Thursday, December 19, 2013

How do you prepare for steam sales? Here's how I do it



I'm looking forward to hearing from people to see how they prepare for steam sales.  Do you just buy all the games?  Only games under a certain price?

Here's how I prepare.
  TL;DR - I use a bunch of tools I wrote to save my wallet.

In preparation for the upcoming Winter steam sale, I gathered my thoughts on how to make the best of it. Here they are, looking forward to hearing your guys' thoughts and tips on how to make the most of the upcoming steam sales!
First things first, figure out how much you want to spend. I'll be using the Steam wallet to control how much I spend. I buy a set of amount of Steam credits to start the sale. Usually it's less than I plan to spend overall, but it gives me a goal to stay within. Then during the sale if I run out I buy another amount and try to stay within that.

Then, make a plan for what you want to get out of that money.
Choosing which games to buy and play is a complex personal decision. It involves past experiences with a franchise, developer, publisher or game Genre, preferences of the art style, controls, game mechanics, availability for your gaming system, available reviews and last but not least the cost. But even if the decision is ultimately a personal decision there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself and make the sale fun and rewarding.

Don't have a list of games you're interested in yet? Then you have some work to do! What kinda of gamer are you? What games do you tend to play a lot? Which games give you the best value? To answer these questions a buddy of mine and I started tracking all of our steam games in a spreadsheet. We tracked the name of the game, the cost we paid, the hours we played it and calculated the cost per hour we got from each game. After doing this for a few months we decided to build a site to do most of this for us. It's a work in progress and we're adding new features every few weeks, but it can help you answer these questions already. Here's what I did:
  1. Sign in: http://www.gaugepowered.com/
  2. Mark games you've finished as being finished.
  3. Fill out the costs for your entire library. It can be daunting if you own over 200 games, like I do. But it's well worth it. Focus on games you've finished, search your email records or use your steam account transactions to figure it out.
  4. Rate all of the games you have finished.
  5. Sort by the cost per hour column and go through and look at the games that gave you the best value looking for commonalities. Do you like open ended sandbox RPGs like the Elder Scrolls? Do you tend to play LAN CO-OP multiplayer Zombie Horde games with your buddies every Wednesday?
  6. Sort by the rating column and look at the commonalities in your highest rated games.
  7. While you're at it get a feel for the cost-per hour that is associated with games you liked vs those that you didn't like.
From this information, I've started to look for games in the following ways:
  1. My favourite gaming experiences lately have been with 3 friends and Left 4 Dead 2 or Killing Floor. I look for co-op LAN games on http://www.co-optimus.com/
  2. I look for at the highest rated games within the genres I like on steam: http://store.steampowered.com/search/?sort_by=Metascore&sort_order=DESC&genre=RPG&sort_by=Metascore&sort_order=DESC&page=1
  3. I look for the games with the most play time in a particular genre on gauge: http://www.gaugepowered.com/browse/?order=hours&genre=rpg
  4. I read the reviews for the game on http://www.metacritic.com/. This has helped me avoid bad console ports on steam.
  5. Wait for the steam sale thread on /r/games each day and read the redditor reviews which are invaluable.
For each game that I find that I'm interested in, I take into consideration many factors but perhaps the most important question I ask myself is: What is the price at which I'm certain I want to buy this game? The answer is different for each game. I take into account many things including how much I've enjoyed past games in the franchise. I paid far more for Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2 , and Saints Row the IV than I did for Left 4 Dead , Portal and Saints Row the Third as I knew I was going to enjoy the experience. I also take into account the cost per hour I'm likely to get from a game. My personal threshold is to wait until games are well under $1.00 / hr before I'm willing to shell out for them. I also wait until I've finished prequels - so I won't buy Skyrim until I finish Oblivion .

Once I have a good feeling for the price I want to get the game for, I add them to my Gauge watchlist. Now, you can add games to your steam wish-list and it will ostensibly notify you when they are on sale - but I've never had that work during the sale and it also notifies me for silly sales like %10 off. The Gauge watchlist allows you to associate a certain price or cost per hour with the watch and gauge will email you when it it reaches that. If you have your list completely set up you can sit back and relax during the sale. Gauge Powered will do most of the work for you.

