Changing the Game
The first Steam sale that I can remember was back in 2008 during the Christmas break. It was a truly magical event where we saw entire publishers catalogs neatly packaged for a specific price. I remember picking up everything that THQ had released to date for something insane like $20 and I was completely hooked. The deals were just flat out unheard of at the time, and I opened my wallet and gobbled up a ton of things that I had wanted to play, but never bothered to pick up. From that point on there have been multiple tiers of interest in a game for me. There are always going to be the games that I will preorder happily so that I can play day one hour one, but these are getting significantly fewer in number.
There is a slightly larger group that I am willing to pick up when it goes on sale for the first time, meaning that first time steam drops the price for a daily deal or a weekend special. There is a significantly larger group that I am interested in when the price gets below $10. Then there is another batch that I am willing to pick up if the price ever lands below $5. Finally there is a group that I have no interest in whatsoever even if they were giving it away for free, and these mostly are made up of the sports games out there. All the while I know in the back of my head, the game is just going to keep getting cheaper each successive Christmas and Summer steam sale. Essentially the amount I am willing to spend on any game is now reduced because I know something like steam exists.
Grinch Stole Steam-mas
The only problem is this year it all feels so formulaic. In part this is because the games we see for sale this year, we also saw for sale during the Christmas 2013 sale, and the Summer 2013 sale, and the Christmas 2012 sale, and the Summer 2012 sale… etc etc. The awesome and horrible thing about steam is that the catalog never depletes. They still regularly offer deals on games a decade old, and while these are generally pennies on the dollar… you can only see the “FATE collection” on sale so many times before you stop giving a crap about it. Over the last few years it has felt like the Steam sale was less an insane deal on games, and more this event that everyone wanted to participate in. There were “games” to be played and “party favors” to collect, and a universal sense of loss of money as folks indulged in picking up all of those games they had been waiting for.
The problem is this year it just feels tarnished. I still instinctively check the page each time a new set of games goes on sale, and for the most part there hasn’t been anything that really excited me in the daily sales. I am not sure if this is a side effect of me just being more accustomed to preordering the games I really care the most about, or if it is a cumulative effect that over the years I have cherry picked most of the good things from these sales already. This year the thing I have really indulged in so far is using this opportunity as a way to pick up the various DLC associated with games I already owned, since while the games go at a significant discount, it is usually the DLC that goes for pennies on the dollar during the steam sales. I used this opportunity to pretty much unlock everything that was available for Borderlands 2, and at the same time freak people out as it spammed my steam activity thread.
You can tell the magic is pretty much gone, when there are multiple flowcharts floating around the interwebs showing users how to get the best possible guaranteed deals from the sale. The base rule is to never buy anything unless it is on a Daily Deal, Flash Sale or Community Choice. Daily deals of course change out around Noon Mountain time I believe, and then Flash and Community Choice swap out every 8 hours. Then at the very end of the event, on June 30th this time around… there is usually an encore sale featuring the best deals of the entire run of the sale. This offers a last chance to pick up some of the more popular items. Since there is this formula however it takes almost all of the excitement out of the process. Once upon a time it was super exciting seeing what new wonders would go on sale each day, now it feels like you have guess what games will be big sellers based on the past performance on the store.
Soured the Milk
The thing is, it isn’t just steam that has destroyed my willingness to pay “full price” for anything. PlayStation Plus is this amazing program where you pay $50 a year and get 2 games a month for each of their three platforms (ps4, ps3, vita). Over the course of my time being a subscriber I have gotten 150 games through the program. This coming month we are getting Strider for the ps4, a title I would have eventually bought…. but was holding off just on the off chance that it might be a free title thanks to the PS4s currently limited software library. Sure enough it is this month and my waiting paid off… and the thing is, that is really way Steam and Playstation Plus and even Games With Gold has taught gamers. If you wait long enough you will get whatever it is that you wanted for next to nothing… or maybe even free. Sure this gives publishers a longer tail on the revenue stream, letting them make some profit off of games that have already cycled off of the store shelves, but it also lowers the total value of ANY title in the process.
At this point $60 seems absolutely outrageous to me to pay for a game regardless of platform. If it is something I am really amped to play, I might do it… but very rarely am I willing to pay that for something that is not an MMO. $40 is really the sweet spot of where I start to be interested in a title, but it isn’t until it gets to $10 or so that I am starting to be willing to pick it up “just because it looks interesting”. Essentially all of these programs have turned games into a commodity for me that I know will lower significantly over time. As far as console gaming goes, I have purchased mostly used games for years… and even then I am not willing to pay the type of prices that GamesStop, Best Buy or even our local chain Vintage Stock has to offer. Most of these places drop the sticker price by $10 and call it good. In order for me to snap up a console game, it has to be at Pawn Shop prices, so $15 bucks or so.
The Steam Sale has taught me to buy a lot more games… but has lowered the total price I am willing to spend on any single game. The funny thing is… this also has caused something completely different. Every now and then there is a title that I believe in so much, that I am willing to buy additional copies and give away to my friends. So this week Borderlands 2 was like $5 and one of my friends mentioned that they had never played the game… so BAM! I purchased it and gifted it to them, because like a really good book… I feel like that is a game that everyone should play. This happens quite often in our little community. Over the course of the week, I gave away several different games… but at the same time received several back from totally different people. The prevalence of this happening has increased significantly over the years I have participated in the steam sale.
So while the total price given per item is less, there are several titles that get bought over and over to give as gifts. A few of my friends keep a stock in their steam inventory of titles that they loved to give out to someone who hasn’t played them yet. This has turned the whole process in a different direction for me, and when I see something like that happen it just makes me smile. Games are to me like Books are to my wife… and just as there will always be a “must read” book that you have to share with everyone you know, there will be a “must play” game. I am just happy to be in a place in my life where I can be generous like that without much issue. It has always made me happy when I can turn someone onto something cool, be it a game or a song or even one of my favorite movies. It is this act of sharing our favorite things that makes the internet such an awesome place to be. Maybe in spite the formulaic nature of the steam sale, there is still a little bit of magic left in that old top hat.