If there's one thing Steam is known for, it's their terrible customer service. If there's two things Steam is known for, it's their terrible customer service and their really excellent sales. Unfortunately, I've found myself rather disappointed with the 2015 Steam Winter Sale.
The Steam Winter Sale is almost always where the heavy-hitting deals come out. Patient gamers will save money and Steam store credit up until the end of the year where they can get absurd reductions in pricing on their favorite games. For instance, I nabbed the $59.99 Wolfenstein: The New Order for 85% off. That's practically theft.
This year's Steam Winter Sale is a little bit different. Valve stated before the Steam Autumn Sale that they were going to be ditching daily deals and flash sales, and boy did they follow through. Why would they get rid of what was arguably one of the most fun bits about the sales? Well, ever since they introduced refunds as a more regular policy, the speculation has been that they wanted to prevent a flood of refunds having to be processed after a price change.[caption id="attachment_42942" align="alignright" width="300"] This flowchart (originally posted on Reddit's /r/pcmasterrace subreddit) showed how to get the best deals during the old Steam Sales.[/caption]
The upside for Valve is, of course, they don't have to process loads of refund requests every time a game goes on a daily deal (an even lower sale price for the period of one day) or a flash sale (an even lower price for eight hours). The downside, though, is that flash sales and daily deals probably contributed to an awful lot of impulse purchasing during the Steam Winter Sale. Heck, I know I did—I followed the /r/pcmasterrace Steam Sale Survival flowchart religiously. I wouldn't own a lot of the games I do now if it weren't for the additional price dip.
It's understandable if it turns out to be the case that they removed daily deals and flash sales due to refunds, but this logic operates under the assumption that there isn't some kind of automated way to fix this problem. The thing is, there is a way that they can keep the old fun of flash sales and daily deals while simultaneously not having to worry about suffering a deluge of refund requests.
Steam Refunds can go right to the Steam Wallet as it is right now. The Steam Wallet is the representation of how much money you have credited to your Steam account. You can outright add money to it through regular payment methods, buy a Steam card from a retailer, or sell digital items on the community market.
Here's my hypothetical scenario that's the best of both worlds: if someone buys a game and it later goes on a flash sale or daily deal after they buy it, they can automatically get the difference refunded to their Steam Wallet. People buying during the flash sale or daily deal get the lowest price anyway so there's no need to worry about them. And if people miss out on the flash sale or daily deal, well it's too bad that they missed the window.
The last day of the Steam Winter Sale (and some other sales) typically has the lowest possible prices for some last minute incentive. If you happen to miss a flash sale or daily deal, you might get a second shot at a better discount. Again, if someone bought the game at the higher sale price and the game gets further discounted, they could get the difference automatically credited to their Steam Wallet.
Why go to all this trouble? Well, there is the psychological element. Some people might not buy a game at 75% off, but if they see it's now 85% off, they'll pull the trigger. You want to grab people on an impulse purchase. My proposed model would probably get more people to actually spend money without overly inundating Valve with refund requests. No customers are upset and Valve doesn't have even more customer service requests to process. Everybody wins.
I miss the chase and the fun of waiting for the best deals to come around in the Steam Winter Sale. I can definitely say that I bought games that I otherwise would not have just because it was a really good price and for only a limited time. This year, that's not really happening for me. I'm thinking carefully about my purchases, and I'm finding myself disappointed that some games just haven't discounted as much as I otherwise would have expected them to. A 30% discount isn't all that bad if there's a good chance that it'll drop further on during the sale, but a 30% discount for the entire duration of the sale? That's not the kind of blowout extravaganza that I've experienced these last few years. That's just sad.
One way or another, I hope that next year Valve will figure out some way that works for everyone where they can bring back the thrill of hunting for good deals in the Steam Winter Sale. Hell, it was practically a meta-game unto itself. It was almost like the PC Gamer's version of an advent calender—wake up and see what games on your wishlist were on sale today! Sadly, that joy is gone. Now we have the digital equivalent of getting underwear for Christmas. Bah humbug.
Do you think 2015's Steam Winter Sale is worse than the previous ones? Did you ever hold off buying a game before it went on a flash sale or daily deal, or were you happy to just buy it at any discount? Let us know in the comments below!