During the sale, I review the daily sales and look for games that aren't on my watch list. If I'm interested and they are cheap enough - I buy them. If I'm interested but they're not cheap enough - I put them on my watchlist. I read the reviews in the /r/games and /r/patientgamers and /r/shouldibuythis game daily sale thread and from those reviews I modify my notification thresholds or buy the game.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Feature: Launch games from your Playlist

We've updated the Playlist page to include a "Play" button next to each game that will launch it through Steam. Hopefully this will make the Playlist page more useful for finding games in your Library that you want to play next.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Feature: Insights into your Library

We've been working hard on a new Insights tool and we're happy to announce that we've launched a Beta version that everyone can start using immediately. You can find the tool under the "Insights" tab in the header navigation on Gauge.

Designed to help gamers learn more about their playing and buying habits, the Insights tool presents an interactive graphical representation of the data from your Library page. By exploring the tool, you can discover trends into which kinds of games you play and buy most.

We've leveraged the amazing D3 Library to present your data using some great looking and interactive visualizations. One of the most common requests we get is for more charts / graphs on the site and we hope this tool will satisfy that need.

As an added bonus, we've also hooked the Insights tool into your friend list! Compare your insights with your friends to see who spends the most on cheap games or who plays games the longest.

Here is an example of the tool in action on my Library:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Library Sharing & Better Filtering

We're releasing two new features today on Gauge:

  1. We've added the ability to invite your friends to compare Libraries! Get two-way read-only access to your friend's Library to compare your data to theirs. Look for the invite interface on the Library page.
  2. A much better filtering interface for the Library and Playlist pages. It's now possible to combine multiple filters to drill down into your data more effectively.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Feature Release

We've got a few new exciting features that have just been released:

  1. You can now add e-mail addresses to your profile to receive notifications when games on your Watchlist have their limits satisfied. Look for the Profile Settings link in the drop down menu.
  2. We've added a new Playlist feature which works with the finished flag in the Library. The Playlist displays unfinished games and the community estimates for rating and hours. It's designed to help decided what to play next.
  3. Your Library can now be filtered by Genre, Rating, and Finished.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tech Tourist

Last week I found myself with some free time in San Francisco, and decided to be a 'tech tourist' for Gauge. It was astounding the number of meet-ups and entrepreneurial sessions I was able to attend with just a little planning, and the amount of valuable knowledge and connections I was able to amass in just a couple of days. San Francisco is an oscillating and inspiring wonderland for tech entrepreneurs!

During a chance encounter with Danny Maaco, I was invited to attend that evening's YetiZen networking event. Coming from Calgary, this co-work space, accelerator, and innovation lab for the vibrant San Fran gaming community was mind blowing for both the scope of activities and the support provided.

I was lucky enough to have conversations with CEO Sana Choudary, Chief Creative Officer Japheth Dillman, Event Coordinator Gordon Lai, super mentors Danny Maaco and Ian McGee, and a number of attendees. I pitched the concept of Gauge's 'Analytics For Gamers', and received lots of challenging and constructive feedback.

Sana Choudary specifically challenged me to think about Gauge from a sustainable business perspective and outlined a constructive model. Gauge creates tools for a very large and active Steam community, 50 million strong and growing. But only a percentage of this group, our Total Market, will ever become aware of Gauge and our tools for gamer analytics. 30 percent of this group will 'get it' and use it regularly. And 10 percent of that group might support Gauge with cash, over time. Using these metrics, our key business success factor at startup is to determine the realistic size of the Gauge Total Market, the total cost to engage with and educate these users, and the potential revenue we could generate to offset costs at this early stage.

We've loved building Gauge, and it's a tool that we'll continue to use. But it is important to figure out if it can be a real and sustainable business. Can we reach enough people that believe in the concept of Analytics For Gamers to allow us to keep developing and growing the Gauge toolset?

Because if we can make it happen, that would be a whole new, and very cool, ball game!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Analytics FOR Gamers

I've been thinking a lot about the marketing of Gauge recently, and identifying the value we intend to provide for the gaming community. For me it boils down to our team's basic goal of helping gamers make more informed buying decisions.

