If you look at peak concurrent player numbers on Steam over a year’s time, you can usually see clearly where the weekends fall: they’re the peaks in a regular sawtooth pattern that shows higher traffic on Saturday and Sunday and lower traffic throughout the work week. Thanks to pandemic-related lockdowns and work-from-home measures, that pattern has largely disappeared for Valve’s platform.
Pavel Djundik, the creator of SteamDB, pointed out this smoothing of Steam concurrent player peaks in an October 6 tweet. He clipped an image of the graph showing lifetime concurrent players on Steam over a year, which begins with that predictable sawtooth pattern of weekdays and weekends. In mid-March, the pattern changes: there’s a major surge to more than 20 million active users, which stays fairly stable day-to-day, gradually tapering off through August and then ticking up again as it moves through September and into October.
Steam has been seeing a significant increase in daily active users, which is a trend we took notice of near the beginning of the year. In early February the platform hit an all-time high of 18 million active users – a record it went on to break almost every weekend that followed until passing 20 million by March 15.
At that point, it seems the distinction between weekends and weekdays largely disappears. The number of active users doesn’t noticeably increase on weekends any more, because there are so many players connected throughout the rest of the week.
It's interesting how overall weekend peaks on Steam disappeared once lockdowns started happening in March. pic.twitter.com/ffMuGZnrWy
— Pavel Djundik (@thexpaw) October 6, 2020
Interestingly, that doesn’t necessarily translate into more active users for games – many of which still see the same weekend spike in their concurrent player counts. Kevin Simmons, a developer who works with West of Loathing studio Asymmetric, posted a graph of daily user peaks that shows an overall increase when pandemic lockdowns went into effect and… basically chaos after that.
In addition to our day/night cycles, there’s also (normally) weekday/weekend cycles. But check out this concurrent player graph: pic.twitter.com/FG2JkXdRM7
— Kevin Simmons (@puzzletheory) August 25, 2020
The simple explanation may be that with many more people working from home PCs during the pandemic, there are naturally many more Steam clients humming quietly in the background, which boosts Steam’s overall connected user totals significantly more than it does for individual games, which only count players who have that game up and running.
From the perspective of Valve and game developers, more traffic on Steam is good – but game developers themselves may have a more difficult time ahead trying to forecast how much activity they can expect for their games – particularly when lockdown restrictions loosen further and more people return to their normal workplaces.