Even though they’ve changed a lot in recent years, Steam sales are still huge, hectic, and a bit overwhelming. With thousands of games vying for your hard-earned cash, there’s a high chance of buying some real duds or missing out on the best deals. And then you add in the trading cards, the new sticker packs, daily highlighted deals and more, and the whole thing can be difficult to get to grips with for even the longest of Steam veterans.
Fortunately, there a few tips you can keep in mind to make this bi-annually capitalistic engagement that bit smoother.
Tip #1: There are no more timed deals
Because of the introduction of Steam refunds, the former Steam sale hallmarks of daily deals, flash deals, and community choice sales have all been retired. That means that the old rule of not buying games until the last day, or if their discount gets bigger during the sale, no longer applies.
Instead, every game is currently at the lowest price it will be for the whole sale. While on the one hand this means there’s not the daily excitement of checking the front page to see what’s cheapest, it does also give you a lot longer to look through the whole of Steam’s catalogue and find things you may have missed in the rush before.
Tip #2: Wishlists are brilliant
For the rest of the year, it’s always worth adding games you’re vaguely interested in to your Steam wishlist. When these big sales roll around, they become the first port of call for finding the games you actually want, as opposed to the things that have impressive-looking discounts or fancy logos on the storefront.
Like any other shop ever shoving the cheap stuff by the tills and the stuff you need at the very back, Steam likes to make finding the exact titles you want more difficult in the hopes you’ll see extras along the way that you’ll think “eh, why not” about. That’s great for finding those hidden treasures, but if your goal is to save money and get just the things you want, it’s a bit of a nightmare. So add games to your wishlist to ensure you’ve got a clean path free of any distractions.
Tip #3: Do you need it now?
If you’re not planning on playing a game between now and December, when the next large Steam sale begins, don’t buy it. Games drop in price very quickly, so what is currently 50% off might be 66% or even 75% off a few months down the line. You’re paying a premium for quick access, so if you’re not expecting to get around to the game right away, just don’t bother.
It’s also worth checking on sites like IsThereAnyDeal or the Enhanced Steam app, which can give you the historical lowest price a game’s been discounted to. If the current sale price isn’t the historic low, and you’re not desperate to play it, waiting a while could save you a bit of money.
A bit of patience is a good thing.
Tip #4: Know where to find the hidden treasures (if you’re feeling adventurous)
Steam’s discoverability is notoriously poor, thanks to the deluge of games coming to it through the now-defunct Greenlight system. Thanks to that, finding good games and good discounts can often be downright impossible through the site itself.
That’s where /r/GameDealsMeta comes in. While the primary /r/GameDeals subreddit is good for the rest of the year, when it comes to these big sales the Meta subreddit is far more helpful thanks to its Hidden Deals thread. Users share large lists of games going for dirt-cheap that they can personally recommend, and you’ll often find more information and discussions about them there than you would on the Store pages themselves.
It’s not perfect – you often get developers plugging their own games, and as it’s Reddit it’s often skewed towards certain types games, but the lists are usually big enough that you’ll find something there.
Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to refund.
While it did kill the timed deals, the refund system has also been a blessing for these larger sales. As long as you’ve played a game for less than two hours, and it’s been under 14 days since you bought it, you can apply for a refund and, nine times out of ten, Valve will give you your money back.
Valve says this isn’t a valid way of trying out games, and it’s certainly no replacement for a demo, but in sales the barrier of buying-and-trying a game is much lower than normal, and so making use of it is worth thinking about. I’ve bought a few games only to discover I didn’t think they were quite at the discount I’d want them for, and so figured refunding was justified.
Make sure you don’t abuse the system, be it refunding too often or refunding games you’ve managed to finish, as not only is it scummy, it also may cause Valve to ban or limit your refunding privileges in the future.
Tip #6: Don’t get suckered in to the trading cards
Each sale comes with an event that players can engage with to earn extra profile cosmetics and trading cards. In the past, these have been huge things like clicker games or treasure hunts, but the events have gotten a bit more mundane in the last few sales.
This year, it’s the sticker album. Buying games and completing tasks designed to make you buy more games can earn you sticker packs for filling a digital album. It’s neat, but it’s also entirely designed to get you to spend more money with almost none of the fun of the events of yesteryear, and so it isn’t worth even thinking about. The rewards you get for them are never worth it in the long-run, either.
And so now you’re ready to go forth, safe in the knowledge that Valve won’t be making you part with quite as much of your money as it might’ve done before.
For what it’s worth, I’ve already bought far more than I should have. Enjoy the backlog.