Steam Sales: Not What They Used to Be

Steam Sales: Not What They Used to Be

Yesterday marks the beginning of yet another seasonal Steam sale. This typically means another themed event to accompany the daily discounts, and this year’s summer sale is no exception, but users who aren’t already enjoying the recently introduced Steam trading cards might be less than thrilled about the nature of this event. The Summer Getaway Sale predictably implements the new feature with the unveiling of ten Summer Getaway trading cards.

Summer Getaway Sale

Always in search of ways to convince potential customers that Steam is more than a typical online distributor with some neatly packaged digital rights management, Valve has famously made a habit of supplementing its well-known seasonal sales with themed objectives, contests, and other giveaways. Last year’s two big events, however, were arguably lackluster compared to those which had come before, and this isn’t a nostalgia-induced observation.

The Great Steam Treasure Hunt of winter 2010, for example, was a pretty big deal. By completing special objectives related to in-game actions and community participation, Steam users could enter into a series of drawings to win free games. Every two days, twenty people won the top five games from their wish lists; three users then won a hundred games at the end of the event. The Steam Summer Camp Sale in 2011 followed a similar format with a few differences, namely that a single “ticket” was earned for each completed objective. Three of these tickets could then be exchanged for something at the prize booth (e.g., free downloadable content for a Steam game). Each ticket earned also came with automatic entry into another free-game sweepstakes in which 100 people won ten games.

The Great Gift Pile event, which took place the following winter, was perhaps the most notorious Steam event to date. This time, each completed objective came with one of three prizes: a lump of coal, a coupon, or a free game. Seven lumps of coal could then be “crafted” into a non-coal prize, and any remaining lumps of coal at the end of the event were used as entries into yet another Steam game give-away: One lucky person won every game on Steam, 50 won ten games, 100 won five games, and 1,000 won the Valve complete pack. Unfortunately, Humble Indie Bundle 4 was going on at the same time, and the name-your-own-price bundle included Steam keys for some of the games whose achievements were needed to win prizes.

People quickly realized that, by creating dozens of Steam accounts and buying dozens of bundles for $0.01 each, they could vastly increase their odds of getting free stuff without spending a lot of money. All of that free stuff could then be traded back to their main Steam accounts. Because of this easily exploited loophole, Steam ran out of third-party coupons before the event was over, and Humble Bundle was forced to raise the minimum price for Steam keys to $1.00.

Compared to the previous events, the Summer Sale of 2012 was a massive step down. Discounts went on as usual, but the sale was devoid of any contests or cool prizes, possibly due to the previous event’s Humble Bundle shenanigans. Only a few community-based objectives were posted for the duration of the sale, and the only reward for participation was an easily obtained Steam badge. The following Holiday Sale was more of the same.

These last two events did come with a couple of new features which return this summer: Flash Sales which roll over every few hours (like Daily Deals on crack) and a Community’s Choice poll to determine which of three games will go on sale next. It should be noted, however, that the games featured in Flash Sales and Community’s Choice polls always seem to end up as Daily Deals anyway.

So here we are, at the start of another sale, and again there no sweepstakes or contests in sight. Furthermore, with the absence of any specially themed achievements or objectives, it looks like the last remnant of the old Steam events has been swept aside to make room for something presumably more lucrative.

Steam Trading Cards

This event’s special badge can only be earned by crafting all ten Summer Getaway trading cards, and these cards can be obtained in a few ways. The easiest is by casting Community’s Choice votes (three of which are good for one card), yielding a maximum of one card per day. Unfortunately, this only works if your Steam level, based on previously collected badges, is five or higher. If not, or if you can’t check into Steam every few hours for the next eleven days, you’ll have to turn to alternative methods: spending money on Steam (which is likely Valve’s favorite option), crafting badges for games you already own (which involves collecting other sets of cards), trading other items for the required cards (which means you need something worth trading), or simply buying the cards from other users on the Steam market (a monetary transaction from which Valve takes a small percentage).

As Valve continues to push the new trading card feature, frequently adding to the list of participating games, it’s possible that the use of trading cards to earn a badge, as opposed to the completion of special achievements, will be the norm in future Steam events.

  1. Spokker says:

    Amazon has better sales. Green Man Gaming too, especially when you use their coupon.

