Why is Steam down so much lately?

If you are a user of the gaming platform Steam on PC, Mac or Linux, you may have noticed that the service tends to go down frequently in recent time.

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Going down means that you will lose the connection to Steam, see your friends and contacts listed as 0, and cannot use any of the services that require an online connection.

You can still enable offline mode and start to play single-player games, but every activity that requires you to be online, chatting with friends, trading, buying games, joining multi-player games, won't work when Steam is down.

Since this is happening more frequently than in the past, it is time that we take a look at why this is happening.

steam-down-friends

The first problem that you run into when you try to analyze why Steam is down that much is that Valve has not made any announcement in this regard yet.

We do have access to a couple of statistics though that we can use to find out about it. While those may help us find a plausible cause for the downtime, it is not confirmed by Valve and until that happens, much of this article is guesswork.

The most likely explanation for Steam downtime

concurrent-steam-users

Down times are not anything new on Steam. If you ever participated in a sale you know that the site tends to go down once a new batch of games on sale are pushed to the store.

This is caused by too many users trying to access Steam or the store at the same time.

If we look at Steam's growth in recent time, we notice that it made quite a jump in concurrent users and popularity.

At peak times, more than 7.4 million users are logged in on Steam at the same time which is an increase of roughly one million users compared to the year before, and about 10% of Steam's overall active user base. Not all of those logged in users are playing games though.

The download bandwidth used page shows those peak times as well.

The first explanation for Steam's downtime therefor suggests that the increase in users is causing Steam to go down more frequently during peak hours.

If you check Alexa, a company that measures the popularity of websites, you will notice that the Steampowered website made quite the jump in the last two years jumping to position 465 from 1600 of all websites.

steam peak download downtime

It is interesting to note though that the down times do not always correlate with the peak times as you can see on the graphs that Valve makes available on its website.

Yesterday however they coincided well with the peak playing time on Steam according to Steamdb. Downtime happened where player count dropped significantly.

steam-down

If you check Steamcharts, a third-party site tracking Steam player numbers, you notice that Steam has been going down nearly every day in the past seven day period.

steamcharts

There are other possible explanations for Steam going down frequently in recent time. It could be a DDOS attack on the network that is causing Steam to become unavailable for a short period of time before it becomes available again.

What's your take on this?

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Responses to Why is Steam down so much lately?

  1. BBB March 25, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    A company so focussed on online play should know how to handle these things.
    I remember a movie about anonymous and how they tried to DDos them.
    After the first attempt anonymous used a service (forgot the name) that protected them from these attacks.
    So I can only hope Valve/Steam does the same.
    Of Course we would have a Steam specific DDOS just by using the "damn" thing. Then Valve should take measures to avoid this.
    I know (infrastructure guy here) that a company can not afford running tons of servers just to get that 0.00001% op spikes, but it should aim to handle 120% of their regular userbase.
    As for the steam shop, it runs mainly on https, so web based. the solution is simple here : take that into the cloud; The cloud can handle and scale up automatically to avoid these spikes and corresponding not responding summer sales and alike. There are hybrid cloud functionalities to where you host let say 90% of your consumption and the rest is handled by the cloud, so the cloud scales out to handle the sales spikes.

    As the sales is thus easily managed the latest days it is mainly the game servers that go down.
    This should of course be handle by different servers and switches, something i doubt Valve does, and is much more hard to make a cloud based. So there is nothing more to do than get more servers around the globe.

    That being said I doubt the latest downtimes are caused by this.
    more likely it has somthing to to with updates for the linux based games.

    • Chains The Bounty Hunter March 25, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

      There's a site that displays DDoS attacks on sites and Steam/etc. is typically always in the list.

      They can handle it, just not prevent it 100% - accounting for the fact that they're down for hours at a time, not days/weeks on end.

  2. InterestedBystander March 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    "...more likely it has somthing to to with updates for the linux based games." Not being a gamer or Steam user, I'm curious: what would make Linux updates consume more bandwidth than other Steam updates and functions?

    • uopi March 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm #

      Every linux update must be also downloaded by windows and mac users because steam isn't able to handle separate versions of one game and just dumps all the files except language versions.

      • Chains The Bounty Hunter March 25, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

        They also have CDN servers to distribute those updates located at various places to alleviate issues like that.

      • cepheus March 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

        Uh, no it doesn't.

      • uopi March 26, 2014 at 10:19 am #

        @cepheus

        It does: http://steamcommunity.com/app/3830/discussions/0/864958451785375756/

      • cepheus March 27, 2014 at 3:00 am #

        @uopi
        As someone with access to the relevant tools, it's not the case. The issue is with publishers or devs who don't make use of Steam's tools to restrict packages to specific operating systems.

      • uopi March 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

        @cepheus

        That's a truly excellent news. I was basing my posts on what the devs have written to explain massive updates.

        Could you point out some of the tools or maybe there's a publicly accessible guide (or even internally but with a specific name) that people could link to stop some devs from dumping unnecessary data on our drives?

  3. InterestedBystander March 26, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I see. It's not Linux per se, it's just a consequence of updates for multi-OS gaming as handled by Steam.

  4. sabre23 March 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    Its DOTA 2 ----- Most of the downtime of steam caused by DOTA 2 .
    A small DOTA 2 update shakes up whole steam server.

  5. Kyle April 21, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    The website http://steamdown.net/ tells you the status of different steam services.

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