How Steam is Gaming the Players


Not a big secret is it? What, you didn’t know?

So the Summer sale on Steam has many of us playing the Summer Card game in which your purchase of games and your votes on packages earn you a chance to win three games from your Wishlist. My wishlist is getting long, so this seems like a pretty good thing for me to participate in. The drivers of my decision:

  1. Irresistable desire to complete checklist (Summer Cards)
  2. Irresistable desire to complete checklist (Wishlist)
  3. Irresistable desire to barter (Trading)

These are games. The sale is a giant game. And the object of the game isn’t for me to win more games. It’s for Valve to shake as many coins out of my pockets as they can. I think the term is “wring” or “swindle”.

Still, I play along because of all of these irresistible desires, and that part of it is on me. Sure, I curb the impulses – I almost never buy anything impulse. The truth is I find it enjoyable to trade those cards and I like the idea of having teams that are competing to win games on our wishlists. It’s very appealing, even though I feel manipulated. Even though I surrender to these manipulations, it doesn’t change Valves responsibility in manipulating me.

While I do love a good sale, some bloggers have mentioned feeling underwhelmed by it this time around. Some don’t know how they will survive 10 more days of sales, having purchased many games since it’s started. I think I’m less excited about these sales as the years go on. Partly it’s because I’m saturated with games. Partly it’s because I’m older and have such a vast collection that its hard to feel like I’m missing out on anything. Part of it is because there really isn’t anything new on sale or anything interesting. As Liore pointed out, the same games are on sale this year that were last year and the year before (Torchlight comes to mind, as well as Terraria and many others).

I look at the new games aren’t on sale, or are barely on sale and I can see the developers behind them loving and loathing Steam sales. They want those easy sales, that send floods of players and profit to them (albeit less profit than if that same volume of players buy at full price). But their game is shiny and new. Don’t they deserve full price? Aren’t they dooming themselves by allowing players to believe that their $60 title will be $5 by Christmas? If you’ve got a library the size of mind, you don’t mind waiting it out because you’ve got tons of cheap games to keep you busy in the meantime. It’s a gilded cage of sorts. Developers are trapping themselves in this model because short term money is as irresistible as those checklists and quests players trap themselves into. They love the gold, but hate the bars of the cage.

Maybe players and devs need marriage counseling. This relationship is getting unhealthy.

Yet I participate. It’s fun in a way. I get to spend money and work hard at trading for three games on my wishlist that cost less than the effort I’m I’m putting into this.

Yeah. We need that counseling.

6 thoughts on “How Steam is Gaming the Players

  1. In a way, I find it kind of freeing to only limit my game spending to twice a year. I used to visit my local games store every 3-4 months or so, and buy 5-6 boxes for $200-300 after careful deliberation of the very limited selection there. I get far more quantity and value for money going digital, and buying only during sales and bundles.

    Unfortunately, this change of consumer habits has surely knocked out most brick-and-mortar stores (I’m sure mine misses me as an ex-regular, if it hasn’t shut down by now.) Nor have I deigned to pay full retail price for a game in a very very long time (probably The Secret World or Guild Wars 2 was the last one, and Eternal Crusade will probably be the next, sometime this year or 2015.)

    The holdouts like Blizzard or EA Origin, I simply never play, and I doubt that I’m missing anything much, when there’s plenty of other spreads to sample at the games buffet table.

    • Thats an interesting perspective. I’m going on 3 years of fulfilling my promise to not binge on game shopping. I probably buy one AAA title a year, if that and I stick mostly with sort of mid-range to indie titles. So these sales are good and bad for me. I usually pick up 2 or 3 titles from my wishlists or I pass them up altogether.

      The disappearance of brick and mortar everything has been going on for at least 5 years now. With faster and free shipping offered online most of the time, customers find they can get exactly what they want a much better price and sometimes even better quality. For games, devs are killing their own outlets by increasingly going digital in an effort to increase sales. They reason that if gamers never own a copy, they can’t sell used titles and this somehow is increasing their sales. I have not seen this confirmed by any market research and I don’t think it ever will be. There’s no possible way to know how many sales they “missed” by not offering used games.

    • I’m really sure most people who consider themselves avid gamers use any service that offers them the best price or which aligns with their ideologies (ex. players who only buy DRM free). But this is more a critique of how the Steam sale is set up to exploit us and our love/hate relationship with that fact. It doesn’t invalidate shopping elsewhere and shopping elsewhere doesn’t invalidate this critique.

  2. Pingback: The Steam Personal Challenge | Sygnus Fantasy, Gaming, Writing, Geek Blog

  3. Pingback: The Steam Personal Challenge | Clean Casuals

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