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
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.


Also, this fear may be unfounded, but sometimes I worry that these amazing sales will create a race-to-the-bottom mentality that currently plagues the iTunes App store. I want digital distribution to be haven, not a slum.

The power of the "Steam Sale" is it enables you to play games that you would have never even tried without it.

The way I leveraged the sale is to populate the Windows XP partition (32GB) of my older Macbook with games that I didn't play, and never would without Steam.

To play during lunch, which makes for a great diet to loose weight...

Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
Far Cry
Indigo Prophecy
Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast
Max Payne
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Plants vs. Zombies

The last PC I bought for gaming is my March 2005 Dell XPS Gen 2 laptop (2.3ghz Pent. M & 7800 GTX 256MB). I bought this for RL flight training with MS flight simulator. The only other game that has been on it has been WoW. Through the Steam sale I thought I would revisit PC gaming by buying...

Dead Space
Far Cry 2
Left 4 Dead
Rome: Total War Gold
Silent Hunter III
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
The Witcher: Enhanced Edition

That these play well on a five year old PC just amazes me. The short "life span" of a gaming PC and the uncertainty of a game working well on a given PC is what drove me out of PC gaming many years ago. With the Steam sale I am willing to take the chance; if it doesn't work I'm out, what $10. You can easily spend $10 to see a bad movie.

Now I just need to learn how to get into multiplayer on Steam as easily as Xbox Live.

This is so funny. And true. I don't buy things on Steam, but sometimes there will be a lull in the games I'm looking forward to, and I'll be looking for something, anything, to play and it will be some game that came out two years ago that I wasn't that interested in in the first place, but got pretty good reviews. My latest example of that is Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time. I've never played a R&C game before this one. It's a good game, but as soon as I had something else to play a couple weeks later, I never touched it again. I doubt I'll finish it, as it was too by-the-numbers for my taste.

Dysplastic wrote:

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

If you count the $50 THQ complete pack sold at the end of November, I'm in that category, and I'm quite happy with my purchases. I've already played several, and will soon play many more. We're on a budget and I typically can't afford all the games I want right when they're released, so at the time I purchased them I had yet to play GTA IV, Batman, Torchlight, Red Faction: Guerilla, Fallout 3, most of the Telltale stuff (I already owned Sam & Max season 1 but it was still a good deal), Mini Ninjas, Defense Grid, and several others. I've already been able to put time into a few of those, and plan on finishing the rest over the next several months. I won't buy many PC games until this time next year. It works great, if you're patient.

I bought Stalker for $1.99. It made up for the fact I wasted $60 on that rip-off called Modern Warfare II. I pre-ordered it, what a chump I feel. Rather enjoying Stalker, despite its quirks, and look forward to the new one upon release. Never again will I pre-order a game unless I have played the beta/demo.

I also bought Serious Sam HD. Solo game is nothing special, but the multiplayer is far more fun than MWII.

Only game of late I bought at "full price" that I don't regret is Torchlight.

Old, discounted games on Steam are my emergency stockpile in case I'll be stranded with only my netbook.

Except I heard on Three Moves Ahead this morning that EU2 plays on netbooks. Hope may be lost.

I have 155 games on my steam list. These are the games that I have never installed or played in any format. I'm sure I'll be done with it by the end of the month.

Commander Keen Complete Pack
Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor
Crash Time II
Crysis Warhead
Crysis Wars
Darkest Hour
Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
Dawn of War: Soulstorm
Dawn of War Gold
Dawn of War Gold: Winter Assault
Dead Space
Deathmatch Classic
Doom 2
Doom 3
Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil
Evil Genius
Far Cry 2: Fortunes Pack
Final Doom
Frontlines: Fuel of War
Full Spectrum Warrior
Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers
Grand Theft Auto IV
Gumboy Crazy Adventures
Gumboy Crazy Features
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch
Half-Life Deathmatch: Source
Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders
Heroes of Might and Magic V: Hammers of Fate
Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East
Hexen 2
Hexen: Deathkings of the Dark Citadel
Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights
Larva Mortus
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Mare Nostrum
Mass Effect
Master Levels of Doom II
Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
Mount & Blade
Pacific Storm
Pacific Storm: Allies
Penguins Arena: Sedna's World
Quake 3 Team Arena
Quake II: Ground Zero
Quake II: The Reckoning
Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon
Quake Mission Pack 2: Dissolution of Eternity
Red Faction
Red Faction: Guerrilla
RIP 2 - Strike Back
RIP 3 - The Last Hero
Rome: Total War Gold
Shattered Horizon
SiN 1
SiN 1 Multiplayer
Sniper Elite
Space Trader
Spear of Destiny
Tank Universal
Two Worlds: Epic Edition
Ultimate Doom
Vigil - Blood Bitterness
Warhammer® 40,000™: Dawn of War® II
Wolfenstein 3D
X-Com: Apocalypse
X-Com: Enforcer
X-Com: Interceptor
X-COM: Terror from the Deep
Zombie Driver

