Is the total value of unplayed Steam games really $19 billion? Probably not.


Person holding a Steam Deck and playing PowerWash Simulator
Enlarge / Blast away all the guilt you want in PowerWash Simulator, but there’s no need to feel dirty in the real world about your backlog.

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

Example findings from SteamIDFinder, from someone who likely has hundreds of games from Humble Bundles and other deals in their library.

Example findings from SteamIDFinder, from someone who likely has hundreds of games from Humble Bundles and other deals in their library.

SteamIDFinder

Using data from what it claims are the roughly 10 percent of 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 that there are $19 billion in unplayed games hanging around. That is “more than the gross national product of Nicaragua, Niger, Chad, or Mauritius,” the site notes.

That is a very loose “$19 billion”

“Multiply by 10” is already a pretty soft science, but the numbers are worth digging into further. For starters, SteamIDFinder is using the current sale price of every game in your unplayed library, as confirmed by looking at a half-dozen “Pile of Shame” profiles. An informal poll of Ars Technica co-workers and friends with notable Steam libraries suggests that games purchased at full price make up a tiny fraction of the games in our backlogs. Games acquired through package deals, 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, I’d reckon.

Then there’s what counts as “Unplayed.” Clicking on the filtering tool next to my Steam library and choosing “Unplayed” suggests that I have 54 titles out of 173 total that I have never cracked open. My own manual count of my library is closer to 45. Steam and I disagree on whether I’ve launched and played Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition (I definitely did and was definitely overwhelmed), Mountain, and SteamWorld Dig. And Steam is definitely not counting games that you buy through Steam, mod in some way, and then launch directly through a Windows executable. I’m certain I’ve played some TIE Fighter: Total Conversion, just not through Valve’s channels. One Ars editor played Half-Life 2 multiple times from 2004–2007, but Steam says they’ve never played it, because it didn’t start counting gameplay hours until March 2009.

Even if they’re not dedicated tools, Steam libraries sometimes end up with little bits of game that you didn’t ask for and might never play, like Half-Life Deathmatch: Source. I have quite a few Star Wars games that I never intend to launch, because they were part of a bundle that got me Jedi Knight and Jedi Outcast for cheaper than either game cost on its own.

What “shame” really looks like

Curious as to what people’s backlogs look like, I asked friends and co-workers to run their own numbers after checking them for errors and oddities. Here’s the Ars list:

  • Kevin Purdy: 173 games, 45 unplayed (26 percent)
  • Lee Hutchinson: 361 games, 109 unplayed (30 percent)
  • Benj Edwards: 404 games, 148 unplayed (36.6 percent)
  • Andrew Cunningham: 172 games, 79 unplayed (46 percent)

Friends who did a check ended up at 25 percent, 40 percent, and 52 percent. So nobody I could easily poll had fewer than 25 percent of their games unplayed, and those with higher numbers tended to have bought into bundles, sales, add-ons, and other entry generators. And nobody thought their dollar value total made any sense at all, given the full-price math.

Back in 2014, Kyle Orland went deep on Steam statistics. Among games released since Steam started tracking hour counts in March 2009, 26 percent had never been played at that point, while another 19 percent had only been played for an hour or less. That’s roughly 45 percent of games having been played for an essentially token amount of time.

There is a much larger point to argue here, too: You do not have to feel “shame” about giving too much money to people making games, especially smaller games, if you do not want to. This applies to even broader understandings of “Unplayed,” like checking out an intro level or two. Sometimes playing a game for a little bit and deciding it’s not something you want to put dozens more hours into is worth it, whether or not you go for the refund. If you’ve looked up your own stats and feel surprised, you can keep your unplayed games as a dedicated collection in Steam, and it might inspire you to check out the most intriguing left-behinds. Or, like me, filter that list further by the games that are Steam Deck Verified and bring them on your next trip.

You can usually make additional money more easily than additional life. Nobody is going to inherit your Steam library (probably), so it’s not really worth anything anyway. Play what interests you when you have the time, and if your unplayed count helps you stave off your worst sale impulse buys or rediscover lost gems, so be it. There are neat tricks, but there is no real math—and no real shame.



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