  2. Dysisa says:

    In all honesty, does it matter? I want to buy games when Steam sales roll around, not play games(pun intended).

  3. Armando Davalos says:

    I personally don’t have a problem with the trading card malarkey, mostly because I’ve made $25 off doing nothing but idling in games I had lying around unplayed, and selling the cards to whatever type of person that wants to extend their e-penises.

    I do seriously miss the old Winter 2011 event, but I understand if the HIB exploits traumatized the hell out of Valve. The internet can’t have nice things.

  4. Aiekamer says:

    The games are cheap as fuck and the cards give people a (if superficial) reason to actually play the games they buy, even after the sale’s up.

    While this article informed me of the details of previous steam sales of which I wasn’t a part, I’m still not sure I give two shits about how this one compares.

    • Grizzly Magnum says:

      I think this is article about the slippery slope of declining quality.

      • Aiekamer says:

        While it’s interesting to see how things have changed, I think the article explains pretty clearly why things are going in this direction. Might be just a personal ignorance thing but over the last three years I’ve seen Steam sales as ‘different games that I can buy cheap every day for a little while.’

        I see it less of a step backwards and more a step sideways, away from all the stuff that can go wrong. Or maybe even a slight twirl on the spot (a pirouette even) and a hop diagonally south west.

    • Axe99 says:

      I find it right odd that consumers feel they need something to justify playing something they just paid for, even if it was a great price! Just highlights the ‘first world problem’ issues we’re dealing with here ;).

      As for the Valve sales, if the PC community was going to shaft them like they did with the Humble Bundle thing, we can hardly complain about them cutting back on stuff like that. It always amazes me how many PC gamers seem to be more set on destroying PC gaming than supporting it.

      • AngryFrenchKanadian says:

        Surely you mean a small percentage ruined it for everyone else, like most things in life.

      • Gig says:

        It always amazes me how many internet anonymous posters seem illogical, irrational and quick to generalize. There were a few hundred people (out of, I’d say, tens of thousands?) that tried to take advantage of a loophole in Valve’s competition. If you think that’s sufficient meddling to destroy the thriving industry of PC gaming, I think you’re pathetically misinformed.

  5. Amer Hmaidan says:

    I just miss the publisher packs.

  6. Aeiou says:

    I don’t mind, i mean the main event is the sales anyway, i do miss doing the daily tasks for games i’d never touched before but otherwise i’m pretty indifferent.

    I don’t really get trading cards though, who honestly cares about them?

    • Armando Davalos says:

      This is genuinely what feels most bizarre to me. I’m perfectly happy to sell these cards to people for loads of change, but I wonder about the people who buy them in the first place. Who are these people? They’re obviously buying the cards to finish the collections, but the end result for a single game is pretty much nothing. A single fake badge that gives you 100 fake Steam XP, which earns you half a fake Steam level. You’d need to drop about a dollar into every badge, just to get half a level (then a third of a level, then a quarter, and so on), when levels only become “significant” with every 10th level, and even then only to get a higher chance of getting more of these fake cards in weekly drops, an emoticon, a background, and a coupon.

      I seriously don’t understand the motivation behind collecting these. It’s absolutely anathema to me. But hey, if this means I can leave a game idling when I go biking or doing errands and get a dollar per game, I’m fine with them.

      • Dysisa says:

        I’m gonna wager that the extra customization for your profile and the e-peen is what drives people to doing this. Really not that complicated.

        • Aeiou says:

          Well yeah, but there isn’t a compelling reason outside of that so it just baffles me.

          Do people REALLY set that much store by collecting digital fucking trading cards that have no purpose other than badges? At least an actual trading card game involves playing a game with them.

          I get the whole carrot on a stick angle to get people to keep people interested in something longer but this just seems pointless.

      • CaptainKing says:

        It’s not that everyone on the market is topping up their wallets specifically for cards, I’d wager the vast majority are simply using the market as a far quicker and easier alternative to going through all the hassle of trading. Sell the cards you don’t want, buy the ones that will go towards making a steam background you actually want to adorn your profile with, and in the meantime Valve takes a tidy 5% (of money that never actually existed in the first place, still trying to get my head around that one). Perhaps I’m projecting a little too heavily but once you’ve hit lvl10 and have your little profile showcase, the whole steam-level business seems to take a back-seat to profile decorations, which I believe to be the main driving force, not the arbitrary XP counter.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ve bought cards using the money from cards I sold.
          If most people did that, then it about evens.
          But there has to be a source for the original amount of money, and a source for all the money lost through Steam’s fee.
          The entire card economy must depend on a group of early adopters.