Great article Certis. I think it speaks to the power of the "Steam Sale" that we are even having this much discourse about it. I drank the Steam koolaid this past sale, and drank deeply of it. Looking back, do I regret it? maybe a little since I did spend a lot more than I had a right to. But even with the money I spent I feel like I got a good deal out of it. I've sampled several of the games I bought, and I've already found several that are going to be a really great time and I'm looking forward to getting deeper into. Will I have time to get deeper into them? maybe, maybe not. The only thing I'm kind of miffed about is that I bought Red Faction Guerrilla for the "sale" price of $20, and once the sale ended, they kept the price at $20. While, yes I have started the game and fell it was a good purchase and an enjoyable game so far, I kind of feel cheated buying something advertised at a supposed sale price, and then seeing that become the actual price. I'm guessing it just sold well enough at that price they decided to keep it there. I'm not going to get up in arms about it, but it's kind of annoying.

Since I'm one of those laggard gamers the Steam Sale is perfect for me. GTA IV for a couple of bucks? Done. Crazy deals on Torchlight and Dragon Age? Done and Done. Tropico 3 for a fraction of what it was going for last week? Heck yeah.

I spent about $200 (the 4-pack I went in on Boarderlands might have put me over), but I picked up a lot of games that I've either wanted to play or was curious about, but not full price curious (I'm looking at you, Witcher and Audiosurf).

I picked up enough games to last me most of this year or at least to a great weekend deal.

Awesome article. I'm guilty of buying "the dream!"

The one thing I worry about on the List is what will happen to Episode Three. Since it sorts alphabetically (unless you're some sort of weirdo who sorts by "update" or metascore) it will appear between Episode One and Episode Two. This cannot be!

I'm constantly installing and playing through games bought at previous Steam sales.

I just spent $200 at the Steam holiday sale, and there's nothing that's not going to get played.

Look, I'm not really a PC gamer. I browse GWJ on a Dell laptop with a partially fried motherboard; the battery doesn't charge, the onboard left mouse button makes an unfortunate squish every time I click it and every once in a while -- especially after Vista attempts to "update" -- the whole thing goes into blue screen convulsions and refuses to boot for 30 minutes.


And even I found myself partaking in the Steam sale, Just In Case.

Civ IV: Complete Edition
X-Com: UFO Defense
X-Com: Terror From The Deep

A final tally in the vicinity of $25. Of course, I already own three of these four games on disc.

Price sensitivity in the gaming marketplace is huge. Even though I have hard copies of X-Com* and Civ IV, the drastically reduced prices (and the extreme convenience of just firing them up in one click from THE LIST, no CD, nothing) made me reconsider the whole value proposition behind those games. Ultimately, I submitted to Valve's demands. I feel dirty.

[size=8]* In fact, I actually own two different copies of both UFO Defense** and Terror From The Deep -- original CD, X-Com Collector's Edition -- and, even though I could have wired up my own DOSBox configurations to run them both, I still bought them anyway.[/size]

[size=8]** Hell, I even have the Playstation version of UFO Defense hanging around in my basement, giant old-school PS1 jewel case and all. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.[/size]

It doesn't take Steam to buy into the dream. I have MANY console games I bought "on sale" at $40 over a year ago, unplayed and often still in shrinkwrap.

