Take a look at the following games and point the odd one out: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Capcom Arcade Stadium, PUBG, Apex Legends. Four of them are consistently and astronomically popular online games that have been among the most-played games on Steam for years, while one is a half-decent retro games emulator that has averaged about 20 players a month since it came out in May 2021.
And yet, at the time of writing, Capcom Arcade Stadium is, according to both SteamDB and Steam Charts, the third most played game on Steam right now, clocking around 477,000 (it's just shy of Dota 2).
Now, Capcom knows a thing or two about making popular games, but surely even their top dogs in Osaka are wondering how a package whose only included freebie is the 1987 shmup 1943: The Battle of Midway is suddenly about twenty times more popular than their next most-popular game, Monster Hunter: World.
What's going on? Are shmups finally about to take the western gaming world by storm, as I drunkenly predicted way back in 2009?
Well, probably not…
Impressive though Capcom Arcade Stadium's sudden surge is, according to dataminer and SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik it's much more likely the result of trading card bots.
How this usually happens is that these bots sit around waiting for paid games to go free, then automatically 'buy' the game and idle in it to accrue trading cards for free. That explains why Life is Strange 2 Episode 1 suddenly saw a similar popularity surge when it went free in September 2020.
And while Capcom Arcade Stadium has been free since launch, it's only just added Steam trading cards, which the bots have duly hoovered up.
So nope, it's not just a sudden nostalgia surge for Battle for Midway. The Great Shmup Renaissance will have to wait a little longer…