After becoming haplessly addicted to Steam sales (and spending well over $200 on games from the service since starting up my account), I started wondering to myself… what exactly makes me so addicted to it?

The obvious starting point is I’m a PC gamer. Yet… I’m not running to GameStop or mashing F5 on Amazon’s games section to pick up the newest games at those stores, even if there’s a sale. But sit me in front of Steam and it’s a totally different story. Especially this week, since it’s a special summer sale week, I’m on my PC every day starting at 11:58AM counting down like a giddy kid on Christmas to see what the new day’s sales will be. In any environment, that’s very unlike me.

No, no, the addiction has to come from somewhere else. So let’s break down what comprises Steam.

  • It’s a unified program that combines a point of sale page right in the program
  • It has an ubiquitous instant messenger service available in and out of games with minimal performance implications
  • It houses your game library on the “Steam Cloud”, and better yet, allows you access to those games anywhere Steam is installed
  • It houses certain games’ save data on the “Steam Cloud”, enabling saved games, controls, settings, and more to transfer between machines
  • It’s run by Valve, a company that’s been known since its inception to resonate with gamers

Now that’s a very dumbed-down version of what Steam is, but at its core it’s a store, library aggregator, and hub for friends. That alone makes it powerful, but really… selling games, listing games you own, and integrating an instant messenger service should be something any company can replicate with a few programmers and licensing team. No, no, Steam is something more…

Steam has an entire psychological component as well that takes it far beyond anything EA or other competitors could whip up. I’m thinking…

  • Monthly liquidation sales with 66%+ off on games actually in demand, and only playable while on the platform (talk about brand stickiness!). They’re selling games you actually want to play, while they’re still relevant.
  • The I’d-be-stupid-for-passing-this-up price point it puts on its sale games. I’ve seen full games (not even old, crappy ones) go for $9.99, $4.99, $2.49… and lower. I spent more on my last CVS trip for milk, gum, and paper towels than I did on GTA:IV. That’s messed up.
  • Games are immediately available on some of the fastest damn servers in the world. Seriously, 1.5MB/s downloads from Dusseldorf, Germany FTW. Shipping costs? Pfffffffffffffffffffff.
  • Its foundation of hardcore, loyal gamers to keep the system in use and active even after the fly-by-nighters come and go. Ain’t nothin’ more depressing than a buddy list with everyone offline, and this social element keeps people (at least) checking in.
  • Its brilliant pricing layout. The way prices- and more importantly, savings– are laid out shows you just how much you’re saving even when, truthfully, you might be able to get it somewhere else for just as much or cheaper. And the tantalizing “Buy Now” button is right there, waiting.
  • Its huge “buy now” and “add to wishlist” buttons that not only accomplish their obvious tasks, but also share it with your friends and entice them to play the same games you do. And it’s easy for them to play with you thanks to the friends list
  • Its relationship with developers and publishers letting it get special (or entirely sidestep) DRM, offloading that bloat from your games
  • The nearly immeasurable value of never, ever needing to keep a physical copy of your game or worrying about losing your CD key. Once it’s bought, it’s tied to you forever. Don’t get banned, and you’re gold.

Steam’s not without its flaws. Bunk Steam client releases really put a drag on the games until the problems are patched. Getting banned, suspended, or hacked means you lose everything you bought. Steam (rarely, but occasionally) lists games at “sale” prices which are really median-priced in perspective. But, despite the negatives, I’m in love with the service.

So, after giving it some thought, I think I know why I’m addicted to Steam sales.


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