You’re probably spending too much on Steam games

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

Does Steam have a high-value sweet spot?  Yes.  Yes, it does.

As my esteemed colleague Ash has delved deeper and deeper into the deep abyss of the gaming world, I’ve started to wonder: How does price affect gaming quality?

Is a $30 game more likely to make you happy with your playing experience than a $5 game, or less so than a AAA title at $59.99? While price does effect perceptions of value, is there a sweet spot where, if you look for games around that price, you’re more likely to encounter a game that has gotten positive reviews? 

To the math cave!



The question

Is there a price range where Steam ratings peak?  How does median positive score (aka gamer happiness) vary with price?


The short-short version

There isn’t all that much variance in expected happiness between games that cost $3 and those that cost $50.  Therefore, why, exactly, would you spend that much?

The sweet spot seems to be between about $8 and $14, where you can typically get a game that has high ratings for quite cheap.  Though there (again), the difference between that and higher-priced games is only minor. 

True dumpster dives, the $1 and $2 games, basically suck, as do non-discounted AAA games (the most common type of game listed $59.99). 


The results

All 8368 qualifying games in the dataset (>= 40 reviews) sorted into price buckets (rounded price, basically):

Individual games, in a big searchable dashboard


Quick takeaways:

  • Free games get a bump in perceived value because, you know, free!
  • True dumpster diving is probably a bad idea (sorry, Ash!).
  • Wait for AAA games to go on sale.

Gory methodological details

I wrote a short little bash shell script that pulled the list of every game currently (as of publication) on Steam (all 19,445 of them), along with price, platform, release date, positive review percentage, and number of reviews.

I then sorted the games into price buckets, rounding to the nearest $1 for games under $10, nearest $2 for games $10-$20, nearest $5 for games $20-40, and nearest $10 for games above that price.

Games over $70 were dropped, since there just weren’t enough of them to be meaningful, and almost all of them were bundles rather than single games, as were games with fewer than 40 reviews.

The final dataset:

  • n=8368
  • Only standalone games (no expansions or DLCs)
  • Steam’s current
    • There was no easy way to get price history for individual titles.
  • Only games with >=40 reviews, to ameliorate small sample size effects and reputation management shenanigans on behalf of the development team or other interested parties.
  • List current as of 1/26/2018

The dataset can basically be summed up as: “What are my options if I want to buy a Steam game right now?”


What’s next?

Maybe it’s time to look at some outliers. There are over 1000 free games on Steam right now, and they get a significant bump over games that cost even $0.99.  So, what makes a good free game? Other than, again, being free.

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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