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Almost two-fifths of Steam’s entire library was released in 2016

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And we still have a month to go

Steam virtual reality games list photo
The newest VR-only titles on Steam as of Dec. 1, 2016.
Samit Sarkar/Polygon

If it seems like Steam’s list of new releases has been getting more and more cluttered lately, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. More than 4,200 games have been released on Valve’s digital distribution service so far in 2016, according to Steam Spy — a figure that represents a whopping 38 percent of the service’s entire gaming library.

Yesterday, Steam Spy tweeted a pie chart of Steam games organized by their year of release. Today is the first day of December, so the exact number of 2016 titles listed in the chart — 4,207 — doesn’t even include the last month of the year. We just checked Steam’s list of new releases, and as of this writing, 33 games arrived on the service today.

The percentage alone doesn’t tell you a lot, as indie developer Tony Gowland points out. But the actual number of games released in 2016 does represent a massive uptick over the number of new releases on Steam from just a few years ago. Let’s go back to the start of the decade:

  • 2010: 276 games
  • 2011: 283 (up 2.5 percent over the previous year)
  • 2012: 379 (up 33.9 percent)
  • 2013: 565 (up 49.1 percent)
  • 2014: 1,772 (up 213.6 percent)
  • 2015: 2,964 (up 67.3 percent)
  • 2016 (through Dec. 1): 4,240 (up 43 percent)

Here’s the chart itself, so you can take a look at a visual representation of the figures growing over time:

Steam game releases by year Steam Spy/Twitter

Sergey Galyonkin, the creator of Steam Spy, said that the calculation only takes newly released full games into account, not downloadable content. He confirmed to Polygon that he excluded nongaming content such as movies, which Steam began offering in 2012, and software applications, which debuted on the service in 2013. Galyonkin also noted that he left out games that are listed with no ownership data, although that figure only amounts to 100 or so titles.

So what’s going on here?

Looking at the numbers, it appears that the Steam-glut phenomenon originated in 2013. Over the preceding four years, from 2009-2012, an average of 323.5 games were released annually on the service. The figure jumped up to 565 in 2013, and the trickle turned into a deluge the following year, with 1,772 games launching in 2014 — more than triple the amount released in 2013.

The likely culprit for that explosion in new releases is Steam Early Access, which Valve launched in March 2013 following the mid-2012 debut of Steam Greenlight. The Early Access initiative allows game makers, primarily indie developers, to publish pre-release versions of their titles on Steam and get feedback — as well as revenue, of course — from players who are intrigued enough to invest in a promising but unfinished product.

This year’s even larger increase in new releases can be attributed partly to virtual reality. Valve currently classifies VR titles by three major headsets — Oculus VR’s Rift, Valve and HTC’s Vive, and Razer’s OSVR — all of which were released in 2016. We looked at Steam to figure out how many VR games launched this year.

Of the 4,240 games released so far this year, including today, 671 of them (15.8 percent) support a VR headset. More than three-fourths of those VR titles — 555 games, or 13.1 percent of all 2016 games thus far — require a VR headset. We should note that these percentages may not be completely accurate, since a few of the titles are listed without specific release dates, which means they haven’t actually launched.

Early Access and Greenlight continue to be popular avenues for developers to get their games on Steam, even if the process, as a Kotaku report from March characterized it, is “murky.” Yet Valve has received backlash for these initiatives, which, critics say, represent an abdication of responsibility on the company’s part to serve as more of a gatekeeper.

With the flood of games hitting Steam in recent years, Valve’s laissez-faire attitude has gotten the company in trouble when it comes to dealing with companies like Digital Homicide. The disreputable publisher released approximately a dozen shoddy titles on Steam, but Valve only took action against the company when its founders threatened Valve with a lawsuit over poor user reviews of Digital Homicide games.

So far, Valve seems to be focusing on improving discovery of games on Steam, rather than on addressing the underlying issue of curating the selection itself. Three weeks ago, the company redesigned the Steam Store’s front page to highlight its new policy of requiring developers to post actual screenshots of their games.