Steam Sales Selling The Dream

As I look at my Steam games list following their annual holiday sale I can't help but feel more than a little embarrassed by how many titles I bought because they were "deals" instead of games I'll ever put any real time into. Like a pot head who just stumbled into a supermarket, everything just looked so good with that $4.99 price tag on it. We’ll get to my list in a minute, but I’ll spoil the surprise and tell you that I’ll play half of them for about 30 minutes and never, ever touch them again.

These deals and insane publisher game packs have turned selective game buyers into sudden onset collectors. It’s not enough for Deus Ex to be snug in a jewel case and shoved into a basement closet somewhere; it needs to be on THE LIST. The ‘My Games’ tab on Steam isn’t just a launch pad for your game library -- it’s a gaping maw, a whisper in your head that there’s comfort to be found in THE LIST. The bigger THE LIST, the happier you’ll be. What if there’s a Star Wars Jedi Knight II emergency? Take comfort, it’s right there, ready for launch. But you’ll never click on it, will you? There’s always something new to play, but THE LIST doesn’t care. Its appetite is insatiable. Let’s have a look at what I’ve recent shoveled into the digital maw to keep it sated and see what Valve is really selling.

A Farewell to Dragons
Atari: 80 Classic Games in One
Ben There, Dan That!
Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box
Cogs
Defense Grid: The Awakening
Deus Ex: Game of The Year Edition
Lumines (With Advance Pack)
Sid Meier's Civilization IV
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond The Sword
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Warlords
Star Wars Jedi Knight Pack
World in Conflict: Soviet Assault
Time Gentlemen, Please!

Total money spent: $80.80

But wait! That’s a lot of game for a mere $80.80, isn’t it? It is, but if I’m being honest I would have spent $0 on a normal day. I blame the constant Steam sale thread updates and the resulting debates about whether this or that game was even worth the sale price. I was buying games just to prove to people wrong. I’ll never play Lumines. Atari Classics? Am I insane?!

The genius of this digital fire sale method is that they've converted old PC games no one cares about into commodities. "Buy low, sell high" doesn't really jive since you can't actually sell your Steam games, but the "buy low" principle is in full effect. Burnout Paradise currently sells for $29.99. It resides there as a good price for people who never got around to it on a console or finally got a PC that can handle the graphical demands. I played the 360 version so at that price it's just a game I've already experienced and not worth a second look. But for $7.49? THE LIST whispers that maybe I'll feel like racing on my PC some rainy day in the future. It's not a game anymore, it's an umbrella.

Steam and services like it have turned games into tube socks. It’s not enough to simply buy what I want to play; now I can buy games I’ll never play unless I lose my job or the apocalypse comes. That’s the dream Steam is selling – that I’ll ever have time to play what I buy. They count on THE LIST forever perching on my shoulder and telling me these games used to be $50 and now, only a year later, I can buy them for $5. What a deal! What riches available to me now. What a list!

I’ll see you at the next Friday sale with money clenched tightly in my fist. Buying the dream.

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I'll be shocked if I finish even one game I bought in the sale. Hell I still gotta finish Dragon Age. I'm guessing I'll be ready for something new around June at the rate I'm going!

I was going to buy the Eidos pack, but managed to talk myself out of it at the last minute with the rationalisation that the only game I was likely to play was Batman, so relax. Steam have sales every week. It'll come.

Do you think the list has to hit critical mass first? I only have a handful of games on there. The Steam holiday sales have gotten me to play a bunch of games that I pick up for $1 - $5 that otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered with. Maybe you could try hiding your games list and only showing the Favorites window with the 3 - 5 games you regularly play. Thats what I try. Interesting idea though.

This is So. Bang. On. I really feel like we're deluding ourselves with these Steam Sales. Next year I plan on digging up this year's Steam sale thread and asking how many games out of the games they bought people actually played more than 1/2 an hour of.

The answer will likely be very low.

I'm just as guilty as anyone. While I managed to talk myself out of the Eidos pack, GTAIV for 8$ was too good to pass up - or so I thought. I loaded it up, and realized - I've done all of this already. I beat this game. Why am I doing this? DLC? Will I even buy the DLC?

So now it just sits, there, if I ever want to go back. I might. But there are a million other things calling, and eventually....

My guess is that 8$ game is never going to see the light of monitor.

I've managed to stave off this problem for the most part, I have issues with classics that I know I should really play... but don't.