The "pile" threads tell me I'm not the only one. This behavior extends beyond video games, too. How many people have an exercise bike functioning as a dusty clothes rack? A hot tub or pool sitting unused? A motorcycle you ride a few times a year? A breadmaker you'd probably enjoy if you got around to using it? We're all buying a dream of time spent using our luxuries.

Hahaha, welcome to the cyber-slum you bastards. I live here all the time. Nothing new and shiny for me, but you can browse my bent shopping cart and trash bags if you like.

This one time I did pre-order L4D2, an experience much akin to buying fine wine with 100 sheets of food stamps. I've returned to my old ways since. Spare some change mister?

I got 25 games last week. I've already played through the campaign of one, and sampled about a dozen others. I don't have the same problem Certis mentions in the article, because I typically stick to one "main" game, and at the same time play a few side games to keep me from getting bored of the "main" game. At any one time I probably have 5-6 games in rotation, and will probably spend 15-30 minutes with 2 or 3 on any given day. Having a bigger pool to draw from only makes it better for me.

Also, with a fixed income, the sale was a godsend for me. I was able to buy many months worth of games with a bit over one month's worth of entertainment budget. I can rarely afford to buy new, so when I get a great discount on a relatively new game like Dawn of Discovery, I'm very happy.

I tried not to be completely insane with my purchases. I checked reviews on everything I bought, played a bunch of demos, and decided against several games based on those. For all the joking on the Steam sale thread about how everyone is a filthy enabler, I actually appreciated the advice. There were a LOT of REALLY inexpensive games to consider, and it helped to have the GWJ hive mind point out some of the gems.

UnclGhost wrote:

The one thing I worry about on the List is what will happen to Episode Three. Since it sorts alphabetically (unless you're some sort of weirdo who sorts by "update" or metascore) it will appear between Episode One and Episode Two. This cannot be!

This also pisses me off with:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
STALKER: Clear Sky

... which puts numerous games from Sa- through St- between them.

HATE! Burning HATE!

(You know what's worse? Steam Community has them inconsistent in exactly the opposite way: STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl vs. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky. WTF?)

I hate naming inconsistencies. I burned with hate over how the Xbox 360 has "Call of Duty 2" and "Call Of Duty 3" (note the case inconsistency of "of/Of"). COD4 and WaW both are listed on XBL with lowercase "of", thankfully.

Ah, X-Com: UFO Defense and X-Com: Terror from the Deep...damn, those take me back with fond memories. I love them so much. Whatever happened to that genre? What is it? strategy?

You could try what I am doing: make yourself complete or otherwise get your fill of a game (enough to justify the purchase in your own mind) before buying another for any price outside of your own impulse threshold ($10 in my case). If I see a game I want for less than $10, I'll go ahead and pick it up without worrying over The Pile, but for any that cost more, I need to redeem an imaginary token that I award myself for every game I complete or otherwise get my fill of.

This might not do for you, Certis, but for those of us not hell-bent on playing all the newest stuff to stay in the conversation, it could work.

They will all be played to completion. Before the sale I was down to two games on the Steam "pile". The sale just built the queue back up.

The only one I kinda-sorta-remotely regret buying is Dragon Age Deluxe Edition, but that's only because the last time I spent $40+ on a game was Left 4 Dead (which I also regretted buying at full price).

I was on those daily sales like pig on sh*t. I even gifted a few.

Total spent: $72.14
Where else are you going to get this many games for that price. Insane.

(gifted!)STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl
Defense Grid: The Awakening
Max Payne I
Max Payne II
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
Indigo Prophecy
(gifted!)S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky
King's Bounty: Armored Princess
World of Goo
Evil Genius
Grand Theft Auto IV (US/AU)

Interesting. I see the steam sale as well as bargain bin games as a way, for just a few dollars, to experience something that I would not have otherwise. I can't afford to purchase every new title that interest me, but if I wait a just a few months, I can shell out 3-4 dollars and be able to step into that world, and usually I can appreciate the incredibly hard work done by all the people who worked on it.

And yes.. the collector in me keeps whispering in the back of my head "just one more title.. does it really matter". Just gotta learn how to squelch that bastard.

