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Does Valve deserve Steam’s 30 percent cut? Many developers say no

The platform wars are heating up on PC

Steam logo on blue background Valve via Polygon

Organizers behind the Game Developers Conference released the results of their latest State of the Industry Survey, and the majority of the “nearly 4,000 game developers” questioned whether Valve is earning the 30 percent cut of revenue the company takes from games sold on Steam. Nearly a third of those developers said Steam doesn’t justify the cut it takes.

Note that GDC didn’t provide demographic information about the polling body, so we don’t know which types of developers were represented — whether they came from independent or bigger studios, for example.

Only six percent of the surveyed game developers said that they believe Steam earns its 30 percent cut, while 32 percent said that the digital storefront did not earn such a heavy cut of revenue. 27 percent replied “probably not,” with 17 percent answering “not sure/don’t know.” The full range of the results are shown below.

Game Developers Conference 2019

Valve may be concerned about these findings, especially after the launch of the Epic Games Store, which takes a much smaller cut of revenue from each game sold.

“Developers receive 88 percent of revenue,” Epic Games announced when it launched the store. “There are no tiers or thresholds. Epic takes 12 percent. And if you’re using Unreal Engine, Epic will cover the 5 percent engine royalty for sales on the Epic Games store, out of Epic’s 12 percent.”

Steam currently uses a tiered system to determine how much revenue it takes from developers and publishers. Valve takes 30 percent of revenue when a game launches, but now developers can keep an additional five percent of revenue if their games brings in over $10 million in sales through Steam.

Developers can earn then earn an additional five percent of revenue if a game brings in over $50 million in sales. This means that only the biggest games released on Steam will be able to keep 80 percent of their revenue, with the smaller games continuing to pay 30 percent to Valve.

While some developers may complain about Valve’s lack of attention to smaller games and the relatively high cut of revenue it keeps, Steam’s ubiquity among players may keep most developers from moving to another platform. 47 percent of the game developers included in the survey were selling their games on Steam, with 73 percent of respondents saying they earned 51 percent or more of their sales through Valve’s platform.

What this means for the industry — and you

These results seem like good news for everyone involved.

More competition among digital storefronts for PC games means that companies like Valve and Epic Games will be fighting for your time and attention, which often means lower prices and definitely means free games. The fact that developers have more options to keep a higher percentage of revenue means that the indie scene may become slightly more hospitable for smaller developers willing to take risks on new and interesting games.

Valve is in a position where it’s going to need to start treating players and developers better if it wants to stay on top, and that’s a positive change for a service that often felt like it was coasting on the back of its massive profits and arguably unearned saintly reputation among many vocal PC gamers.

Developers aren’t even necessarily saying that they’re not willing to give up 30 percent of their revenue; they’re saying that, in Steam’s current state, they don’t feel as though Valve is earning it. Valve needs to see this for what it is: an opportunity to learn, do better, and make both its developers and customers happier.

As long as it does that, Steam will have nothing to worry about.

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