It isn't even the price, I paid full or near-full price for the following:

  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
  • Witcher
  • Plants vs. Zombies
  • Freedom Force (and expansion)
  • Evil Genius
  • Audiosurf
  • Torchlight

And it isn't that their bad games, far from it, it's just they're games I bought because everyone else said they were so great yet instead of play them I go read a novel or something. And I know if I don't play these the moment they install I probably never will.

Something that's extremely convenient about STEAM-bundled games is the whole "forever tied to your gaming account" schtick. I've got old box copies of a few games, but with patching them, finding CD keys, making sure I didn't lysol the install CDs and getting it all to run, it's hardly worth the pain.

If I buy a STEAM game, then delete it, I can always just double-click the gray title in my list and be up and running, painlessly, in a few hours at most.

As for The Dream... well, it's quite the fata morgana. I was given 3 weeks off for Winter Break. I finished X-Men Origins: Wolverine, picked up and then discarded Crackdown, then fiddled with Wheelman. On the PC side, I cracked into Dawn of War II, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand...

And that was my vacation. Not much gaming when you think of it. I haven't even cracked into anything released recently!

I spent perhaps €12 on Torchlight, Trials 2 HD Second Edition, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War (+ expansion) and Burnout Paradise Ultimate Box. That's some real breadth of genres there, more than I'd usually play, but I read reviews and played demos and genuinely wanted the games in the end.

I also got tempted by the deal-devil, but don't let it do that to you Go back and read reviews and ask yourself if you really need to buy that RTS at €2 even though you've hated RTS games since C&C.

Show some restraint!

Steam's specials have sucked a lot from my wallet over the last year (with a little going to Impulse as well). A known-good game, a $5 sticker and no need for physical shelf space to store the box... ka-ching! I'm pretty sure my total expenditure on games has increased even though I rarely pay full price any more. Some games age better than others (story and strategy last, graphic tech demos don't).

Lumines? You'll never play Lumines? *insert sad panda*

It's great. You already own it. What are you so afraid of?

Not that I don't empathize with you in general. I've got a whole bunch of adventure games sitting in THE LIST that I haven't even clicked on yet: The Dig, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the Monkey Island remake, and Ben There, Dan That.

But that's why I've been making a concerted effort to go through THE LIST and actually play and finish my games. In fact, I polished off Trine a few days ago, and today I finished Research and Development, a HL2 mod that I last played over the summer. (It's great, by the way.) I think I'll start on Ben There, Dan That tomorrow.

Of course, the one flaw in my plan is that it means I'll have to stop playing endless games like Lumines somehow.

Dear Certis,

When you read my mind, could you be so kind as to leave my financial info and passwords in there? I really need my money, and I worked for it after all.

Thanks in advance,

dejanzie

I blame my collector's mind on the difficulty of getting classic games in the nineties and early zeroes (?). I remember losing my copy of Planescape: Torment and having to order it in the States. Luckily that was before it became a cult hit and prices skyrocketed due to scarcity. Other games I never got to play, like Ico or Shadow of the Collossus. So now when I see one of those games I bite immediately out of an irrational fear they'll never be available again.

Sometimes I buy a Steam game to make amends for when I still ahoy mateyd. KoToR and the Max Payne games come to mind.

I...I don't have this problem. I feel like a teetotaller at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, standing around while everyone confesses their problem, thinking "but it's really not that hard..."

The only games I got over the Steam sale were Shattered Horizon (a complete waste of money, even at £3.50) and Red Alert 3 (excellent). I guess it comes from my time at Uni, where between my terrible PC completely unsuited to gaming, lots of Soul Calibur 2, and the fact that I was simply working too hard, I didn't have much time for PC gaming.

It took me until 2006 to play Half-Life, for crying out loud. And there is a huge list of games - in my head - that I still want to play. Perhaps that's the difference: I'm content to leave the fabled 'pile' in my head, rather than build up a pile of games I'm not going to play. I only buy a game when I know I'm going to play it. I'm not worried about scarcity, and I'm not worried about getting it now. When I order a game, the mail is usually fast enough for me; if it's not, I can still turn to digital distribution.

This way, I spend less money buying games I'll never play. And the choices I make are better-informed, as I'll usually have at least a year or two of review and critical analysis to inform my purchase. There are some games that I'll get at (or close to) release, but I'm content to make most of my purchases at severely reduced prices a couple of years behind the curve.

