Valve Changes Steam Sale After Widespread Complaints From Developers And Players

Valve Changes Steam Sale After Widespread Complaints From Developers And Players
Image: Valve

After a period of stagnation, Valve has gone back to its well of Steam sale meta games – something users have enjoyed in the past, even though they’re ultimately just a means of incentivising people to spend more money. This time, though, Valve may have taken things too far with a game that’s caused widespread confusion. After 24 hours of uproar from players and developers, Valve has acknowledged its mistake and changed the game.

This year’s sale comes with a Steamwide minigame called the Steam Grand Prix. It’s racing-themed, and users are divided into five teams: Hare, Pig, Cockatiel, Tortoise, and Corgi. The goal is to gain points by completing special in-game Grand Prix quests (and spending money on games to increase your point maximum, of course) and use them to boost your team. Each day, random members of the top three teams receive the top game on their Steam wishlist for free.

Sounds simple, right? It’s not. The gamified element of the sale is poorly explained and weirdly granular. First, you’ve got to increase your max points, in effect earning one sort of currency. Then you’ve got to earn points themselves – another, more literal sort of currency – up to your max.

If you do this in the wrong order, you just can’t use all the points you’ve earned—you can only use as many as your max capacity allows. Finally, you spend those points on a boost for your team, the effectiveness of which is hilariously difficult to determine.

Here’s Valve’s explanation: “Upon Boosting, the Nitro you’ve gained will help increase your team’s speed in the race. Coordinate timed boosts with your teammates and together you’ll increase your Team Boost level. 100 active Nitro will result in a 0.1x Boost to your team’s speed.”

There are also other twists, like the fact that your initial boost meter capacity varies based on previous purchases. Users have complained that capacity can apparently be harmed by prior refunds.

There’s also a token system, and the whole Grand Prix is tied into Steam’s trading-card and badge-crafting systems as well, to add to the cherry tree forest already atop this needlessly complex sundae.


Steam users have made roughly one million memes about how confusing all of this is. Others have had longform breakdowns.

“No joke, day one I had 29k points somehow when I haven’t bought anything on Steam for a hot minute and have just been doing backlog games, but I got 29k points from Dead By Daylight achievements,” wrote one user on the Steam subreddit, attempting to understand what the heck is going on.

“I had 29 nitro boosts or whatever, used 3 of them. Then I read that every $1 I spend would be 100 extra points for my boost cache, spent $US126 ($180) on games expecting to see an increase of 12,600, nothing popped up within a few hours, thought maybe it’ll apply next day. Day 2 uhhhhhhhh 9 boost packs remaining and my point/cache limit is now 6099…. like I don’t even know how that happens. My cache is a fraction of what it was day one and about half of what I should have gotten from what I spent money on, plus seems like my nitro boost pack thingies just decided to delete most of themselves lol. I just really don’t even know what to do with this event anymore.”

Somehow, things are even worse for developers, who are seeing drastic decreases in their wishlist numbers because of Valve’s hyper-complicated game. Among many, many other things, the Grand Prix encourages people to dive under the hoods of their wishlists and do some tinkering before they join the event.

“Be sure to update your Wishlist before you put the pedal to the metal, as the very best drivers will be awarded their Most Wished For games throughout the event,” reads a note at the top of the event page.

While some users have likely just taken this as a reminder to clean up clutter, Valve’s specific wording seems to have implied to others that a smaller wishlist will increase their likelihood of earning the specific games they want most, even though the fine print, which is harder to find, specifies that random people on the top three Grand Prix teams will get the single game on top of their wishlist, as chosen by them, each day. In other words, no amount of pruning will change the actual odds.

As a result of all this, many developers are sounding the alarms over their nosediving wishlist numbers.

“More people deleting our games from their wishlists than purchasing them from their wishlists, which as far as I can see has never happened in a sale before,” said Haunt The House and Detective Grimoire developer Tom Vian on Twitter. He also posted a graph from his Steam stats to back it up:


Other developers have posted similar graphs in droves. This does not bode well. If a game is on a user’s wishlist, they automatically get a message when it’s released and any time it goes on sale. Wishlists also factor into Steam store search results.

This, according to Heat Signature developer and noted Steam studier Tom Francis, is “the most effective way I know of making your game sell better when it comes out.”

Yitz, developer of Nepenthe and To The Dark Tower, told Kotaku that being on Steam right now has become a net loss for some developers.

“Most indies (who are talking about it at least) are losing more money from Steam’s cut than they’re taking in from visibility,” he said in a Twitter DM. “I, and many other devs, are currently losing money from being hosted on Steam.”

Today, in response to all this, Valve apologised.

“We designed something pretty complicated with a whole bunch of numbers and rules and recognise we should’ve been more clear,” the company said in a blog post. “We want to apologise for the confusion that this has caused, and also apologise for the broken mechanics that have led to an unbalanced event.”

Valve has also made some changes to the Grand Prix. Specifically, the company says it’s updated the event dashboard and manual to clarify the rules, and it’s also made some back-end, balance, and item changes to make it harder for a single team to brute force its way to victory through sheer team size.

Lastly, Valve clarified the whole wishlist thing (emphasis Valve’s): “If your team makes it to the podium and you are randomly chosen to win something off your Steam Wishlist, then we’ll grant you the top item. Just move your favourite item to the top of your wishlist and you should be good to go. There’s no need to remove other items from your wishlist – keep them there so you’ll be notified when those items release or go on sale.”


