Valve’s Sale Culture Is Making it Easier for Companies to Scam You

It’s the steam summer sale, time for huge discounts and buying games you won’t play!

But for many games on sale, the discounts are a bit lacking. In fact, almost anything which isn’t part of a daily deal/flash sale but which plans to be in one has a rather insulting discount. Why? Because they’re saving the normal discount for the front page.

The easiest way to get noticed during a steam sale is to show up on the front page. In order to show up on the front page, you need to either be part of the 24-hour daily deal, the 12-hour flash sale, or the special sale event (this year’s minigame event replaced the usual community choice). But this requires adding an extra discount to your game. So for companies who don’t want to do that, they simply set the special sale discount as their normal discount, and offer up a reduced discount for the rest of the sale.

This wouldn’t be a problem if it were just a few devs doing it, right? But as Valve has made the steam sales more front-page oriented, the number of games being shown on the front page has dramatically increased, even just from the summer sale last year. In fact, let’s do some comparisons.

During the 2014 summer sale, the Steam front page featured:

  • 9 daily deals
  • 4 eight-hour flash sales
  • 4 community-choice games, grouped thematically

During the 2015 summer sale, the Steam front page features:

  • 15 Daily deals
  • 15 Twelve-hour flash sales
  • 9 Daily summer game deals

This is an incredibly large increase, which will likely only get larger with further sales. With the front page being a mix of indie games, early access games, AAA games, and franchise-wide sales, it quickly becomes a confusing and ugly mess. Making it worse is the way the front page randomizes the order games are shown in. Likely Valve’s attempt to make it more “fair” and “equal.”

The scummiest part of this front-page focused strategy, however, is that it doesn’t just allow developers to offer average discounts for a shorter period of time. It also means that developers have to play into Valve’s front-page strategy, or lose out on their best source of free advertising. How many of you go out of your way to look for sales not listed on the front page? Even if you used to, do you still do so now? Many wouldn’t. Why would you, when you could just check which game is on sale on the front page and get the game you want when it’s a daily deal? For developers and publishers which choose to offer the same discount for the entirety of the sale, doing so means potentially losing a significant number of customers. Even if you are opposed to doing that, you still have to.

As I am writing this, the Far Cry Franchise is one of the daily deals. Far Cry 3 has a discount of 75% off, bringing it down to $7.49. This is the same deal as it would normally get in a non-seasonal sale context, but because it’s the seasonal sale, this deal will only last 48 hours, after which it will go back to being $17.99 for the rest of the sale. If you don’t get it during those 48 hours, tough. You get to buy it at a shitty discount. Bought it before it was a daily? Tough luck.

Valve has generated a culture around their seasonal sales, one which punishes developers for offering better discounts for a longer period of time and encourages publishers to only offer good discounts for a fraction of the sale. It doesn’t stop at the front page, though. Publishers like Rockstar have taken it upon themselves to take it one step further, by artificially increasing the price so the discount brings it back down to the normal price. In the case of Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar has offered a version of the game with an in-game cash card bundled in, bringing the price up to 80 dollars. They then applied a 25% discount to it, bringing it back down to 60 dollars. In addition, the cash card means this purchase counts as a microtransaction, so it’s non-refundable.

The nature of capitalism and big business means that publishers will inevitably try to pull scummy stuff like this. But Valve’s current approach has simply made it easier for companies to pull this kinda stuff, while making it harder for publishers to be honest and offer people a better deal. For a company which prided itself on not being as scummy as companies like Microsoft, Valve seems to be trying its hardest to match them.

While this kind of thing is incredibly scummy, please do try to exercise discretion and skepticism before accusing publishers of increasing their price before a sale. Some developers, like Tabletop Simulator’s Berserk Games, had separate reasons for increasing their price which just happened to coincide with the sale. It’s important to not accuse people for something they didn’t do, especially on social media.

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