Floomi wrote:

I...I don't have this problem. I feel like a teetotaller at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, standing around while everyone confesses their problem, thinking "but it's really not that hard..."

The only games I got over the Steam sale were Shattered Horizon (a complete waste of money, even at £3.50) and Red Alert 3 (excellent). I guess it comes from my time at Uni, where between my terrible PC completely unsuited to gaming, lots of Soul Calibur 2, and the fact that I was simply working too hard, I didn't have much time for PC gaming.

It took me until 2006 to play Half-Life, for crying out loud. And there is a huge list of games - in my head - that I still want to play. Perhaps that's the difference: I'm content to leave the fabled 'pile' in my head, rather than build up a pile of games I'm not going to play. I only buy a game when I know I'm going to play it. I'm not worried about scarcity, and I'm not worried about getting it now. When I order a game, the mail is usually fast enough for me; if it's not, I can still turn to digital distribution.

This way, I spend less money buying games I'll never play. And the choices I make are better-informed, as I'll usually have at least a year or two of review and critical analysis to inform my purchase. There are some games that I'll get at (or close to) release, but I'm content to make most of my purchases at severely reduced prices a couple of years behind the curve.

Agreed. I don't have this problem either. I play what I want when I want to. Also, it took me til this past year (around mid-2009) to finally buy Shadow of the Colossus. I think it's a 06-07 release. Fantastic, and I never felt "pressured" into getting it sooner.

These steam sales speak to our need to gather stuff, to own it just for the sake off it just in case you may some day use it. So I also bough a bunch of games that I don't know If I ever play it but I like the feeling of the bigger and bigger list, and with steam it doesn't take any space and you don't have manage it and it doesn't get lost so you only have to gather for the lowest price you can.

Growing up I played ZXSpectrum and Amiga before moving to the PC, and as any European here can tell you these first two systems were massively served by pirated games, I mean the cost of gathering games was to have friends with the system and buying tapes and floppy so for each system I had more then 100 games some of them the only timee they were on the system was to copy it, others were there for an hour and a very small number was played to completion. So even knowing full well that the game probably wasn't going to get played or just for a few moments we still felt the need to gather every game we could find. so I glad to get to this again in a legal way at a fair price.

Luckily, the vast majority of games they had on sale I already have in one form or another (and I don't really have a pressing desire to re-purchase them* just so they are available in steam...you can always add a non-steam game to the list as a shortcut after all).

I did pick up a couple of adventure games though (Jack Keane and the 'Ben There Dan That' pack) and Shadowgrounds with it's expansion, which I don't think rose above about £8.00 total. I would have grabbed the Oddworld pack as well but I have a niggling thought I remember seeing something about a 'complete' collection coming out at some point in the near future, which would include that really good Xbox game no-one bought. Might have dreamed that though.

Overall, I escaped this sale relatively unscathed

Which is good...there's almost too much good stuff coming out in the next few months.

[size=10]*Well...unless there are extra LIVE achievement points to be collected *innocent whistle*[/size]

Fun article. The excitement of the Steam Sale was kinda like Xmas for Grown Ups. "What will Santa Newell leave under the steam for us today?" And like xmas, a lot of the gifts you end up getting aren't things you'll spend a lot of time with, but the excitement and commraderie of the occasion is still pretty kick ass.

Good article. I've bought a bunch of games in the last year (since I bought my new computer) and I've probably two or three of them. Their method works incredibly well, and they really can't lose. No box, no disc, and no way to sell it. I think this is why Steam is dominating the digital distribution market, and, as well as making boat loads of money, the consumers love them for it.

Maybe you could try hiding your games list and only showing the Favorites window with the 3 - 5 games you regularly play. Thats what I try. Interesting idea though.

I do something similar to this. I treat my favorites list as something akin to my email inbox, and like my inbox, I am always striving to reach "favorites list zero". Its really quite helpful to stare at my favorites list when tempted by a Steam sale.

Dysplastic wrote:

This is So. Bang. On. I really feel like we're deluding ourselves with these Steam Sales.

Most stand up comics have a standard schtick about women and shoe sales. That is exactly what the Steam sale reminds me of.

Even a bargain still costs money, and if you're not going to play the game, it's money wasted. I'm still guilty, but kept the damage well limited, I used the sale as an opportunity to pick up a few well regarded indie games, but the cost 'saving' is going to go into download costs.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Even a bargain still costs money, and if you're not going to play the game, it's money wasted.

