The Steam Winter Sale Is Over, But People Are Still Hunting For Clues

The Steam Winter Sale Is Over, But People Are Still Hunting For Clues

Shortly after the big Steam Winter Sale kicked off, intrepid users started sleuthing around, believing that they’d latched onto some kind of alternate reality game (or ARG, for short). Surprisingly, they ended up finding a secret search bar within Steam, as well as other hints. But… that’s it. And now it’s over.

When I first wrote about people’s efforts to decode a convoluted mystery at the heart of Steam’s Winter Sale, I conjectured that they’d stumbled across a loosely connected series of Easter eggs — not a full-blown ARG. I was wrong! Kinda. In the following weeks, dedicated users — with their eagle eyes, anteater snouts, and sweet wolverine claws — uncovered a special input box by typing “search” into Steam. Not into the search bar. Just while on pages. They then uncovered special code words meant to be typed into said input box. It was pretty wild, and it confirmed that something was going on.

But what? And did Valve intend it from the get-go, or was this breadcrumb trail added after the fact — once people began to grumble about the rotten rote-ness of this Winter Sale? In time, users found voice clips suggesting they were on the right track.

Shortly after, they unlocked a Steam badge titled “Red Herring”. Again,it was proof positive that Valve had put effort into some manner of Steam sale side game — even if this was probably the incorrect route, given the colloquial definition of red herring. Haha, Valve. Good one.

But then the trail ran cold again. Players kept grasping at various threads — more search terms, random game store pages, possible hints within the Steam sale comic, and numerous false starts, some of them Half-Life flavoured — but nothing took. Today, the Steam Winter Sale closed up shop, and players were left scratching their heads. What was the point of all that?

The Steam Winter Sale Is Over, But People Are Still Hunting For Clues

Some speculate that the red herring badge was the end of it — that the whole thing was a joke on Valve’s part, a commentary on how these games are just distractions. Perhaps, others have suggested, the red herring badge was meant to suggest that this whole mystery was a distraction from something else Valve has cooking.

The Steam Winter Sale Is Over, But People Are Still Hunting For Clues

Others, though, think it might not be over yet, and they’re determined to turn up more leads. The special search function has been removed, but the comic — another key source of possible clues — is still available. Some have pointed out that the comic was not particularly conclusive, suggesting that there’s more to uncover, more pages to find. A few are entertaining the possibility that the ARG will end with an announcement from Valve during this week’s CES 2016 convention in Las Vegas, hopefully of a new game. Odds are, though, Valve will just use CES to talk about previously announced hardware stuff.

It sure seems like the ARG — or at least, what little of one there was — is over, but who knows? Valve works in mysterious ways, and they have done elaborate ARGs before. For now, there are still some big question marks hanging over this whole… whatever it was. Maybe answers are just around the corner. Or perhaps we’ve already seen all there is to see, and well, that’s it.


  • I like it.

    There was a clear time limit, and either the community didn’t make it or that’s all there was and it was a pretty cool/evil joke. Sleuths got a badge out of it, which is a bittersweet indicator that the effort was recognized, but not necessarily able to be resolved at all.

    Seriously though, some of the steps required to get to the next stage were insane. Looking at tags that don’t belong on certain games, following them, and then entering a code from a previous clue’s audio-file that was found by using a spectrographic analaysis of a sound bite of a man speaking in Japanese and finding that the resultant graph formed some indistinct letters and numbers? SERIOUSLY?

    • The Portal 2 ARG was equally insane, which at one point even had people dialing in to a BBS hosted at a warehouse to get low res versions of Portal 2 concept art, well prior to its release. Then followed the potato ARG where people playing games helped speed up the release of Portal 2 (by about 14 hours or so from memory, still a bit in the end)

      Info here on the ARG:

  • I was quite disappointed with this year’s sale. It was a new way to do it, showing everything that was on sale on the first day and the biggest discounts available… but it was so annoyingly boring from a shoppers point of view.

    With sales from the past, I always found something new to explore when the new sales were released each day. Voting on the community sale of the day and all that.

    Sure.. you could say that this new way is better because you won’t miss out on the deepest discount.. but for it to be the same sale items, day after day after day…? for the entire 2 or 3 weeks?! Boring sale.

    • Blame consumer for whining and forcing Valve to implement their refund system. Valve can’t do the sales anymore. No more daily deals, no more flash sales, no more secret sales.

      People can abuse the refund system whenever a game appear to have more discount during the special period to get the game at the cheapest price.

    • I liked it and can understand why people didn’t.

      Keeping up with every single release isn’t something that I do. Knowing that sale prices would be static throughout the period meant that I had time to hunt for interesting titles I hadn’t heard of before. It was also nice not having to waste so much time checking daily and flash sales for the handful of games I wanted.

      There wasn’t a single thing about the old sales that I missed.

      @letrico Consumer protections might be slightly more important than the novelty of a sales system. On the whole I’d say we should be thanking the consumers that complained so much.

      • Each to their own. I have never needed or required a refund on any game that I purchased.I find consumer too lazy to research into the product that they want to purchase and buying things completely on a whim and then changed their mind and want a refund after.

        This only promotes laziness in consumers, depriving consumers from decision making and consequences of action. If every consumer start buying stuff without thinking and just refund them after using them once or twice, what will happen to the market?


        Blehhh. We’re buying video games here, not clothes or furniture from a department store. Putting some fun an games into the sale which may slightly benefit someone who pays a little more attention shouldn’t be sacrificed because some people ‘might’ miss a game moving from 66% off to 75% off for a few hours. It’s a couple of measly $.

        • If it’s a couple of measly dollars then the removal of daily and flash sales shouldn’t be a loss to anyone.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!