Ah, X-Com: UFO Defense and X-Com: Terror from the Deep...damn, those take me back with fond memories. I love them so much. Whatever happened to that genre? What is it? strategy?

It was a mix of base building and turn based tactics game. There are a lot of successors and similar games, for me, only Silent Storm and Incubation are a match to the first XCom. One of the thing I like about it is that troops were expendable, they improved characteristics but some cassualties were acceptable. Now all tactical games have very detailed characters, rpg style, and sometimes if you loose one of them you cannot continue playing or at least the loss of any makes you reload the game, where is the drama in there?

About the Steam Sale I spent less than 30euros, and right now I am loving Dead Space glad I bought it, it brings me some memories of System Shock 2, another classic.

I'm proud of myself for only spending about $50. I could have easily spent twice that much if I hadn't used some restraint. The best part is that I got about a dozen games for that $50, almost all of which were less than 5 bucks.

Certis wrote:

Atari Classics? Am I insane?!

Yes. They were fun 25-30 years ago. IMO only a handful of them hold up today, and even those aren't much fun playing on a PC. That's why I a bought an Atari Flashback 2 a couple years ago. Playing the games with the full-size replica Atari 2600 controller makes a big difference.

Disclosure: I only spent $5.

I was happy to pick up King Arthur and Torchlight, I was looking for a sale for those two and this one was awesome. Kings Bounty: Armored Princess I probably didn't need, but the deal was amazing and I'll probably dig in in a few months once things settle down.

*Legion* wrote:

I hate naming inconsistencies. I burned with hate over how the Xbox 360 has "Call of Duty 2" and "Call Of Duty 3" (note the case inconsistency of "of/Of"). COD4 and WaW both are listed on XBL with lowercase "of", thankfully.

One more thing to blame Treyarch for!

I was able to pose the "will I really play it?" question a lot before I added things to my cart, thankfully. That and a bunch of other things including not having a computer that runs anything released that demands more than the original L4D helped a lot.
How did I end up with Mirror's Edge again?

I've completely bought into the dream and the LIST, so let me try and rationalize what goes through my head, even though I probably made multiple irrational purchases. You're article is right in every aspect.

Part of the purchases just fall into a "gotta collect them all mentality", it's comforting knowing that I could simply and conveniently play any one of the games from "The LIST". I don't know what it is about the list, but it's nice to have everything available in one place. I've had a few recent hard drive failures and subsequent recoveries, and Steam is just infinitely easier than reinstalling from discs and then patching.

Part of it is the bargain hunter mentality, knowing that I just paid a fraction of what others typically pay. Breaking it down into a $/game ratio is convenient because it gives the illusion that you spent your money well, but that amount is deceiving if you never actually play some of the games. I can't really predict what games I'll be playing 2-3 months from now, so I buy more when they are on sale knowing that I may not get to the games for quite some time. I've gotten around to games that I bought on Steam 2 years after I first bought them. I don't need to buy games right when they come out, usually I am 6-12 months behind on most of the big games, waiting until they drop in price to a reasonable amount. As long as I keep within an overall budget, I am getting a lot more value for my dollar by being patient. I can't remember the last time I paid $60 ($50 pc) or anywhere close to the new and shiny, hyped up recent release.

Well said. Personally, I'm getting to the point where I can resist the lure of such sales, as the last time I bought a game or games for the sake of price was the 2k Big Huge Games Pack a few months back. And I can honestly say that I bought most of that for the wife anyway.

As for how I handle Steam sales now, I only buy stuff I'm interested in. This round, I bought Dragon Age: DLC Edition, Borderlands, Dr Ned for Borderlands and Trine. I would have bought Torchlight, but I got that on a weekend sale the week before. Sure, there were a lot of titles on there I looked really hard at; Crysis for $13.50 was hard to resist with MW:LL going into beta. KOTOR was a game I played on the Xbox ages ago and had to resist buying on PC, and there's a few other examples of this. But when it's all said and done, am I really going to play them? Probably not, which is exactly why they're not in my games list. Shoot, I'm not even sure I'll get around to playing Trine with everything else on my plate.