The recently-concluded 2016 Steam Summer Sale was the first summer sale to not offer daily deals or flash sales. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Sergey Galyonkin of SteamSpy says it was a significantly greater success than its 2015 predecessor.
SteamSpy extrapolates data from a limited sample of user profiles, so there is a margin of error associated with these estimates. According to Galyonkin, though, about 36.8 million copies of games were sold during the 2016 Summer Sale, compared to 33 million sold in 2015. That's no doubt accounted for at least in part by the dramatic increase in Steam users at the time of each sale—175 million, up from 130 million last year—but he also claims that “a significant chunk of these new users are coming for the free-to-play titles published on Steam and, therefore, are less likely to purchase new games.” Furthermore, the increase in concurrent users from last year to this year is less pronounced, although still greater as a percentage than the increase in number of games sold.
Revenues, on the other hand, are way up. In 2015, developers earned $160 million, whereas this year they pulled in $223.2 million, a 40 percent increase. One possible reason, Galyonkin said, was the absence of flash and daily sales, which “incentivized people to wait for the best deal possible instead of buying already discounted games.” Last year, sales spiked around the first and last day of the sale; in 2016, “they were a bit more evenly distributed across the whole sale period with a spike around the first weekend.” It also made developers and publishers ease up a bit on discounts, which averaged 50 percent this year, compared to 66.7 percent last year.
Galyonkin's analysis carries many caveats, which he's very clear about right from the start: Limbo was free for a day just ahead of the sale, for instance, so he “assumed that all of its new 1.9M owners are coming from that promotion,” even though some people obviously purchased it after the giveaway period was over. He also omitted full-priced games sold during the sale, as well as anything that sold fewer than 5000 copies, as his algorithm “isn’t precise enough to reliably account for the games with lower sales.” But even if the marks aren't quite where he puts them, it seems clear that the 2016 Summer Sale was a big success—and that we're unlikely to see flash sales and daily deals return anytime soon.
(And just in case you missed it, here's that fantastic "Are You Ready?" video—still the single best videogame sale promotion I've ever seen.)