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.


Comments

    You use Bioshock as an example of a game that won't get discounted more than 40%, steam goes and discounts it for 50%. I love you steam

      Steam loves you too. Gaben loves all his children.
      http://www.gaben.tv/

      Last edited 12/07/13 12:14 pm

        Even better? Having an Amazon account. Why would I buy games from steam directly any more? Think 50% off of Bioshock is good? Why not check it out at Amazon and get it for 50% off of the US price? Better yet, buy it on Amazon, get a steam key, activate and BAM! No more Australian Tax!!!

          For some reason I can never buy games on Amazon. Even when it's digital only, I get some bullshit error message saying how I can't purchase it because they don't deliver to Australia. :/

          So I haven't bothered with that, and just gone with the (usually better priced) Greenman or Ozgameshop. Steam does some pricing better for Australia. Check out http://www.steamprices.com/au/topsavings - I think it might be a little skewed because of sales at the moment, though.

            Yeah, no, create an account, and just enter an American address when they ask. Grab one off the net or something. Use Valve's. Then you can use your Australian card with no problem

          OFF OF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          So the steam sales are also on Amazon? I'm confused.

      Bioshock Triple Pack for USD$19..... SOLD!

        It was $18 at gamefly in a build your own bundle. Or for $22 you could add another game like Borderlands 2. Or even $15 for the triplepack on Amazon.

        People should look around before buying on steam, just because it says x% off doesn't make it a deal.

    Hey, Microsoft PR people. Pro-tip: Check out all the major gaming news sites, blogs, and twitter right about now.

    Do you notice how the recurring theme is, "Oh my God, your wallet is about to be looted and plundered. Get ready to spend all the money you have, or even go into crazy debt!"

    Have you noticed how people seem to be eager and looking forward to spending unreasonable amounts of money? And how Valve is eager to publicize how these events result in record revenues for publishers?

    Study this. Fucking learn something already.

      MS PR: Ok, I've been reading, and what I've surmised so far, is that people are fools and will pay anything we tell them to... right?

      *crickets*

      Hahah. Don't be silly. Microsoft doesn't even know people use their console to play games, how would they know what the gaming news sites are :P

      MS PR: Isn't that what we did with Xbox One?

      1). Lock them them into walled garden DRM. Check.
      2). Can't share games with friends. Check.
      3). Can't resell games. Check.
      4). Gloat like a pack of morons about all the money you're going to spend. Check.

      OMG this "games" thing is so difficult and confusing!

        Xbox One was a huge leap into how Consoles should be... Its just a shame console gamers were too scared to adopt the new system

          No, it's a shame it came from Microsoft, a company that would happily go out of it's way to screw over it's users

        This always reminds me of when I was living in a college at university.

        In the dorms, there were these two guys. One of them was a cool dude who everyone liked. The other, got called 'bitch boy', because he'd bitch incessantly if you beat him at something, and gloat like an asshole if he won.

        Everyone liked cool guy because he was friendly and generous and laid back. Cool guy had a VCR (kids: It's like a really old DVD-player) which he used to lend to us to plug in to the common room TVs, so we could host dorm movie nights. When it wasn't in use, he'd leave it plugged in to his common room's TV, and let everyone use it when he wasn't around. People always used to invite cool guy to the movie nights, and they shouted him pizza - it was just peoples' own idea because they were grateful.

        Seeing how popular the coolguy was, and wanting to be popular like him, bitch-boy goes and asks his parents to buy him a VCR. Bitch-boy then keeps it locked up in his room, and tells people that he might let them use it if they're super nice to him, invite him to whatever they're showing, and if they compensate him with pizza.

        End of the day, bitch-boy is pissed off and upset because he can't figure out why he's still not popular like cool guy. He claims it's bullshit and doesn't make sense and isn't fair.

        Valve is just like the cool guy. Microsoft is being just like bitch-boy. They really don't get it, and it's kinda sad.

        Last edited 12/07/13 2:24 pm

          That was an awesome analogy. I hope it was for real.

            Yeah, for realsies. That was how my life at college went down. Poor bitch-boy used to try so hard too. He ended up VERY proficient at many of the games we played, just so he could finally beat us and stop whining. It was really sad that he just didn't get it.