          • CaptainKing says:

            Yes, I had a think about it. There must be quite a number of people actually pumping money into the system somewhere, Valve and sometimes game devs take a 5-15% cut on the hundreds of proxy transactions (cards to money and back again), then whenever someone doesn’t use their card sales to buy more cards, the money comes back out of the system again. Effectively, all money stays in the system when you craft a badge, they’re simply created out of thin air, used to cart money straight to Valve, then disappear again, genius.

      • Gig says:

        I’d wager Valve saw how the mannco economy blossomed due to people crafting, trading and buying fictional hats for their unplayed TF2 characters for real money and thought it might work here, too. And people will trade and buy them, because they’re informed by Valve that it’s fun trading and buying digital cards for negligible profit.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As someone who never has time to participte in any event the Steam sale is usually just a time to buy games I might not normally give a chance for very low prices.
    But the events have really always been very special.
    This is good feedback.
    If the events could be better then Valve should know, to figure out how to improve them and get them to be the best they can be for all those segments of people that participate in them.
    There’s always room for more improvement and magic after all and the worst feedback is no feedback at all.

    • Dr.No-Fun says:

      The problem was so many people using exploits and abusing the system to get way too many free games. During the winter sale, I think they ran out of steam keys 5 or 6 days before the event ended.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The cards allow me to buy copies of Bad Rats so I can harass people I know. It’s awesome.

  9. serpen1 says:

    I got XCOM for 10 bucks last night. I’m fine with steams current system, considering the main point of the summer sales is, well, sales.

  10. Anothereposter says:

    I would dive into the Steam summer sale buy my wallet has already been raided by GOG’s DRM-free summer sale. I have a lot of Dungeons and Dragons to catch up on.

    • Adam Gulledge says:

      GOG’s sales were very nice, although I ended up skipping some because the discount was too much. Alan Wake for 80% off? Not a chance. Remedy deserves more than that.

  11. Johanz says:

    The way that you earn extra cards by buying stuff for 10 dollars or more seems just… Well, it’s not shady but I feel it is a bit of a dirty trick. To get people to spend more because they want larger e-peens.

    And I hate these trading cards since they are dumbing down Steams functionality in the long run. Remember almost any instant messaging program or profile at a community site-place? How one could customize the backgrounds and how the instant messaging programs let you create your own emoticons? Well, in Steam, you can earn background images and emoticons which just feel so backwards and dumb when customizing content however you want is such a big deal with PC and Steam Workshop.

    It’s just a background image for your profile, I know, and I don’t really care about that it just feels like these trading cards are introduced and take free features out since you have to be able to earn *something* by using them or whatever it is you do.

    And yeah, previous sales have been better on that front, like earning free games and what not. Still promoting you to purchase stuff which is fine since you can actually get stuff. 10 dollars for the next trading card? It just feels sorta… Lame, you know?

  12. yeah steam is getting stupid but it’s not as douchebagish as ea that after buying a game like bf3 for a very inflated price, you only find that inside there’s almost no content being played and it’s all about DLC which is an extra cash milk. Steam has got the basics down while other PC gaming distributors seem retarded.

  13. Ahriman says:

    Although I can understand why Valve have not had anything really ‘gripping’ in the last few sales, I still miss them. Made it more fun and gave me a little extra for my trouble.
    Shit-I still have an unopened Back to the Future voucher in my inventory from Xmas 2011.

  14. Jason says:

    The article title makes it sound like actual sales have suffered (In $ amounts), but there is no data in here to back that up. I know that it’s because I misinterpreted the title, but I am fair in thinking that it is absolutely a misleading title.

    • Jason says:

      As an aside, I bought games during this sale, and was not even aware of the previous “themed” sales despite being an active steam user throughout those years.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s only misleading because you, by your own admission, are unaware of the fact that steam sales are considered a meta-game before the actual sale part comes into it despite it all occurring right under your nose. Honestly, it’s not the authors fault you came in to this article without any previous knowledge on the subject.

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