It remains to be seen whether or not these changes can salvage the event.

This is, thankfully, the first time anything like this has happened on this scale, and Yitz believes Valve will do a better job next time a Steam Sale rolls around. Still, he’s preparing an escape hatch, just in case.

“If you thought the 2018 ‘indiepocalypse’ was bad, if this holds up, we’re in for something a lot worse,” he said, pointing to indie-focused service as a helpful alternative for smaller developers. “Should note that it’s very unlikely this will actually hold up, but it’s worth preparing an ‘emergency plan,’ for devs whose livelihoods depend on Steam sales.” 


  • Way out of touch, with Epic nipping at themand after Epics sale fiasco… keeping it simple would of been best.

    Their gamification gimmick has gotten weirder and more complicated ever year now. Not worth the effort.

    Also the way they are giving away these games may contrevene a few competition and gambling laws. So even if you participate you may just be inelligable to win.

  • It’s been hard to know what Valve is thinking with sale meta ‘games’. The last one with any meat on it at all was the Monster Game in 2015. It’s just got worse every year since then.

    The ‘rules’ for the current sale ‘game’ remain completely obscure, despite the above, and they really do absolutely nothing to encourage buy-in. At least in the past you logged in daily to collect your cards and skimed through 30 random games for a few trading cards (which Valve seem to have more or less abandoned for the next trivial thing). I actually don’t know if daily logging in is even a thing with this one.

    Even the emoticons are amongst the worst in years. Virtually none can I imagine seeing in actual use anywhere, unlike some of the old ones that are still in use, stuff like happy/sad faces. Nobody is going to use a corgi emoticon ever again.

    It’s a shame, because with all the resources backing up Valve you’d think they might at least be able to spring for a crappy flash game tie-in, or something like the coal game where you could cash in for a few designated $2 time wasters, at least – some perceived value anyhow.

    And it’s all made worse by the fact that not one of the sale prices are any different from the last sale each game had two months ago for the same discount.

    Yes, I’m salty. I actually used to get some enjoyment out of the trivial exercise and spent a few bucks despite myself.

  • I wish they’d just scrap it and go back to straight up sales – because sales are the only time it’s worth buying from Steam anyway.

  • Tom Francis cant be anymore correct about wishlist and queues, its why I own all his games.

    I bought Heat Signature this sale from the wish list (I listed it after I enjoyed Gunpoint) saw it bundled with his earlier title Morphblade (i like tactics grids and puzzles) so I got both and then saw the demo for Tactical Wizards… all cause I binged Stealth tagged games showed me Gunpoint on a recommended category on the front page.

    (I also enjoy kicking enemies through windows)

  • Fascinating stuff about the wishlist. I remember Fork Parker exclaiming in frustration at how many FREE Devolver titles were on peoples’ wishlists. (Shaddup, Fork. There are perfectly valid use cases. I have free titles on my wishlist to make sure I don’t forget they exist, even if I’m not up to playing them right now. It’s like a bookmark, OK?)

    I saw the notice from Steam about cleaning up your wishlist order, on account of the top of your wishlist potentially being gifted. (I doubt lightning will strike twice, but it’s worth a shot. Sometime in the early 2010s, Steam did a ‘top of your order’ grand prize that gave you your top 10 wishlisted games, and I was one of the winners. Thankfully it worked out really well for me, with a bunch of high-priced games at the top, including the entire Saints Row 3+all DLC bundle, mere months from its launch. Bit of a coup, that one.)

    It was very surprising to me how many of my wishlisted games had no prices on them, now.

    I hopped into the store pages, to see if it was bundle-related (some games don’t allow you to ‘add to cart’ from the wishlist page directly), but many of the items on my wishlist appeared to no longer be available for sale. I assume the store pages were still there to support people who had the titles in their library.

    The running theme for these now-unavailable titles I’d wishlisted was that they had overwhelmingly negative reviews. Maybe the devs had taken them down to avoid refunds? Maybe Steam has a secret policy around what happens to your titles if they rate too poorly or have too many refunds?

    We get very public announcements when popular games are taken down from sale, but it made me wonder how regularly the unpopular ones go out of the store.

    • Without knowing what games on your wishlist have no pricing… it may be your region.

      Assuming Australian, it may have not gone through classifcation, or they have no included an $AUD price when they added the game to Steam.

      When they made the switch last from USD a while ago a lot of games got defaulted to no price.

    • Have they been available since Steam started dealing in AUD? If they are all poorly rated, the developers may have abandoned upkeep and not even realised they were now unavailable (I’ve had to tweet at a bunch of different developers, included the people who made Layers of Fear for them to update their products and make them available again).

      • Oh, good point! I forgot about that! There’s a really good chance I added them prior to AUD.

  • I logged in, joined team bird, tried to make sense of the weird meta game, figured it was all too much effort and went back to playing on the Xbox PC app.

      • Corgis are great, but I just really like birds. I’d kill a man for a team caique. They’re the dogs of the bird world.

  • It’s the first time I have looked at the sale game and decided it was too complicated to be worth any effort to play. Also one team had a ridiculous lead already, suggesting the usual exploiting of the sale game.

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