How To Make The Most Of The Steam Holiday Sale

Steam’s annual holiday sale starts today. Before you empty your wallet, here are some helpful tips to make sure you get the most for your money and catch the titles you really want.

If you’re not familiar with Steam’s regular sales, the Summer Sale is usually around mid July (US Summer) and the and Winter sale is around Christmas. Both can net gamers huge discounts on popular titles released during the first half of the year — and the first half of 2013 were particularly awesome. Even popular, best-selling and newly released titles can see huge discounts to the tune of 75-90 per cent off in some cases. Those discounts are hard to resist, but there’s a method to Steam’s madness. Here’s how to get the games you want for as little as possible.

Fill Up Your Wishlist Now

One of Steam’s best features is that they will send you an email alert when a game on your wishlist goes on sale. It’s both a blessing and a curse — you’ll be able to jump right on that sale, but you also may jump on a sale that’s a little premature. We’ll get to how to tell when your favourite game is discounted as deep as it’s going to get in a second, but for the time being go ahead and load up your wishlist with titles you’ve been meaning to check out. That way you’ll at least be notified, and you won’t miss them.

Know Your Steam Sale Types

Each steam sale has four different types of discounts going on at the same time:

  • The broad, store-wide discount that any game not released in the past six months gets. This discount is usually anywhere between 25 per cent to 75 per cent.
  • Daily deals, where selected games are on sale for 24-48 hours. These discounts are generally a bit steeper, but still in the 50-75 per cent range. These are the deals you get to sleep on if you want to.
  • Flash sales, where selected games are on sale for 12-14 hours. These are the ones you may have thought were daily deals and wound up missing. Sucks, doesn’t it? Discount levels are the same, but the clock runs out faster.
  • Community deals, where Steam users vote for one of three games to get a discount. These deals last about a day, and you can weigh in on which one you want. The result is up to the community, but it’s usually the biggest title or the steepest discount that wins.

When to Buy, and When to Skip

Don’t buy a game unless it’s a daily deal or a flash sale. You may be tempted by one of the general store discounts, but don’t do it. Those titles will likely go further on sale somewhere before the end of the week, and you’ll miss out on a deeper discount. If your favourite game doesn’t go on a daily deal or a flash sale before the end of the sale, you can pick it up on the last day at the same discount that it got on the first day — you’ll just know that’s as good as it’s going to get.

If you miss your favourite game as a daily deal or flash sale, do not buy it anyway. The last day of the Steam Sale is almost always an Encore Sale, where the most popular daily deals and flash sales come back at the same discounts. That’s when you get to buy whatever you missed — or whatever else you may want.

This thread at GameFAQs sums up these rules pretty clearly, and some of the other posters there offer a few more points to consider when shopping Steam sales, but these are the big two takeaways.

The Exception: Buy Bundles Any Time You Want

Publisher bundles are almost always ridiculously deep discounts. If you’re looking at an Activision bundle or a Eidos bundle and wondering if those prices will get any better, stop wondering and just buy it. The side effect is that you wind up with a bunch of games you may not want to play, but it can be a fantastic discount for a lot of games if everything in the bundle interests you.

Before you buy any game on sale, make sure to check a publisher bundle to see if the game is discounted in the bundle as well. You never know, it may be a steeper discount in the bundle than it is on its own. It’s not very likely, but you should always check first. While you’re at it, check DLC (Downloadable Content) prices. Sometimes a title you want has a lot of DLC that’s also on sale too for as little as $1, and it’s worth buying them all together.

How to Know When You’re Getting the Biggest Discount

Daily deals and flash sales offer the deepest discounts Steam will offer. That means if you see Bioshock Infinite for sale for 60 per cent off as a flash sale, even if it comes back, you won’t get it any cheaper than that. You probably won’t see that though — as the Scientific Gamer notes, new games that have been recently released will usually only get a 25-40 per cent cut. Grab it if you really really want it, but deeper discounts will come in the next few months. 50-66 per cent off are modest discounts, worth jumping on if you want the title or have been meaning to pick it up, and if the title is an Indie or a cheap game anyway, go for it. You run the risk of seeing a steeper discount after the sale is over, but probably not. Anything discounted 75 per cent or more is the cheapest you’ll ever see it on Steam. Go for it.

Use Technology to Help You

If you don’t want to be bothered with emails from Steam, check out the Steam mobile apps for Android and iOS. You can keep track on the sales anywhere you go, and if there’s a flash sale, you’ll be able to check the prices from your smartphone.

Similarly, check out Enhanced Steam for Chrome and Firefox. The extension gives you full price histories for the games you browse, helps you avoid buying DLC you already own, notifies you when a game you’re looking at has third-party DRM (worthwhile for finding out if a game requires Games for Windows Live or Ubisoft’s UPlay before you buy it and find out), and shows you how much you’re really saving on a bundle purchase. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth installing.

Finally, if you use Steam Wallet to make your purchases, load it up ahead of time. You don’t want to get stuck in the last moments of a sale trying to add funds and then process a sale only to be denied because the transactions are taking too long. For more suggestions, check out this post over at GHacks.

With these tips, you won’t buy a game only to find it’s a daily deal and thus a steeper discount later in the week, and you won’t miss a sale hoping it’ll come back at some point later on only to find out it never does. Keep an eye out for your favourite titles, make your wishlist in advance, set a budget for yourself (seriously, otherwise you will empty your wallet), and have fun. Then spend some time actually playing through your backlog so you can get to the games you just bought.

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