Thought Bubble: Running out of Steam (sales)

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It’s like a Mega Man game, but instead of choosing a Robot Master you choose how Valve takes your money.

Barely a week has passed and I don’t even remember all the games I just bought.

The Steam Summer Sale, the digital download service’s most momentous sale where PC games are discounted to massive, nay, ridiculous margins, has come and gone, and gamers could neither contain their excitement nor their wallets.

At the time or writing, I’ve bought more than 40 games including Anno 2070, four Pendulo point-and-click adventure games, all three Dungeon Siege games, Double Fine’s Psychonauts, Stacking, and Costume Quest, both Dead Spaces and more than 20 Sega Genesis games (because for eight bucks why the hell not) – all for a little less than $130, or the price of two new release console games at Best Buy.

As my email inbox floods with successive “Thank you for your purchase” messages, it becomes increasingly clear that this shit is getting ridiculous.

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My Steam Library currently lists a total of 139 games. Perusing the long list of games whose total game data would make my primary PC hard drive weep, I can count several dozen games I’ve yet to even install – many of them purchased on the last Steam fire sale.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that gamers have fallen in love with Steam’s sales. Valve has included everything that we love about games in the event itself: daily updates, user polls for what sale gamers want next, achievements for games bought on sale that lead to other bonuses, even characters and storylines in the form of those lovable mascots that resemble a cross between Teletubbies and futuristic waste bins. They have essentially game-ified their approach to selling video games. They have challenged us to buy as many games and save as much money as possible, and as ludicrous as it sounds we’re unable to turn down a challenge like that.

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Is this you? Steam Gamers Anonymous can help.

It’s gotten to the point where websites and communities have developed a concerted effort to curb our game-buying ways to make way for our game-playing ways. The Backloggery tasks players with entering their entire game library, marking them as unplayed, in-progress or completed, in order to drive you towards improving your finished to unplayed ratio.

The Something Awful forums has a Steam Anonymous group, where members aid each other in completing their backlogs, including the Random Steam Game generator that assigns you a randomly-generated game to play when given your Steam ID.

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And for sheer shock factor, Steam Calculator tallies up just how much discount-free cash your digital library is worth.

PC gamers have flocked to the Steam sales in record numbers, with the service reporting over five million users simultaneously logged in, possibly for the first time in its history. Commenters on message boards flood in with reactions to the newest list of discounted games every 1:00 pm ET. Competitions build based on what sale they want to vote on. Do you have all three games on the list? Vote for whichever one most of your friends have on their wishlist. It’s one of the biggest social events on the gaming sphere that doesn’t actually take place inside a game.

But the incredible enthusiasm behind Steam’s seasonal sales betrays an overwhelmingly consumerist undertone to video games culture.

We talk about buying games more than we talk about playing them. And when we’ve completed a game, most conversations about them abruptly stop. It’s like we’ve paid for our allotted hours of entertainment, and then placed it on the shelf to gather dust indefinitely (something that digital-only copies of games don’t even get to do).

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Now don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with the sales in and of themselves. Quite the opposite really; over time you’re likely to make back the cost of a gaming-grade desktop computer. When you’ve picked up a dozen or so of the last three years’ AAA titles for five to ten bucks apiece, that $350 video card suddenly feels like it’s paid itself back in spades.

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Is this your inbox? We can help, but the first step is to acknowledge there’s a problem.

But is it truly the best thing that gamers have to do with themselves over the summer or winter?

Perhaps we don’t have enough events to collectively celebrate our love of games. Rarely do we gather simply to talk about them. Rather we celebrate the business games, or the purchase of games, or the competition of games (where most talk about the games centres around beating someone else at it).

The solution – or coping mechanism – is simple: play your games, and talk about them. Chat with your friends about the games you’ve played in the past week or month. A video game version of a book club, as it were.

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Most importantly, don’t just let your library sit there unplayed. Doing that reduces the game – and your purchase – to nothing more than another empty achievement on the “stuff I’ve bought” checklist.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just started Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. I think I bought it during last winter’s sale.

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