Indie developers attribute mass wishlist deletions to Steam Summer Sale [Update]

Fans are misunderstanding the rules of a giveaway contest, which has left some indie developers feeling like Steam's latest sale has left them in the lurch.

Update #2 (6/28/19): After indie developers spoke out about mass wishlist deletions, Valve has opted to modify the language on the Grand Prix page, post on the Steam blog to let people know that wishlist deletions are unnecessary, and add a banner to the Wishlist page itself.

"To clarify one point: if your team makes it to the podium and you are randomly chosen to win something off your Steam Wishlist, then we’ll grant you the top item," the blog post says. "Just move your favorite item to the top of your wishlist and you should be good to go. There's no need to remove other items from your wishlist -- keep them there so you'll be notified when those items release or go on sale."

A banner that now appears atop Steam wishlists.
A banner that now appears atop Steam wishlists.

Valve has also updated the rules to explicitly state that only games available for sale will be awarded as prizes. While this combination of updates and notices may help prevent future wishlist deletions, for some developers, the damage is done. There is no guarantee that those who deleted games from their wishlists will add them back.

Valve has not responded to our request for comment.

Update #1 (6/27/19):  While we are still awaiting a response from our inquiry to Valve, the official Steam Twitter account shared a "PSA" for Steam users on Twitter. While this may stop the bleeding, damage has clearly already been done.

Original Story:

Wishlisting on Steam is important. There is a widely held belief that the more wishlists your game appears on, the better your chances of being surfaced through Steam’s algorithm-based discovery tools.

The Steam Summer Sale is causing some headaches for developers of less expensive games, some of whom are reporting mass wishlist deletions since the sale started on Tuesday, June 25. This year’s summer festival includes a new Steam meta-game called the Steam Grand Prix.

Players can choose to join one of five teams competing for prizes. By purchasing new games and playing titles already in their libraries, Grand Prix participants can earn boosts to help their team speed ahead of the competition. Valve has incentivized this whole gamification of game purchasing with a giveaway structure.

“Drivers from the top three finishers on a given day will be selected at random to receive the top ranked item from their Steam Wishlist,” the Steam Grand Prix rules state. “300 drivers for first place, 200 drivers for second place and 100 drivers for third place. Be sure to rank the titles in your wishlist, and add any new ones you’re interested in. 

“At the end of the entire Grand Prix we will award 1,000 random drivers from the first place team the top three ranked games on their wishlist. For second place, we will award 1,000 random drivers the top two ranked games on their wishlist. For third place, will award 1,000 random drivers the top ranked game on their wishlist.”

Steam customers seem to be misunderstanding how the Grand Prix prizing works. If selected as a winner, Grand Prix participants win the game at the top of their wishlist. This is entirely under the control of each Steam user. Instead, it seems many people assume that the game selected is randomly chosen from all titles on their wishlist. In order to get the most value from a potential win under this misunderstanding of the rules, users are deleting inexpensive games from their wishlist.

Developer Raymond Doerr, who created Rise to Ruin drew attention to the phenomenon on Twitter. 

His concern was echoed by Airships: Conquer the Skies developer David Stark, who shared data related to his game’s wishlist deletions. He noted that his deletes are outstripping sales by a multiple of four in this sale.

Wildfire developer Dan Hindes also chimed in with a graph of his own wishlist deletion data that covers the period before and after the sale’s start. To make matters worse for Hindes, Wildfire has not yet been released and it is not eligible for the giveaway.

“This is heartbreaking,” he wrote. “Wishlists play a huge part in potential store placement once you finally launch. We've put so much work into being so open and transparent with development to build that wishlist over years and it's melting away in a graph, for a sale.”

Bruno Laverny, communications officer for Dead in Vinland developer CCCP Games contacted GameDaily directly about the situation. He told us that CCCP typically sees 20 to 30 deletions per day. Since the start of the Steam Summer Sale, Dead in Vinland has been removed from 270 wishlists. Additionally, CCCP noticed that Steam sent significantly fewer notifications about the game’s discount than it typically does at the start of a sale.

“Usually, Steam sends about 70k notifications—since we have about 70k wishlists,” he told GameDaily via Twitter direct message. “However, for this sale, Steam sent only... 13k, which is quite big and depressing.”

While Steam’s verbiage around the giveaways seems plain when scrutinized, there is clearly a connection between the start of the sale and the wishlist deletions. Developers rely on these seasonal sales to reset the decay curve, incentivize discount purchases, and build community. Part of that is building and capitalizing on wishlists during storefront-wide sales. According to Laverny, Valve’s meta-game for this sale and the language around the giveaways have done the opposite and created alarm at CCCP. 

“We're hoping it won't continue for the rest of the week, or it could get quite bad,” he said. “It's quite scary, however, because this sale was a ‘new format’ by Steam. Hopefully, it won't be like that every time we have a sale. Even though the game came out last year, we still get nice sales during the Steam sales, so if we can't count on those sales anymore, it might be REALLY bad for us. Basically, we won't be able to sell many units after the release or patches. So yeah, if it's a ‘one time thing’, that's fine. But if we can't count on the sales anymore, then we'd need to rethink our entire marketing strategy.”

Valve did not respond to our request for comment by publication. We’ll update should we receive a response.

For more stories like this one delivered straight to your inbox, please subscribe to the GameDailyBiz Digest!

Michael Futter is the author of The GameDev Business Handbook, a guide for creating and sustaining an independent video game studio, and The GameDev Budgeting Handbook. He is also the former news editor of Game Informer and has written about business and legal issues and video game industry trends for eight years.

GameDaily Connect Sponsors
Partners