A key component of Gauge is the twist we want to apply to the concept of Consumer Analytics (CA).

CA often involves businesses measuring the consumer habits of their target audiences, collecting and analyzing the data, then building products and crafting messages to sell to their consumers more effectively. We want to shift the equation in the consumers favour:
  1. Gauge first collects data on the game playing habits of Steam users, based on numbers made publicly available by Steam
  2. Gauge introduces basic analysis tools, and makes the data and tools available to individual Steam consumers
  3. We invite gamers to analyze their own data, and compare it to the larger Steam community
  4. The goal is to help individual gamers to make more informed purchasing decisions, based on real and relevant numbers
I think it's a very important distinction. Gauge is collecting data and creating tools FOR consumers, not to use ON consumers.

Internally, we're calling Gauge 'Analytics FOR Gamers'.

Now we're excited to see if other gamers have the same thirst for game purchasing data and analysis as we did when we built it!

Friday, September 13, 2013

New Features, courtesy of Reddit

This week we asked /r/Steam for feedback on Gauge. We got a lot of useful suggestions and positive feedback. We've reviewed the suggestions and we decided to implement a few requests. Specifically:

  1. We've added a finished flag to games in your Library. Along with being able to flag each game, there is a filter to display your Library with or without games that are flagged as finished.
  2. It is now possible to download a CSV export of your Library. Look for the link in the upper right of the page.
  3. We've swapped the Cost and Hour columns in your Library to match the $ / Hour column ordering. Additionally, the input field in the Cost column will now always have a tooltip which shows the current price of the game on Steam.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Feature Release

We've deployed some new features today, including:
  1. When adding a game to the watchlist, it is now possible to set a notification from the game details page. Clicking on the "Add to Watchlist" button will open a popup window that has the notification limit interface inside.
  2. There is a now a price filter on the browse and sales pages. Enter a dollar value to see all games that are priced for less. This is especially useful when you have some left over amount in your Steam wallet and you want to buy something with it.
  3. You can now enter percentages into the Watchlist notification limit. 25% is equal to 0.25 * base_price and -75% is equal to (1 - 0.75) * base_price.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Play time archetypes and why they matter.

Looking at the play time distributions for the games on Steam, it appears that there are two archetypes. An exponential distribution and a normal distribution. When evaluating a game, it is important to know which archetype it falls into so you can make better purchasing decisions.

Exponential Distribution: (Team Fortress 2, Skyrim, FTL: Faster Than Light, etc.)

Games that fall into this archetype are ones that can be played without a specific endpoint. Gamers can choose, based on their personal enjoyment of the game, when to stop playing. Making a value prediction for these games is difficult because of the wide range of play times. Many gamers wait to buy these types of games until the price drops to a point where they would be comfortable losing their money if they dislike the game.

Normal Distribution: (Metro: Last Light, Dishonored, Bioshock Infinite, etc.)

Higher priced, linear story games fall into this archetype. When people pay more for a game, it appears to be a motivator for completing a single play through. A linear story helps to group the distribution around a smaller range resulting in a distinctive hump near the average play time. The level of confidence in how long it will take to play through these games is much higher than the other archetype.

There are a few interesting observations regarding these archetypes:
  1. It appears that as a game ages, its distribution decays into an exponential distribution. This appears to be a factor of more gamers buying a game as the price is discounted and relying on their personal enjoyment to dictate when they should stop playing.
  2. You can have a greater level of confidence in the estimate for your expected play time when a game has a strong normal distribution, unfortunately this doesn't mean that you will enjoy the game.
  3. You can tell if there is a fanatical group of gamers that really love a game by looking at the range of the distribution. The longer the "long tail" is, the greater the fan base that really loves a game.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Beta is over. Premium features are on the way...

We've been using Gauge for a few months internally and we're ready to let the public sign in. If you have a Steam account, you can sign in today and start updating your library. Hopefully you'll find Gauge as useful as we have.

Coming soon will be our first premium feature: e-mail notifications for the watchlist. We're currently Beta testing and will be releasing in the next few weeks.  

After notifications have been released, we'll be focusing on our personalized prediction algorithm. Matching similar gamers together to make more accurate predictions about play time. Look for this premium feature in the next few months.