State of the Strategy Games Market
2016 Strategy Games
How exactly are Strategy Games doing? How many people are actually playing these games, right now? This very moment? Steamspy and SteamDB both offer us some unique insights. All in all, it’s pretty good. Plus we’ll look at some of last years titles, and then on to the niche of niches, Grognard games! Yes, people actually play them! (Just not many)
We’ll be looking specifically at how many people are actually playing these games every day. For some games we can actually see how many people own them, however other developers have chosen to have this information hidden so it’s not fair to compare as a metric.
All tables come from SteamDB.com which are derived from Steam’s API.
As a comparison here’s the stats on some popular mainstream games. We’ll use the PCU metric, or Peak Concurrent Users. Or, how many people are playing right now.
DOTA : 920,000
CS GO : 549,000
GTA V : 68,000
Civ V : 45,902
MAX Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 67,000
The newest Total War is without a doubt a pretty awesome game. In the opening days it hit a PCU of 117,000. Not too shabby! Take a good engine and add a great property and this is what you get. As our opening AAA title, this thing is looking tougher than a rampaging ogre. The slope downward is probably pretty normal, it’ll be interesting to see where it settles before any new DLC comes out.
MAX Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 641
Wargaming.nets foray into the mixed and muddled world of 4X isn’t off to a stellar start. Sure it’s still in Early Access but the receipt by others (and myself) is pretty lukewarm. The earlier MOO games definitely over shadow what feels like a clone from a by gone era. Hopefully Wargaming can turn this starship around and polish it into something great.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 21,633
Stellaris was released just over a month after MOO and it entered a pretty packed world of 4X games. Yet almost immediately it showed that you can work in a thematic setting without getting trapped by the mechanics of everyone else. I’m not even going to count all of the 4X games that were released in the last year that could have been cloned from one another. And none of them really did it right. Stellaris did. Take note developers, it’s possible to make something great without copying your neighbor.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 234
This is a game that deserves more love. The quirky economics domination simulator is unlike any other game on the list. Capitalism unrestrained. This is a game where I can see about how many people own it, or about 120,000. It’s a sharp drop between that and people playing. The mechanics and graphics draw you in, but something is missing. With regular updates hopefully we’ll see this one rise.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 87
Wow. I’m blown away by how far this title has dropped. For an RTS with stunning graphics and a unique command and control I expected it to be holding steady. To be honest I’m at a loss to explain where everyone has gone. Is it a fact that once the campaign is done the game is over? The first weeks looked good, then whammo, a week after release it was down to 200 people a day. As an interesting note, Homeworld Remastered is currently at a PCU of 500.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 7,500
Once again we see a bizarro game with no other peers lighting up the charts. Seriously, look at that, 7,500 peak for a game that simulates mass production. Is it a puzzle game? An economic game? A robotic dwarf fortress clone? Who knows, but man, people love it. Once again, a quality game that broke the mold, and look at it?
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 16
Mius Front is a game that I love to watch and hate to play. It’s beautiful, with realistic simulations of physcis and the painfulness of command. But this same realism coupled with an arcane control structure just keeps me from falling in love with it. It’s close, and I mean so close to being a really great game. It falls squarely into grognard land for now, and that means limited audience. Fortunately it’s not in grognard land for pricing. Pick it up if you see it on sale.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 6,250
Xcom 2 is holding a respectable spot but it’s slid down further than I think a title of this caliber should have. Compared to the first re-release this one fit better thematically. It’s fun to play the underdog! Now at times certain things got annoying, but the modding community has done a great job of keeping it fresh. Will a mod like LongWar come along and re-invigorate the title? I certainly hope so, it’s ripe for it! It’s also ripe for a Creative Assembly-esque remaster into a WH40k inquisitor game….
2015 Games – How are they holding up?
How about last years games? What’s a year do to a title. Does anyone even play this crap anymore?
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 15,200
Yes, people still play. From Finnish Developer Collosal Order (and published by Paradox) we have a game that slaughtered Simcity like it was a second rate character on Game of Thrones. They’ve followed the Paradox model of a solid core release followed by constant value added DLC’s. You can see the effects in the long term trend, after each DLC that PCU number climbs more and more.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 863
This cutesy cross between Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft is steadily growing despite a release date nearly a year ago. It’s still Early Access though, so one could expect more features to grow along with the product. Luckily this one hasn’t turned into a realm of vaporware.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 2,100
Another game in the same vein as Stonehearth with a much more robust PCU count. This game is decidedly darker than Stonehearth and that may be some of the appeal as the survival market drifts over. It’s a tough game when that first winter rolls through and you watch the starvation set in. Modding tools were added and that could be what’s keeping the content fresh.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 354
This hybrid war band builder / mercenary guild simulator is holding in a passable spot. There’s so much potential for this title to grow into so much more, but the interface is a bit clunky and it just doesn’t seem to work as well as X-Com 2. (They both use a similar movement and combat style) But I can feel it, this game is close, it’s got a good world, an interesting setting, it just needs a more intuitive squad builder and combat mechanic.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 5,000
Judging by the recent downtick in sales these guys need to release another DLC! Looking back at previous year for Attila we see a strong and steady DLC release that keeps the PCU around 8,000 to 10,000. Have the resources shifted onto other titles like TW : Warhammer? Hard to say, but this game still shows some strong numbers for what’s basically an ancient warfare simulator.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 1,645
Still holding fairly decently, GalCiv3 is stuck right in the middle of the pack. It’s not as bad as MOO, but not nearly as strong as Stellaris. This game felt like a graphical polish and re-release of Gal Civ 2. While it’s not a bad game, it doesn’t feel like it brought much new. Now it’s stuck firmly behind Stellaris and that’s going to be a tough nut to pass. But still, given the age, it’s holding pretty well.
