It’s almost that time again…that magical time that happens once multiple times a year, the grand Steam Sale spectacular! This is it friends, time to openly laugh at those poor console-only souls as you rub that $4.99 Flash Deal copy of Skyrim Legendary Edition in their weeping faces. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching money fly free from your wallet into the coffers of our lord and savior Gaben, let us here at SteamFirst guide you through everything you need to know so you can be fully prepared for a Steam Sale.

What is a Steam Sale?

A Steam Sale is a period of time on Steam where the good folks at Valve decide to give you enormous discounts on titles over a period of anywhere from 4 to 16 days. These sales, which began in 2009 with the first “Holiday Sale”, are unscheduled but have historically occurred in the summer (late June or July), autumn (October or November), and holiday (December). When we say unscheduled, we mean in the sense that, in true Valve-time fashion, Valve does not advertise or promote sales beforehand in a traditional marketing sense. The sales magically appear (although sometimes the internet sleuths figure out the likely start date leading up to the sale) and wonderful mayhem ensues.

Why should I care about these Sales?

You should care if you believe in getting the most bang for your buck and building your Steam library to an unhealthy size of gaming goodness. These aren’t your normal, run-of-the-mill 10% off type sales here. We’re talking about across the board price cuts that can reach 90% off! This isn’t reserved for bottom of the barrel titles either mind you, you can pick up certified AAA titles at a deep discount as well as those niche titles and indie darlings.

Ok, I like saving money and getting games. What’s a good first step?

Assuming you already have a Steam account and have the client installed (would you even be reading this if you hadn’t?), your first task should be building your Steam Wishlist. You can access your wishlist in the Steam client (under the Store tab) or online at the Steam Store through a browser. Here you will prepare the list of games you want to pick up during the upcoming sale. Then, simply go through the Steam Store as you normally do and add titles that strike your fancy to your wishlist.

This seems like a lot of work, why do I need to bother with a wishlist?

The reason is that it’s in your best interest to add games to your wishlist. You could write your gaming shopping list on a scrap of paper or make some kind of fancy spreadsheet but if you add to your wishlist you can receive emails from Steam when an item goes on sale. This is very important since some aspects of the sale include “Flash Deals”, a short window of time where certain titles are heavily discounted. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that kind of opportunity now would you?

Wait, “Flash Deals”? Are there other types of deals to be had?

Why yes there is! Traditionally there are four types of deals nested inside the larger Steam Sale: General Sale items, Daily Deals, Flash Deals, and Community Deals. Here’s a quick rundown:

General Sale – Your basic sale for titles across Steam during the sale. They last the entire length of the sale and usually include any title that isn’t a new release. Discounts typically range from 25%-75% off.

Daily Deals – A select group of titles that change every 24-48 hours with discounts slightly better than the General Sale. Usually range from 50%-75% off.

Flash Deals – A special group of titles that change every 12-18 hours with significantly deeper discounts compared to General or Daily Deals. Prices are usually 50%-90% lower than normal.

Community Deals – Democratic deals where everyone on Steam gets to vote on one of three deals in a selected group of games. The winning deal chosen by the community is then activated and usually lasts for about 24 hours after the voting period ends. Usually one can see discounts from 25%-90% off.

Why is there so many different types? Isn’t it all the same sale?

It is one big sale but with different “special” sales each day with usually better deals for you then the default sale price. Also, if you know the difference and how the general mechanics of Steam Sales work you will know how long you have to act (or if you should wait) before a certain “special” sale ends.

Why would I want to wait if the game I want is on sale?

Sometimes you could get an even better deal if you just grit your teeth and hold off a bit. The general rule of thumb is that if a game is NOT a Daily, Flash, or Community deal and it is NOT the last day of the Steam Sale then you should hold off purchasing in hopes for a better price.

Ok, that makes sense. What happens if I’m away from my computer and I see a game I wanted is a Flash Deal but I won’t make it home in time?

Lucky for you, Steam has multiple ways to buy games even if you’re away from your home base. First you can always access the Steam Store in browser form and snag that precious title in time. You should also consider picking up the Enhanced Steam browser extension for extra info regarding price history, third party DRM info, and other goodies not included in the vanilla web Steam Store.

Alternatively, you can download the Steam Store app for your preferred mobile device for true on-the-go savings. In a real bind with an old flip phone and stuck in the middle of nowhere? You could always call a friend on Steam and have them purchase the game and gift it to you.

Any other advice for getting the most out of a Steam Sale?

Don’t stress out about missing a title that was on sale. There is always another Steam Sale waiting for you a few months down the road and your poor wallet will probably thank you for showing it mercy.

Got any other tips for making the most out of a Steam Sale? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or in the comments below!




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