            Counter-strike - he was a pretty good shot with the AWP (yeah, he really was That Guy), but he didn't get the psychology behind the game. The mind-games that let me beat him with the silenced m4 carbine by using footstep noise and double-guessing. Hunting and killing the guy in what he thought was primo camping spot, only to - one minute later - hear the furious slapping of thongs on concrete stairs as he stampeded up three floors to burst into my room and cry, "That was bullshit!" Checking my screen to see what I was doing, suspecting wall-hacking or aim-botting or something. (Pointless. I never cheated. I'd usually have someone else in there watching over my shoulder as spectators, because I played to a crowd and made it entertaining. He just couldn't conceive of someone being better than him.)

            It's uncanny how close the Valve/MS parallel is to that particular dynamic we experienced. History repeats... on various scales.

              Could you be the infamous cool guy!? or hopefully not... bitch-boy...

                Nah, I was just on the sidelines. I was never that cool, OR awkward. But I did rock ass at Counter-Strike.

          Transient stories are best stories *decisive nod*

        There's a key difference--have you seen Microsoft's (and sony's) online game prices? Rubbish.

      Mind you, these are the same people who convince a whole lot of customers to pay THEM the right to use the internet they're already paying for.

      Sorry, I don't think anyone at Microsoft will ever see this, they're still sitting waiting for Internet Explorer to open.

      I don't know. See, people say unreasonable. But, last Steam Sale, I bought 4 or so games, and the total cost of those games combined was $20.
      Hardly the pillaging of my wallet that some make it out to be.

      That said, they were all games that I wouldn't have bought if they weren't on sale.

    You forgot the biggest tip of all - make friends with someone OUTSIDE of Australia so they can gift you games.

    Bioshock Infinite is a joke, the "discounted" price is the same as RRP in America.

      orrr.... just US vpn :D

        Friends are better though

          Friends are overrated though
          fixed :P

            Ahh but with steam sales, you can't steal it's kidneys while it's sleeping and sell it on the black market to help your wallet recover from sales trauma

    im just buying games that can level my account up...im so awful...i once said how stupid cards and badges are and now i find myself trying to get as much as possible

    i feel so dirty...

    I wonder what Green Man Gaming have up their sleeves, they always seem to be able to beat Steams sale prices.

      Well what i've noticed is that the steam prices will equal or go just below the normal price of G2play... or whatever.. So, in theory they will still be making a profit, its just not the normal extortionist prices we get everyday, but the normal prices for everyone whos not in australia. So its a fake saving.

      Seen a couple folks reporting price-matching on some titles (like Bioshock Infinite) with further discounts making use of 20% off coupons. Haven't been to check out the site myself yet.

        GMG usually run a smallish sale during Steam sales, followed by a large one when the Steam sale is done.
        Thing is I'm getting close to owning all the titles on GMG that I want, apart from ones that aren't released yet.

      I want to like GMG but the one time I did try buying from them my payment just wouldn't go through, on Paypal or credit card with multiple attempts. So I went and just bought the games from Steam for a couple dollars more.

    The Australian government may as well just forward tax payer money directly to Valve.
    Because that's where most of the Student and New Start Allowance welfare payments will be going this month...

      Hey, Centrelink only paid me 33 dollars this fortnight because my jobs actually earned me enough!

        That's still a few games. Hail Gaben.

          Haha, yeah. Only want Arkham Origins though. May wait until it comes cheap on the last day sales :P

            Unlikely that it will get any cheaper than it is today as a Daily Deal. It is a rather recent game.

            Still, I got it as a pre-order for $22 from some possibly dodgy key reseller. Maybe I should do them a solid and buy the Season Pass, legit.

            Last edited 20/12/13 12:36 pm

              I've seen new release titles go for upto 75% in the christmas sales lol.

                This 'leaked' email has been pretty accurate so far, I don't think you'll get a better discount: http://cdn.eteknix.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/steam_autumn_winter_sale_2013.png

            If you're willing to wait another handful of months till the next Steam Sale you'll probably find Origins even cheaper. All Arkham games generally get a GOTY in 12 months, or less, and it goes on a huge sale on Steam shortly thereafter.

              Yeah I can wait honestly. If it was 10 bucks i'd snap it up and play it, but yeah. 25 bucks not overly interested esp if a GOTY is on the cards not too far off.

    Publisher bundles? Are there any this year? I'm not seeing them on the Australian site at least, are they hidden away or are they US only now?

    The prices do seem cheaper on Amazon, Bioshock Infinite is $9.99
    http://www.amazon.com/b/ref=amb_link_397365202_2?ie=UTF8&node=7266959011&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-2&pf_rd_r=0YRY0ZEPXS7WPBMBVCQT&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1696464622&pf_rd_i=979455011

      Yeah but the BioShock franchise was 20 bucks on Steam which included Infinite, which is an awesome deal all 3 for 20!

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