Sun. Oct 2nd, 2022
Why Valve actually gets less than 30 percent of Steam game sales

Getty / Aurich Lawson

Ever since Epic began taking a 12 percent cut in sales revenue at its new Games Store, much attention has been focused on whether Steam’s baseline 30 percent cut in revenue is warranted. But a new analysis shows that sometimes Valve receives far less than that headline revenue percentage for some of the most popular games on Steam.

The reason for the discrepancy is Steam keys, which developers can generate at will to sell through non-Steam storefronts and brick-and-mortar retailers. While these key-based purchases are still redeemed through Steam and can take advantage of Steam’s suite of features, Valve doesn’t actually take a commission on sales that don’t take place directly through its own store.

Valve doesn’t directly disclose how much of a game’s sales come from keys versus direct Steam purchases. But as Twitter user @RobotBrush recently noticedthe steam store is doing publish the number of user reviews coming from Steam purchases versus “Other” key-based sources (a feature designed to prevent manipulation of key-based review).

Those review ratios may not exactly match overall purchase rates — perhaps key-based buyers offer reviews at significantly different rates than direct buyers, for example. Still, it’s the best publicly available estimate we have, especially when talking about multiple games. So on the ResetEra forums, user Nappael did just that, using a bit of coding to get the Steam vs non-Steam review ratios for the 100 most popular games on the service (as defined by Steam Spy and a supporting API) .

The results (for non-free-to-play titles) show that “on average, 72 percent of games are purchased through Steam, while 28 percent are purchased through third parties.” And while that range can vary widely for individual games, the vast majority (80 percent) register between 50 and 80 percent of their ratings through direct Steam sales (you can check out the raw numbers by game in this Google doc).

When the revenue that Valve lacks from these Steam keys is removed, the company’s average cut in these popular games hovers around 20 percent of all sales revenue instead of 30 percent (varying non-Steam sales prices complicate this calculation a bit, although Valve requires key-based retail prices that are similar to those offered on Steam itself). That’s all before you consider Valve’s decision in December to cut the revenue drop by five to ten percent for games that start when they hit $10 million in revenue.

Also keep in mind that Valve incurs a lot of expense for these Steam key sales. In addition to the bandwidth costs for downloading games and updates, key-based sales still have access to the same online lobbies, achievement and leaderboard systems, Steam Workshop inventory management, Steam server APIs, anti-cheat services, and everything else that comes with it. at the Steam. Epic, on the other hand, offers very few of these services in exchange for the 12 percent discount on the Games Store (although the company does have a roadmap to roll out many similar features in the coming months).

In addition, it’s worth noting that while Valve often takes less than 30 percent, it doesn’t mean that publishers necessarily Lake than 70 percent of their revenue by using Steam keys. Those keys are often sold on other platforms that take their own share, which is sometimes the same as Steam’s (although platforms like and Humble Bundle generally cost a lot less). Steam also puts some limits on key generation to prevent developers from essentially piggybacking on Steam’s services while exclusively sell games directly to consumers elsewhere.

None of this necessarily means that Steam’s 30 percent cut in direct game sales is warranted, or that Valve couldn’t afford to cut its rates. But next time you hear about Valve’s 30 percent cut in headline revenue, keep in mind that the functional share of the total revenue that the company receives is probably a lot lower.

By akfire1

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