This week marks the beginning of another Steam sale. Yes, you read that correctly, a Steam sale. What’s the occasion, you ask? Well, it just so happens to be the year of the dog. The what, sorry? The Year of the Dog, I said. Isn’t that cause for celebration? Well, not really.
Call me old-fashioned, but used to be the Steam store would flash its green lights only on a twice-a-year basis. Christmas is the obvious time to sell games at a discount, of course. Not only is Christmas the time when people buy their family members expensive gifts, but also the time when gifts, at all, are being bought en masse. Those with newly gifted laptops and desktops get to immediately test out their hot new rigs by playing such and such game. And only at half price; what a bargain! Then summer came to be a natural time for another sale since it was almost exactly six months since and six months till Christmas.
But lately, it’s been hard to find any periods of normalcy. The first reason for this is the diversification in the marketplace. Alongside the Steam store, we’ve seen the start up and growth of services like Bundlestars (now called Fanatical), GoG, Green Man Gaming, the Ubisoft and Origin stores, and Humble Bundle. Most if not all of these have since their genesese become almost as bloated as the Steam store they desperately aimed to emulate. Humble Bundle, for one, boasts a humble six concurrent bundles on offer at this very moment, as well as a monthly subscription service where you gain access to a random game of the month for a nominal fee and a store that is available indefinitely. This bloating has made it difficult to refer to the Humble Bundle services as either humble or bundled, but I won’t spend too much time on that here. Call me old fashioned, if you will.
So with this increased diversity, we also see an increased frequency of special offers. Sales on Steam, alone, have more than doubled since several years back. Now, alongside Christmas and summer sales, we see autumn sales, midsummer sales, Halloween sales, new year sales, spring sales, Easter sales, back to school sales, kiss your mum on the cheek before leaving the house sales, and even pat your donkey on the ass once you’re done milking it sales. Only half of these are in jest and I don’t need to inform you that the last one isn’t one of them. Some of the aforementioned new services have also inspired the older services to do similar or the same things, essentially resulting in a form of crossbreeding where bundle sites now offer sales and stores now offer bundles. And worse still, websites that were supposed to be competition for the Steam store have now synched their sales with it. Perhaps as a desperate move to stay competitive, these stores have now essentially become the same service. By offering the same prices across platforms, these different platforms have effectively become the same one as buying it here or there makes absolutely no difference. Except, of course, that games bought arrive in the form of Steam codes, anyway, rendering these now third party stores completely redundant middlemen.
Sales, themselves, are always a rather cynical affair. Or, rather, discounts are. Dip into any of your friend circles and raise this issue and you’d be hard pressed not to find anyone who holds the now clichéd opinion that discounted goods will always sell better. My fellow writers here at GameLuster know me as exactly that person. But this is one of those moments where a cliché is not altogether an untenable position. Indeed, looking at the Steam store now, it’s hard not to feel for my wallet to check whether or not anything’s gone missing already. Stardew Valley (2016) down 20%, you say? Don’t Starve Together (2016) down 5 euro? Ori and the Blind Forest (2015) is no longer 20 euro? No bag’s fine; I’m thinking about the environment.
This point in isolation from the last bears stressing, I think. Does anyone really sit and wait for 12 euro games to become 10 euro games? For 20 euro prices to drop down to 15 or 10 euro? Can anyone really say they’re still purchasing anything worthwhile during these sales and eagerly anticipate the next sale where they’ll spend an equivalent amount of money on even more games they’ve always wanted to play? You’d think the average Steam user would be stocked on games to outlast the inevitable nuclear holocaust that President Nixon has planned for us by now. And really, what bones are left to pick? Do indie games truly need to see their prices slashed from walnuts to peanuts in order for people to pick those games up? Are they even really relying on a spike in sales of this kind?
You may think me entitled for raising these issues about so called “free stuff”. It shouldn’t be my job as a European to remind everyone that there are no such things as free lunches. Make no mistake about it, you who repost images of Gabe Newell’s face photoshopped onto an image of Jesus Christ, stores exist to make money, not to satisfy customers. This is especially true in the case of a sale like this where even bad games get heavily discounted, often to the dismay of those who decided to give the game a chance now that it’s cheaper. Cheaper here, of course, means merely to buy and not to play. Bad games, buggy messes, and glitchy experiences don’t magically change in quality because the prices go down, the price being only the barrier to entry after all. Only in cases where a line is being trodden do you see recommendations stand or fall on the price of admission.
Thus another Steam sale comes to town to remind you that extra money can always be spent. Like junk littered around the checkout of a general store or clothing shop, the games pile up at your feet and cannot escape your field of view, their temptation only made easier by caving and picking them up on your way out. And then the reality effect sets in and you shake your fist at Freud for not telling you sooner that Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (2012) suffers from glitches and exploits that have been present since day one and offers a dead multiplayer experience as everyone else has already moved on to newer things. But it was only a few euro spent, so why even bother returning it? So what if you could’ve bought a perfectly fine cup of coffee for the same price and sat on your chair watching prettier people walk by? The sun’s bad for your skin anyway.