Remember When Steam Sales Didn’t Suck?

It’s the last day of this year’s Steam Winter Sale and I haven’t bought a single thing. In fact, The only game I bought in November’s Autumn Sale was Chants of Sennaar at a cool ten percent off. Throughout 2023 I only bought three games during Steam’s four seasonal sales events, and I saved a total of $17. Steam sales just ain’t what they used to be.


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As a journalist, I do get quite a few games for free for the sake of reviews, guides, and features, but even considering the games I got for free that I would have bought anyway, I’m just not getting the same value out of Steam sales that I used to. I own 531 games on Steam, and I know for a fact that the vast majority of those were bought in bulk during Steam sales. In years past you could scoop up dozens of games for just a few dollars each, but it hasn’t been that way for quite a while.

What changed? The most common cause that people point to is the refund policy, which was implemented in 2015 and subsequently ended flash sales. It used to be that Steam would offer a rotation of heavily discounted games throughout each sale, which made sales engaging and exciting since you never knew what games were going to get discounted next. But once Steam started allowing people to return games, flash sales lost a lot of their excitement. They also stimulated the grey market of Steam key resellers, so it’s likely there were multiple reasons Steam did away with them, but it’s a big reason why Steam sales aren’t as good as they used to be.

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It also doesn’t feel like recent titles get the same kind of deep discounts they used to. My wishlist is full of 2023 games I wanted to play but didn’t get around to, like Blasphemous 2, Sons of the Forest, Lethal Company, Payday 3, Dredge, and The Talos Principle 2, but none of those games are discounted more than 25 percent, and some of them aren’t discounted at all. It’s not that I feel entitled to pay less for these games specifically, but years ago these kinds of games would have been 50 percent off or more in the Steam Winter Sale, wouldn’t they?

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It’s not just Steam sales, Humble Bundle has really fallen off too. I remember when new bundles were newsworthy. I was in multiple Discord channels where new bundle day was a big event and it was rare to skip one because the value was just so high. I can’t even remember the last bundle I bought now. The pivot towards the subscription-based Humble Choice bundle has really taken the wind out of its sails too (even though this month’s Marvel’s Midnight Suns bundle is an absolute steal).

Maybe I’m just an old man yelling at clouds, and it’s probably good that I don’t fill my Steam library with dozens of games I’m probably never going to play every winter, but I miss caring about the Steam sales. When I was a poor student and retail worker, it was the only way I could afford to get the games I wanted. Now that I make a decent wage and can afford to gamble on more games just to see if I like them, it feels like those discounts that are just too good to pass up don’t exist anymore.

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