This. I don't want to waste money! I like money! I use it to buy games I am going to play!

I claimed early on into the sale that I wouldn't purchase any games because I knew I'd never play them. What's a good way to cook crow? I considered myself pretty safe, considering that during last years madness I walked away with only Silent Hunter 3 and 4. Boy was I wrong.

I wasn't all wrong though, I've finished one of the games I've purchased already, and have put an exorbitant amount of time into 2 others. That leaves 1 more that I put about 10 hours into, and 2 that I can dabble in for the winter to come. And I have dabbled already. Although, my purchase of Bioshock was a fool junkies purchase considering that I did not slow down and see that it was region specific. Doh! Time to pick up Rosetta Stone for cheap somewhere.

Yes, this sale caught me at a weak moment in my consumerism, but I believe I'll have fun with what I purchased for the foreseeable future.

Hah! I was just talking to a buddy about this. I don't mind throwing down $20-$50 come holiday time to substantially buff up my steam list. I definitely take a lot of chances, but it's on games that are $1-10, that's not so bad.

There were some really outstanding deals. Torchlight for $10 (when I bought it was a great deal) and it even went on sale for $5 - that's a steal!

I have a slightly different perspective on this... for me, Valve is selling me the ability to try something I haven't tried before, and come away knowing what I think about it. I never would have played Outrun 2006, an arcade racer that actually got really good reviews when it came out and looked genuinely fun. I enjoy racing games, but it's an old title with no demo and for its regular price of $10 I never would have given it a second look.

For $2.50 though, I felt like I could afford to give it a try and come away having lost nothing if it wasn't for me. Turns out, I really enjoyed it and put a couple hours into it. Even if I never go back to it, a couple of hours of fun and the experience of having tried it and being able to talk about it for $2.50 is a better entertainment-for-dollar ratio than I can get most other places.

The same applies to Chains (one of the best puzzle games I've tried in years, for a dollar!), Zombie Bowl-O-Rama (again, addictive, funny, $1), Zombie Driver, etc. I don't have to pour a ton of time into these games or ever finish them to get "my money's worth", when my monetary investment is that low. I come away out very little money and having played more games, if only briefly (which is all the time many of us have for games anyhow).

I did make a couple hail mary passes on games I may never get to, like Jade Empire, but they were the exception rather than the rule.

The Steam sale also allowed me to be generous with games I love, like Torchlight. I was able to give away many copies of one of my favorite games of the year for less money than the cost of a new game regularly sets me back. That's brilliant.

On the whole, I came away really happy with the sale. I agree that THE LIST is a dangerous trap that it's easy to fall into, but I think one needs to set their expectations realistically. If I got a game that would otherwise cost me $30, $40 or $50 for less than half its usual price, I don't need to put $50 worth of time into it to feel like it was a good purchase.

I like collecting games, be they digital copies or physical disks. I like the thought of having the games there for me, should I get the urge to play them.

Most of the games I bought during the Steam sale were either indie games that I never got around to buying or older games that I wanted in digital form. I may never play GTA IV on the PC, but I want to have the option.

Interestingly, I passed on Burnout Paradise because I knew I'd boot that game right up, and probably sink another 20 hours into it. I've already done that twice.

I'm still waiting to hear from those who dropped 200$ + on the sale

I agree that there is a certain comfort to have this whole list of games available. For me though, that besides a few games, most are now older titles that I can play on my laptop. It's an older one and it will have to last me a little longer then I actually want to. This Steam Sale gave me enough fodder to keep gaming away though with titles that don't demand too much system wise.

The Steam Sale topic was killing me as well. I skimmed over the reactions to see what was worthwhile and bought at least 50% of what was recommended lol

Here is my list of 'sins' :

Silent Hill: Homecoming
Jade Empire
Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor
Universe at War: Earth Assault
Zombie Driver
Dead Space
Day of Defeat: Source
Oddworld Abes Oddysee and Exoddus package
Codename Panzers: Cold War
King's Bounty: Armored Princess
Elf Bowling: Hawaiian Vacation
Cogs
Battlefield 2
Red Faction Guerrilla
Indigo Prophecy
Shadowgrounds Survivor and Shadowgrounds
Lucasarts Adventure Bundle
Broken Sword: Twin Pack
Painkiller: Collectors Pack (NA)
Machinarium
Lucasarts Jedi Knight Bundle
Beyond Good and Evil
AI War: Fleet Command
Sniper Elite
The Void
iWin Board Game Collection
Puzzle Indie
Gothic 3 (NA)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky (ROW)
Eidos Collector Pack
Braid
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition

I look at it this way. I usually buy games 2 times a year. First is March because I can pretty much count on get some sort of gift certificates for my birthday and they need to be spent on something. The second is Christmas with that oh so wonderful C-note I always get from my grandparents. Other than this I tend to keep my purse strings pretty tight. Kind of like a camel stocking up on water at an oasis before heading out for a long walk across the Sahara.

