The Truth Behind The Steam Summer Sale Controversy

The Truth Behind The Steam Summer Sale Controversy

Raising your prices right before Steam's big summer sale and then "discounting" them back to where they'd been for months sure sounds scummy, right? A handful of games have been accused of it, but the truth of the matter isn't so black-and-white.

It all began with a series of angrily lobbed accusations on Reddit, stemming from a price increase on free-to-play sensation War Thunder's Ace Advanced Pack on June 4th. According to SteamDB (as reported by our friends at Kotaku UK), it jumped up $US10 to $US49.99 after months at $US39.99. SteamDB, which is an unofficial yet comprehensive database of changes to Steam, also noted that the Ace Advanced Pack was added to something called "War Thunder — Steam Summer Sale Pack."

Hours after the Reddit thread went up, the Ace Advanced Pack — again, according to a SteamDB entry — was removed from the Steam Summer Sale Pack. However, this all took place before the Steam Summer Sale went live. The alleged sale swap out happened behind the scenes. Kotaku UK got in touch with War Thunder developer Gaijin Entertainment, and they claimed that while many things were on their agenda — for instance, tanks, planes, more tanks — foul play wasn't one of them.

The Truth Behind The Steam Summer Sale Controversy

"We did raise the price for two of our DLCs on Steam, but it happened more than a week ago and doesn't have to do anything with Summer Sale," Gaijin rep Alexander Trifonov said. "[The] Ace Pack wasn't on Summer sale neither itself nor a as part of bundle, so we didn't remove anything and all these false accusations are really frustrating."

However, confronted with the SteamDB entry and its conspicuous set of timings, Trifonov chose to stay silent. "We won't comment on speculations based on a data from some third-party websites," he said. On the upside, the War Thunder thing never directly affected anybody. That said, Gaijin's intentions here do look a little questionable.

The other big object of Steam and Reddit users' scorn at the moment is Grand Theft Auto V. That situation is somehow even more complicated, but here's the short version: yesterday GTA V went on sale... kinda. It still cost $US59.99, but Rockstar bundled it with in-game currency valued at $US20. So the full price of the package should have been $US80, but they were selling it for $US60. A discount? Yes. An actual sale on the game itself? No.

On top of that, they briefly removed GTA V sans in-game cash card from the Steam store. This apparently happened as the result of a pricing error on vanilla GTA V that needed fixing, but it made it look like everyone's favourite purveyor of swindling sims was trying to pull a fast one and deceitfully join in on the Steam Summer Sale. It didn't help that Steam listings on various pages simply showed GTA V's logo paired with an alluring green "-25%" sticker. That made it seem like Rockstar's prime crime opus had finally descended from Mt. Expensiveasfuck, at least briefly.

The Truth Behind The Steam Summer Sale Controversy

The fact of the matter was, people were still technically getting more for less. But in some cases, the bargain they got wasn't the one they bargained for. Since then, the package's image has been updated to prominently mention the in-game currency card.

However, even then, Rock Paper Shotgun notes that including the currency card — a piece of in-game content — might disqualify people from getting a refund on at least part of the package. Steam's refund policy when dealing with in-game items reads:

"Third-party developers will have the option to enable refunds for in-game items on these terms. Steam will tell you at the time of purchase if the game developer has opted to offer refunds on the in-game item you are buying. Otherwise, in-game purchases in non-Valve games are not refundable through Steam."

Meanwhile, here's how it works when bundles are involved:

"If a bundle includes an in-game item or DLC that is not refundable, Steam will tell you if the whole bundle is refundable during check-out."

I already have GTA V on Steam, so checkout only tells me that I won't be getting another copy with my purchase. If anyone else has tried getting a refund on the complete package, it'd be awesome if you could sound off in the comments.

War Thunder and GTA V are the grey areas of this whole fiasco, but others got wrongfully thrown under the Angry Bus in things like these tweets, which have been RTed hundreds of times. Tabletop Simulator, for example, was briefly declared public enemy number three, only for people to point out that its pre-sale price hike actually came as a result of leaving Early Access. This is a common practice, and the developers gave people plenty of forewarning about it. Same with squad-based heist game The Masterplan. It came out of Early Access and raised its price a few bucks. Indie footracer Speedrunners is in a similar situation. People have taken to saying its base price went from $US9.99 to $US14.99 right before the Steam Summer Sale, but actually it happened as a result of a huge update on June 1st. The developer forewarned people that this was gonna happen back in May.

The account given by the creators of Age of Decadence — another game accused of Steam Summer Sale pricing shenanigans — is perhaps the most indicative of where people are jumping to conclusions. Again, a big update came out at the start of June, and they boosted their price because they felt like the scope of their game justified it. Here's how it went down:

Our price increase was tied to releasing 21 locations out of 22 (i.e. the game is almost done and people can buy it with confidence). The update was released on June 5 (a month after we finished working on the third chapter, so we didn't sit on the update waiting for the Summer Sale).

We couldn't simply tell people that the price is going up in 2-3 weeks as Valve has to approve all price changes. So I emailed Valve, explained why we want to increase the price and asked for their permission. They suggested to go on the Summer Sale (we didn't even ask for it).

