in-market, but customers would have to replacing hardware at a ferocious pace to show such dramatic changes so quickly — and nothing we’ve heard from any of the analysts that track this for a living show any such changes.

It’s possible that these changes are the results of a mammoth correction in the previous data set, but this only raises more questions: Why was the previous data set so cataclysmically wrong? What did Valve change that suddenly and properly corrected for huge swings in company market share? How did Valve miss Windows 10 adoption rates by a factor of two? Or ovestimate AMD’s market share in both CPUs and GPUs by the same factor? It’s not like finding out which CPU a person has is some kind of arcane art, and AMD’s share of the enthusiast market has bounced around the 20% mark for years.


Click to enlarge.

Does anyone believe that the market for GTX 750 Ti and GTX 960 cards literally just doubled last month? No? Then why does Steam think it did?

Valve needs to explain this situation. If it doesn’t, we won’t be referring to the SHS for anything any longer. It was always an imperfect data set, but now it’s downright worthless.

Now read: The Best Free PC Games

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