Now that I have a decent PC I find the Steam sale to be a wonderful way to fill an entire year of gaming with one purchase. I can get all the stuff I missed in the previous year, along with some cool little indie titles like Machinarium and some old favorites like all the King's Quest games and still keep it under my yearly gift money allotment. If you ask me Valve is doing the lord's work with their holiday sale. God bless em.

That being said, I still have a ridiculously huge backlog and probably could get by for 2 years without buying anything

I'm the same way with retro consoles and games. If they're cheap I can't not buy it if I have the least bit interest in it. I may never play Mad Dog McCree, but I've got a copy and I'll be picking up a Sega Justifier gun tonight just in case!

I bought some games at this last big sale, but I didn't buy as many as some other people here.

Why?

Because I had already fallen victim to so many past Steam sales; most of the packs and deals either had too many games I already owned, or I had reached a critical limit of games I kind of wanted, but not really. In the past, I've been good about playing through games I buy on sale, but this one is tough, because buying so many games at once means that I simply won't have time to get to those potential gems until the spring. My goal now is to beat as many of those new games as possible before Mass Effect II comes out.

Nice article and summation of our feelings regarding the Steam sale. I feel like we all feel bad about getting so many games at once. It reminds me of Catholic guilt! Perhaps because five years ago, had we bought as many games, we'd be spending $500 instead of $50. This is sort of a Great Depression era generation mindset that we PC gamers have become accustomed to

Oh, and all of you are filthy enablers, ect. ect.

I agree with what this article states, but honestly I'm mostly shocked you didn't have Civ IV. Or did you decide that the boxed version wasn't good enough anymore?

For the record, Cogs deserves some of your time.
My list was:

$4.99 Mass Effect
$3.75 Jade Empire
$10.19 Dead Space
$24.99 Star Wars Premier Pack
$1.99 Cogs
$30.14 King's Bounty: Gold Edition
$9.99 Red Faction Guerrilla

Total: $86.04

On this list, I have played the heck out of Cogs, have been meaning to get to Jade Empire for a long time, but it will probably wait a while anyway, as I'm getting my current BioWare fix by replaying Mass Effect on the PC so I can have character to transfer to ME2 when it drops. I originally played on the 360. I'm actually getting more out of Mass Effect on the PC than on the 360. I've done more side quests in this one playthrough than I did on my two-and-a-half on the 360. And I haven't even done Noveria yet. So that was $5 well-spent on a game I already own.

Lots of people talked up Dead Space, so I figured that was a good price. Same with Red Faction.

The Star Wars Premier Pack has more than a few Star Wars games I've never played (and one I never will - Galaxies) but most of them are re-buys.

Aside from Mass Effect and the dupes in the SW pack, Jade Empire was the only other game I already owned, for the XBox. I played maybe five minutes of it. I'm thinking the PC will get me to finish it when I finally get around to it.

The other games that I bought on the Thanksgiving Steam sale were similarly motivated. I bought KOTOR just to have it because I loved that game. I bought Mirror's Edge then for the same reasons I got Dead Space and Red Faction.

Basically, the Steam sales acted as a conduit to games that came out over the past year I did not want to pay full price for. The Steam Sales worked for me and I only fell prey to the collection instinct a couple times.

Two of the games I purchased from the sale were Arkham Asylum and Hitman: Bloodmoney. I paid $40.18 for those two games. They were also part of the Eidos complete pack for $49.99. For a mere $9.81, I could have bought about 20 more games.

However, I would have never played those 20 games. That $9.81 would have been basically thrown away.

"But it's less than $10," you say. "Why worry about it?"

True, but that $9.81 I saved can buy me a game I will play when it goes on sale in the future for $5-$10.

When they start selling games for pennies, saving your pennies could end up buying you a lot of games.

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