While we weren't planning to offer a discount (originally we wanted to run a 'the price goes up in 2 weeks, buy it now if you want to save $US5' promo unrelated to the Summer Sale), but when we accepted Valve's offer, we decided to offer a 10% off discount off the original price.

So the discount is real and the price is going up (not just for the duration of the sale). If you buy the game now, you will save some money regardless of which price you're looking at. Either 25% off the new price or 10% off the old price.

In case you didn't notice, we aren't on any of the daily deals where all the action is, so we're still flying under the radar and only people who were interested in the game before and had it on their wish list (i.e. people who knew the old price) would get the notification.

I wasn't able to find anything concrete about other accused games like Subterrain, DarkStar One, and Alone In The Dark: Illumination, but I've reached out to each of their creators for more info. (Update: Subterrain increased its price on June 1st after a major update.)

The Truth Behind The Steam Summer Sale Controversy

Meanwhile, games like Wolfenstein: The New Order have been maligned for alleged last-second price hiking, but their prices never actually changed. While SteamDB does list Wolfenstein as having had a base price of $US45 since March, that was the result of a bundle with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood that cost $US45 total. Yes, the bundle was cheaper than Wolfenstein: The New Order. Does it make a lot of sense? No. But those are the facts.

So here's your scorecard: War Thunder? A little sketchy, but the alleged bad faith sale never happened. Grand Theft Auto V? Mostly a misunderstanding, albeit with some wiggle room for refund shenanigans. Games like Tabletop Simulator, Age of Decadence, and Wolfenstein? Unfairly singled out after people went into full-on witch hunt mode. I can't entirely blame Steam users for taking up pitchforks and torches after getting a whiff of what seemed like serious horseshit, but there's also something to be said for double and triple-checking before firing off accusations that could have entire communities banging down someone's virtual door.


    Duck game has also done this. I checked a day before the sale and it was $9.95 and now it is $12.99 discounted to $10.00. Nothing extra along with the game.

      I think that $10 price was a sale price itself, the game only came out in the last week or so. I picked it up last Friday and it was $13 discounted to $10.

    I've basically stopped buying anything on Steam over $30 due to our shitty exchange rate (and some regional pricing). I use G2A for my AAA purchases.

    If you don't like the price, don't buy it.

      I'm with you......I'm not saving any money, I'm just giving it to good ol games instead.

      Exactly the same as you. I have heaps of games on my wishlist that are just waiting for a sale to purchase.
      GTAV is one of them, but for an additional reason. As this article points out, the game costs $59.99 USD in America. Here is Australia we pay $79.99... USD! That is an absurd markup and I will not buy it until the price matches (even if the match is when it's classed as "on special").

        Is it really that bad to pay $80 for one of the most content packed games ever made? I'll happily give Rockstar my money.

          You missed the "USD" part of that price. You're paying closer to $103.45 AUD for it.

          No, I would love to pay $80 for one of the most content-packed games ever made. That is because $80 is what the AUD result would be close to after converting $59.99 USD.
          At its current price I'd be looking at approx. $105 AUD!
          Can I afford that? Absolutely. Would I buy something with such an obvious greed displayed? No.

        I don't mind coping the exchange rate on the chin but when there is a mark up like this its absurd. Again the government fails to do anything. They are happy to bring in GST to make money off us but fail to bring in any legislation to help us get a fair deal.

        And people wonder why Australia has the highest rate of pirates compared to anywhere else in the world.

          There isn't really anything the government can do about it. They cannot force a private company to set prices.

      Every time I've read someone say G2A I figured that they just meant G2Play. Turns out they're different :/

      Agreed. Should also note that Green Man Gaming also has a 25% off voucher for pretty much everything. Add in that it's AUD instead of USD and it works out cheaper than quite a few Steam prices.

    Vote with your wallet. if these games sell jack shit during the sale, they won't pull these stunts again.

    This author is doing his best to try to make something from nothing.

    The premise:
    "Raising your prices right before Steam’s big summer sale and then “discounting” them back to where they’d been for months sure sounds scummy, right? "

    Statements from software developer:

    "We did raise the price for two of our DLCs on Steam"

    "...doesn’t anything have to do with Summer Sale,” Gaijin rep Alexander Trifonov said. “[The] Ace Pack wasn’t on Summer sale neither itself nor a as part of bundle,

    Common sense statement from software developer:

    “We won’t comment on speculations based on a data from some third-party websites,” he said"

    Authors conclusion:

    "On the upside, the War Thunder thing never directly affected anybody. That said, Gaijin’s intentions here do look a little questionable."

    What? You just spent many paragraphs showing us that nothing happened yet you still accused them of mis-doing?

    The rest of the article is just whining, pure whining.
    Do you need a tissue?

      See, my read on it is that the author is actually trying to explain why some people on reddit are making a mountain out of a molehill... as usual.

        Majority of cases seem to justify price hikes because of big updates. Don't suppose there is a reason why so many games release massive updates right before the summer sale? In my opinion, they are supplying a reason for the price hike, but not justifying the reason.

    The good old price shuffle; put it up to put it down. Every industry that sells anything does it.

    Get an isthereanydeal account, set up your wishlist and set it to only notify you if it's the lowest price ever.
    I have received 3 notifications since the sale started. It helps me ignore everything else and be patient.
    Also, don't forget steam has been having an encore on popular deals on the last day of the last few sales.

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