The math on Steam’s unplayed “shame” is way off, and there’s no reason to blame

Enlarge / Eliminate all the guilt you want PowerWash Simulatorbut there’s no need to feel dirty in the real world because of your pending work.

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Gaming news site PCGamesN has a web tool, SteamIDFinder, that can be a good trick. If you buy PC games on Steam and have your user profile set to make your game details public, you can enter your numerical user ID and see a bunch of stats. One set of statistics is dedicated to the total value of games listed as unplayed; You can share this page as an image with a link to your “Pile of Shame”, which includes the total “Value” of your Steam collection and unplayed games.

Example finds from SteamIDFinder, from someone who probably has hundreds of games from Humble Bundles and other offerings in their library.

Example finds from SteamIDFinder, from someone who probably has hundreds of games from Humble Bundles and other offerings in their library.

Steam ID Finder

Using data from what it claims is about 10 percent of the 73 million Steam accounts in its database set to Public, PCGamesN extrapolates $1.9 billion in unplayed games, multiplies it by 10, and casually suggests there’s $19 billion in millions in unplayed games hanging around. This is “more than the gross national product of Nicaragua, Niger, Chad or Mauritius,” the site notes.

This is about a very low “19 billion dollars.”

“Multiply by 10” is already a pretty simple science, but it’s worth delving deeper into the numbers. For starters, SteamIDFinder is using the current selling price of every game in its unplayed library, as confirmed by looking at half a dozen “Pile of Shame” profiles. An informal survey of Ars Technica coworkers and friends with notable Steam libraries suggests that games purchased at full price represent a small fraction of the games in our backlog. I think games purchased through bundles, like the Humble Bundle, or during one of Steam’s annual or one-time sales, are a big part of most people’s Steam catalogs.

Then there’s what counts as “Not Played.” Clicking on the filter tool next to my Steam library and choosing “Not Played” suggests that I have 54 titles out of a total of 173 that I have never opened. My own manual count of my library is closer to 45. Steam and I disagree on whether I’ve started and played Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition (I definitely did and I definitely felt overwhelmed), Mountain, and SteamWorld Excavation. And Steam definitely doesn’t count games you buy through Steam, modify in some way, and then launch directly through a Windows executable. I’m sure I’ve played a few TIE Fighter: Total Conversion, but not through Valve channels. An Ars editor played Half life 2 several times between 2004 and 2007, but Steam says they never played it because it didn’t start counting game hours until March 2009.

Even if they’re not dedicated tools, Steam libraries sometimes end up with little snippets of games you didn’t order and may never play, like Half-Life Deathmatch: Source. I have quite a few Star Wars games that I never plan on releasing, because they were part of a bundle that got me Jedi Knight and Outcast Jedi for cheaper than each game costs on its own.

What “shame” really looks like

Curious about what people’s arrears look like, I asked friends and coworkers to run their own numbers after checking them for errors and oddities. Here is the list from Ars:

  • Kevin Purdy: 173 games, 45 not played (26 percent)
  • Lee Hutchinson: 361 games, 109 not played (30 percent)
  • Benj Edwards: 404 games, 148 not played (36.6 percent)
  • Andrew Cunningham: 172 games, 79 not played (46 percent)

Friends who did a check ended up with 25 percent, 40 percent, and 52 percent. So no one I could easily survey had less than 25 percent of their games unplayed, and those with higher numbers tended to have purchased bundles, deals, add-ons, and other ticket generators. And no one thought its total dollar value made any sense, given the math of total price.

In 2014, Kyle Orland delved into Steam statistics. Among games released since Steam began tracking hour counts in March 2009, 26 percent had never been played at that time, while another 19 percent had only been played for an hour or less. That’s about 45 percent of the games that have been played over an essentially token period of time.

There’s also a much more important point to discuss here: you don’t have to feel “shame” about giving too much money to people who make games, especially smaller games, if you don’t want to. This applies to even broader interpretations of “Not Played”, such as checking one or two intro levels. Sometimes it’s worth playing a game for a while and deciding it’s not something you want to spend dozens more hours on, whether or not you ask for a refund. If you’ve looked up your own stats and are feeling surprised, you can keep your unplayed games as a dedicated collection on Steam, and it might inspire you to check out the most intriguing abandoned games. Or, like me, filter that list further by games that are Steam Deck verified and bring them on your next trip.

You can usually earn extra money easier than an extra life. No one is going to inherit your Steam library (probably), so it’s worthless anyway. Play what interests you when you have time, and if your unplayed count helps you avoid your worst impulse purchases or rediscover lost gems, so be it. There are interesting tricks, but no real math, no real shame.

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