Steam Delivered 33 Exabytes of Data to Gamers in 2021

Steam from Valve
(Image credit: Valve)

Valve has published its annual year in review for 2021 (yes, it is March already). So, please brace yourself for some astounding statistics covering data downloaded, active user counts, user time spent in-game, cash spent on this absorbing entertainment medium, and more.

Before drilling down into the figures, Valve was keen to note the overall gaming industry growth spurt, established during pandemic lockdowns, didn't seem to decelerate. In other words, "2021 was successful even in comparison to 2020's unprecedented growth." Please ponder the infographic below for some other user/time/spending highlights.

(Image credit: Valve)

Valve seems pleased with some of the above statistics, especially the playtime data. In 2021, it says, "players spent almost 38 billion hours on Steam in 2021 - a 21% increase over 2020," and equivalent to 4.3 million years. Of course, another important metric to the business involved spending, and Steam raked in 27% more income from games sales than in the previous year.

(Image credit: Valve)

Probably the most eye-watering statistic, and thus the one that caught our attention, was the assertion that Steam delivered nearly 33 exabytes of content to customers in 2021. This colossal figure represents a 30% increase over 2020. In attempting to help readers understand this figure, Valve said 33 exabytes is equivalent to all 330 people in the United States downloading a 100GB game.

Beyond the key stats above, Valve noted some interesting underlying trends. On the business side of things, it saw its Steam Gift Cards enjoy a boom in popularity. Last year more than 2.6 million digital gift cards were sent, and the dollar value of those gift cards increased 43% compared to 2020.

A PC gaming trend welcomed by some was the growth in console ports, from both Microsoft and Sony, which came to the Steam PC platform. Steam was also pleased with the progress of its Next Fest events through 2021, as this is considered to be a "seasonal focal point for upcoming games and demos."

Other stats/trends in 2021 that stood out were the use of 48 million controllers by the Steam populace and information that these ergonomic devices were used in 10% of all Steam game sessions.

Valve reckoned that 2021 was one of steady progress in VR. New VR users grew 11%, and this was against a backdrop of no new Valve-made games for this futuristic gaming platform.

How Steam Plans to Keep the Ball Rolling

There is a lot of impressive progress for Steam outlined above, and interestingly Valve sketched out ideas and strategies that will keep its foot on the accelerator through 2022. Many of the plans are just 2021 initiatives extended, which is a reasonable strategy, as it sounds like a considerable success on all counts.

There are three major prongs to Valve's Steam growth strategy which it shared in the 2021 review. These include maintaining a low-friction store to make purchasing as easy as possible, working hard on an ever-improving ecosystem to keep users onboard, and behind the scenes work on improving the quality and quantity of the Steam infrastructure.

On infrastructure/server upgrades, Valve said that a major priority in 2021 was server optimization and efficiency work. It began an upgrade process to reduce the physical footprint and power usage. It has already achieved this goal while providing increased CPU capacity and capability for a quarter of its servers. In one example, server upgrades in LA reduced power use by 50% while boosting faster downloads to reach more customers than ever. By the end of 2022, Valve aims to have rolled out these same upgrades to 50% of its servers worldwide.

We already feel that 2022 will be a tremendous year for Steam, partly due to the Steam Deck and the coordinated hardware and software development that is being steered to make this project is a success.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • PBme
    " Valve said 33 exabytes is equivalent to all 330 people in the United States downloading a 100GB game. "

    All 330 of us think there is a typo in this sentence. :)
  • pixelpusher220
    Sorry, my bad. had to re-install my stuff.
  • Doc Computeur
    I would be interested to know how many of us are using Pirated Steam servers in 2021 compared to previous years