Are You Ready for a Miracle?
The 2013 Summer Steam Sale, and the Way of Things
It's probably safe to say that people that play a lot of video games are not the most religious of groups that you could interview. Twice a year, however, when the Steam sale finally arrives, you'd be hard pressed not to find a gamer sitting at their computer, tapping refresh and hoping (praying?) that the game they want will appear as a daily deal.
Since the sale aired online beginning July 1st, Gaben.tv (a video portraying Gabe Newell as God with sales raining down around him set to gospel music) has been viewed over one million times. Sure, it's satire. A sarcastic exaggeration of religious ecstasy put online to get a few laughs. But when a video game sale reaches a point where that type of symbolism is something that over a million people get, then it's hard to just simply ignore.
This article is not going to be about the Lord Gaben or about the pseudo-religious experience that is the Steam Sale. I'm going to write about how, in spite of all the fanfare, the 2013 Summer Steam Sale felt like the worst Steam Sale since they began.
I still got twitchy around 1pm (I'm on EST) when the new daily deal switches over. I still spent what I would call “too much money.” Now that it's over, I am still already calculating when the next one is going to happen. While the sales were good, and it's nice to add new material to the ever-growing backlog of Steam games that I have, this year's Summer Sale had a few problems going for it.
The first is a blessing as much as it is a curse: Steam has too many sales. That seems ridiculous, but it's that very thing that made this big summer sale less impressive. If you count the autumn sale, Steam has three big events a year (Holiday, Summer, Autumn). Then there is the weekly midweek madness, and who can forget the weekend sales? On top of that, almost every day, there is something available at a reduced price. Nowadays, gamers have so many chances to get the games they want at a price they can afford that when the big Steam Sales roll around, most of the games that someone would be excited about are games that they've already purchased. The bang of the Steam Sale is muted by the cacophony of sounds that precede and follow it, making the entire event feel like one “Well, I guess that's a good price” after another. The continuous barrage of random sales really make the Steam Sale (pardon the pun) lose some steam with the customer.
The second has to do with the heart of the Steam Sale. A few Sales ago, as games would go on sale, special achievements would be revealed that you could get by playing the game and completing holiday-themed achievements. I specifically remember in "Jurassic Park: The Game" having to be greedy in one particular interaction in order to get the "Holiday Bonus" achievement. The achievements varied in difficulty, but they were always fun to get and pushed you to actually play the games that you purchased rather than putting them in a backlog to get to at a later date.
In the 2013 Steam Sale, that concept was replaced by trading cards, which you get by either spending ten dollars in the Steam store, playing certain games, or by trading for them or purchasing them on the Steam market. Once you collect enough trading cards, you can turn them into a badge, which gives you a special background for your profile, a unique emoticon to use while chatting and ... another trading card to start the cycle over. It just isn't as interesting to me as playing a game to achieve a certain end goal like in Steam Sales past. That system felt personal and fun, like even after selling us a product, the developers were trying to give us a unique experience. The trading card/badge system feels impersonal and a little bit lazy.
I do like how Steam seems to be trying to make its way from being purely a game platform to being kind of a more mainstream social network for gamers. And that really is cool. I love posting screenshots and getting feedback from other people playing the same game. I love browsing the community hubs and hearing cool things that have happened in-game. The badges do accommodate that social network aspect quite nicely, especially because they're now going to be a more permanent part of the Steam user experience. I suppose that is why it feels kind of lazy to make it such a big part of the Summer Steam sale.
In future Steam sales, I just don't want super reduced games. I want there to be an event again and not one just about the prices; I want it to be about the gamers as well. I want to be given a challenge to overcome every day. I want to be made to work together with friends and strangers. I want to find unique, themed achievements every day that I can put up in the showcase on my profile, things that no one can ever get again once the Sale has passed. It's sounds lame and silly, but I do like the ability to prove that "I was there" and in in a community that would care about that kind of thing. I feel like that would help build a social network that people use faster than adding customizable backgrounds for profiles.
And I want time to recharge after every sale. I know this may not be the popular opinion, but give us time to recharge and play our new games before offering us another one at a lower price. We don't need three Steam Sales in a year. We barely need two. And we don't need super sales every week on specific items. That takes away the power that the Steam sale has when it finally comes around again. If we want a game bad enough, we won't wait for the Summer or Holiday sale. We will just get it at whatever price you offer us. But if you keep offering a game at 50% off once a month, then when it's 50% off during a Steam sale, it's just not going to seem like a deal anymore.
Stop working so hard for us during the year, Steam. If someone is committed enough to buy games through you once, they probably aren't going to leave you the first chance they get. You offer a cool platform for buying games. You're open to indie developers and modders with Steam Greenlight and Workshop respectively. The social network for gamers that you're growing is a really neat idea. All I ask is that for the next sale, don't just give us super savings on everything. Give us an experience that we can't get anywhere else. Give us something with a heart and soul like the Steam Sales of the past. More than anything, I think that will give us something to truly look forward to and believe in.