I have a sweet spot for these games because they break the mold in so many ways. I can still lose myself in hours of gameplay followed up by just as many hours on Wikipedia figuring out who the Baron of Langoustine was and why he’s screwing up my game!
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 5,300
Over four years old. A single core game. Enough DLC to choke a medieval Spanish donkey. CK2 is still rolling strong for a game that is a mediveal violence and parental wrecking simulator. Not long ago I married my mentally deficient daughter to the mentally deficient Holy Roman Emperor. A generation later the empire was run by imbeciles and soon rioted into a patchwork of Germanic states. The ripples collapsed the Ottomans and eventually the Polish came to absorb it all into a crazy massive state. Me? I was stuck trying to keep my Barons happy. Damn you Concalve…
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 12,200
While not a direct successor to CK2, it follows along the same lines. Lead your nation to glory and success while pillaging the new world and avoiding the neighbors. A game unlike the normal Civ style, you have to work with cultures, a unique diplomacy system, and enough DLC to choke a mid 17th-century peasant. I still love getting lost making trade empires and watching the riches of the world slide through my fingers. I’m no expert at the game, and that makes it so much fun.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 889
The 2nd oldest of the Paradox titles, Victoria 2 snags a respectable daily user count. This game is going on six years and it shows it. It doesn’t have that same beautiful Clausewitz Engine that powers the modern Paradox titles. This game also feels the clunkiest, but maybe that’s just because the others are so smooth? I really would like to see a Vic 3, along with enough DLC to choke a steam locomotive…
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 1,150
This is the oldest Paradox title on the list, dating from 2009! Even at seven years old and with a very successful sequel out this game still draws in a strong crowd. It has a few bumps in the gameplay, and the system can feel clunky, but once you get into a game it’s really exciting to watch the world break into World War 2 and see how you can influence it, even as little old Finland. And, of course, enough DLC to choke a U-Boat.
Grognard Games – The Niche Strikes Back
Bring on the niche! So you like strategy games, but want more detail, more counters, more hexes? Then you my friend, are a grognard. Welcome to the world of outrageous pricing, graphics from 1994, and mechanics that are bad enough to make a Mensa member crap his pants. But still, they are fun, and if you’re into them, it’s hard to get the same satisfaction from Civ 5.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 46
About the only game on this list where your spouse will shout about how much money you spent on one game. At $79.99, it’s steep, but it’s also in a league of its own. Where else can you simulate the entirety of the Eastern Front right down to the squad level? Quite frankly I’m surprised as many people were playing this last Saturday! Though I guess I was one of those 46…
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 43
A very similar game in scope to War in the East, but not in scale. Instead DC:B makes a strong focus on the political in-fighting and favoritism that plagued the Wehrmacht. Want to watch a little train nazi throw a tantrum? This is your game. Except not your Panzer divisions are out of supply while Mr. Fancy Pants sulks in the corner.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 640
Grog lite, or as close to beer and hot wings as you can come in a grog game. Light on substance and simulation but really easy to access. The numbers show it too this game is nearly five years old and is still holding on to a solid spot.
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 64
A game in the same vein as War in the East. A juggernaut without peer that fills a very specific and detailed niche. If you really want to be the fleet commander for a mid 1980’s british naval ground patrolling around Iceland, well, this is your game. Tons of scenarios, tons of support, a very DEEP model, and a little brother game called Northern Inferno. (For $20 instead of the normal $80)
Max Peak Concurrent Users in the last 7 days : 8
Ahh, one of my favorite and it seems Steams least loved grog games. It’s a fine cold war invasion game that doubles as a nervous breakdown simulator. Where most games you are commander as god, in this game you have to give orders and watch painfully as some are done, and others are not. It feels realistic and the tension can be amazing. The game isn’t without flaws, and the bigger scenarios get really unwieldy. Hopefully later versions can build upon this tension and fix some of the other issues.
The Strategy Games market is strong and dominated by a few key players. It sure looks like the DLC for life model is helping games like CK2 and Total War keep afloat among a deluge of lower priced, and lower quality, games. Early Access is proving a good driver for some games, while others can hold strong as is. And, of course, my niche of choice, the grognard, is looking rather sickly. Is it a lack of ideas and resources or just arcane pricing followed up by sub-par gameplay to meet the needs of a few? Probably all of the above.
It’s really great to see Total War : Warhammer coming out of the gate strong and Stellaris still whooping it up. Later this year we’ve got Civ 6, right on the tail of an entirely new era of strategy games. It’s time for game developers to bring it up a notch, the competition is getting stiff even as the market is growing. I mean c’mon, look at Europa Universalis IV, if that game can go mainstream, any well designed game can.