Steam's wallet explosion

Steam's gargantuan summer game sale starts; prepare to empty your wallet

Hear that weird sound echoing around the world? It’s as if millions of wallets cried out in terror, then were suddenly silenced.

After much wringing of hands (and many 503 errors for users frantically refreshing the site Thursday), Valve has finally deigned to release the kraken itself, the mighty Steam Summer Getaway Sale.

If, like me, you plan to waste a large portion of your summer sitting inside and wondering whether you should be more productive, you’ll be excited to dive in to the deals and score some pristine digital goods.

But hold on! This is war, comrade PC gamers. Here are six tips for making it through with your wallet intact.

Sources tell me this is my wallet Thursday morning after the Steam sale started.

Set a budget

It should be obvious, but your first step—before you venture into the store, before you even think about buying that [insert awesome game-pack name here]—is to set a hard limit on what you’re willing to spend. Just do it. I’m not saying you’ll regret it if you don’t, but…you might.

This is especially important if you allow Steam or Amazon to save your credit card info for easy purchasing. Make a budget and stick to it.

People joke about how much money they spend on games, especially during Steam sales, but the undertone is “I’m laughing on the outside, but inside I’m a bit ashamed at how much I just spent.”

Games are great. So is paying your rent.

Apple, Linux, you’re okay!

Steam Mac gamesSteam
Don't fret, Mac and Linux users, you can still blow all your money

Steam contains sections dedicated to both Mac and Linux games. You might not get as many deals as your Windows counterparts, but you can still enjoy the sale.

Better yet, anything you buy through Steam for your Mac or Linux machine is playable on any other platform, so if you decide to make the leap to a dedicated Windows gaming machine later, your purchases carry over.

Check other sites

Steam’s sales have been legendary. In the era when the all-digital future was still a novelty and, even years after publication, games still cost an arm (though you could keep the leg), Valve’s discounts took the industry by storm.

Today, however, you have a wealth of options as other game retailers provide competition.

Past years' sales on Steam have coincided with similar promotions by Amazon, GameFly, GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, and GOG.com, and this year is no different.

Although you’ve missed the GOG.com and Green Man Gaming salesAmazon’s summer games sale continues through July 14.

Amazon’s saleAmazon.com
In recent years Amazon has vied directly with Steam for sale supremacy

Competition drives prices even lower, so it’s always worthwhile to check out other sites before blindly purchasing on Steam, even if it is the Big Kahuna in this arena.

Most of these game sites even give out game keys you can activate on Valve’s service, so it’s functionally identical to purchasing through Steam in the first place (though, if that’s important to you, check to make sure you will receive a Steam key before purchasing on any third-party site).

Valve values your patience

Smell that? That’s the scent of shiny new deals. It’s intoxicating, right? Well don’t give in! Not yet, at least. The sale prices aren’t necessarily the same all week long once the Steam sale starts, and you could literally lose dollars if you pull the trigger early.

Steam saleSteam
Daily Deals for the first day of the 2013 Steam Summer Sale

During a Steam sale, almost everything on the site has lower prices, from the first day of the sale to the last. Many of these games will keep the same discount for the entire week. A game with a base discount of 50 percent on the first day will remain at least 50 percent off for the duration of the sale. Thus, you lose nothing by waiting and purchasing the game on the last day of the sale.

But you have everything to gain! Steam runs a variety of special deals, including Daily Deals, Flash Sales, and Community Choice sales. Daily Deals update every 24 hours and are determined by Valve. Flash Sales change every eight hours. Then there are Community Choice sales, where the users vote on what receives a discount. There are sales everywhere.

Steam saleSteam
Valve runs special Flash and Community Choice sales for the duration of the event

When a game goes on sale as a Daily, Community, or Flash Sale, buy it! Those are likely the steepest discounts for the titles in question you’ll see during the sale. Occasionally you’ll see sale prices as high as 90 percent off.

Of course, Valve sometimes brings back popular Daily Deals for the final day of the sale with an even steeper discount, but it’s hard to predict which games will make the cut. To be safe, it’s better just to purchase them during the initial Daily Deal.

If you have your eye on a game, but it never gets featured as a Daily, Community, or Flash Sale, pick it up the final day of the sale for the same discount as that given on the first day. There’s no harm in waiting.

Check your bundles

Before you purchase anything, do a quick check to make sure the games you plan to buy aren’t cheaper as part of a bundle. Sometimes buying the game by itself is just as expensive as buying a bundle that includes the game and its downloadable content, or the game and its sequel.

Check for hidden games

As I said, pretty much everything goes on sale during a Steam sale. While big-budget games and a few fan favorites will get the spotlight each day, lots of niche titles in the store are worth purchasing but won’t get featured on the front page.

Steam
Add titles to your wishlist for automatic sale notifications

We’ll have a list of hidden deals up later, but consider drilling down through the store. If you’re waiting on a niche title to go on sale, add it to your Steam Wishlist—you’ll automatically get notified through email when it’s discounted.

And hey, maybe consider buying Gunpoint, The Longest Journey, or The Swapper.

Beware DRM

You have to run Steam in order to run any games you purchase from the site, so Steam (and your Steam account) is your DRM implementation.

Most PC gamers put up with it out of convenience—Steam keeps all your games in one place and easily accessible.

But many outdated DRM formats are less beneficial—Games for Windows Live and Uplay are the big offenders these days. Even though you’re buying through Steam, there’s no telling what restrictions a publisher has placed on its game.

Consider looking over The Big List of 3rd-party DRM on Steam before making a purchase, or at least read the fine print on the game’s Steam page to avoid any nasty surprises when you first boot your game.

If you’re one of the few who really hates Steam, consider checking if the game is for sale on GOG.com—all its games are DRM-free.

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