Today, Valve added new privacy options that let Steam users decide how they’re viewed by the community. One big side effect: people’s game libraries are now hidden by default, spelling the likely end of data-tracking monolith Steam Spy.
Steam Spy is a service that sweeps publicly viewable Steam profiles to estimate game sales and a boatload of other statistics across the entire platform. While it’s not always 100 percent on the money, it’s the closest thing people have to an accurate look behind Steam’s proprietary curtain. It’s been used by everyone from curious users to sites like Kotaku to developers trying to gain leverage on publishers. Founded by game developer Sergey Galyonkin in 2015 as an experiment, it’s now an institution.
Now it might be doomed. Because games owned by users are now hidden by default, it’s become prohibitively difficult for Steam Spy to estimate sales. “Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default and won’t be able to operate anymore,” Galyonkin said. Most of the new privacy settings don’t interfere with Steam Spy at all, but the new library default is a game-changer.
He added in an email to Kotaku that while it might be tempting to believe this was a targeted strike on Valve’s part (this is data they’d probably prefer to keep private, after all), he thinks Steam Spy’s unceremonious fate is more of a byproduct. “I’m not sure this was done to remove Steam Spy, seeing as they’ve also limited people’s ability to join their friends in their games,” he said. “This has far too many implications for Steam.” More privacy by default is, of course, a good thing, but it’s come at the cost of a service that thrived in Steam’s margins.
Responding to Twitter questions about Steam Spy’s future, Galyonkin further explained that opt-in data gathering won’t work for the types of estimates his site was doing, and he doubts he’ll be able to strike a deal with Valve to regain the level of data access he had before. He added that, if nothing else, he’ll keep an archive up, and he’s considering other estimation methods. They wouldn’t be as precise, but they’d be something.
Still, he’s not particularly optimistic at the moment.
“I don’t think there are any options unless Valve reverts this particular part of the update,” he told me.
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