It’s hard not to think that this piece’s title is slightly exaggerated, but for PC gamers, Steam’s Summer Sale is perhaps the digital event of the year. With over 75 million users, Steam is the single largest client for delivering PC games, and, at any given point, nearly 7 million people around the world are logged in, making it one of the largest continually active gamer communities. The trillions of hours that gamers have spent using Steam points to its popularity, and that appeal is certainly helped by the Summer Sale, which runs through June 30th. For those unfamiliar with how these sales work, this video humorously shows the Sale’s incessancy; for two weeks, nearly every game on Steam will be heavily discounted, making the Summer Sale the biggest yearly event within the gaming community.

But there’s the question of how to approach the chaos of navigating such an intimidating event. If the Summer Sale is gaming’s version of a two-week Black Friday, we must consider the dilemma of not only living within our means, but the rationale behind the excitement for the event. This takes a different form for each of us, and the easiest (and perhaps least applicable) answer to the dilemma is obvious: Just don’t spend money. While we’re free to spend our funds as we please, we should recognize the false necessity sometimes predicated by a cheap price. And, viewed holistically, the Summer Sale can seem overwhelming in its efforts to batter our wallets.

This chart about last year’s Sale reveals some interesting numbers. If we consider just the games that were on sale, the total cost to purchase them was $1,596.96. Not everyone will purchase every game (unless you’re like this guy), but there’s another element to consider: How often are these purchases actually played? Ars Technica suggests that almost 37% of all Steam games purchased have actually never been installed. When we combine that 37% with the additional 17% of games that have been played less than an hour, the ease of online purchasing and the culture surrounding the Sale seems designed more for ill-advised mistakes than deliberate purchases.

Even so, there’s a strong communal aspect to the Sale, despite its apparent impracticality. As we consider the overwhelming compulsion and possible foolishness of spending too much money in a short time, the Sale should be credited for rewarding and encouraging others to participate within the Steam community beyond their purchases. Looking at past numbers reveals that Steam’s sales are uniquely fused with its users, so much so that they’re encouraged to take an active role in shaping the sales. The most visible way is Steam’s voting system; each day, users pick a selection of games they want at a discounted rate. Titles that gather enough votes will be severely discounted for an extensive period. It’s a minor aspect, but allowing users to vote on upcoming deals grants a measure of reciprocity rarely seen in a digital business.

Look beyond that system, and we find that the Summer Sale’s design purposefully furthers the connection between users and the Steam community. Purchase a game during the Sale, and it potentially comes bundled with coupons, items, or cards that can be traded and sold on the Steam Community Market. The Market is a unique environment that encourages users to interact and, with a decent understanding of the system, allows them to benefit while playing their own games through unique weapons, outfits, and even digital funds for future purchases. This year’ Sale has expanded those benefits even further: During the Sale, Steam groups users into color-coded teams that compete against other teams for the daily challenge of earning the most points. To earn points, users have to participate in the community, and when a team wins, every member benefits regardless of how little or much they contributed to the win. Apart from unique rewards given to each team member, 30 random members of each day’s winning team receive their most-desired games for free as an additional reward, making the investment of time both communal and personal.

The Summer Sale recognizes we project our natural and shared desire to belong within a community onto our purchases. Despite the sometimes isolating nature of gaming (which can be the case with many hobbies), the Sale’s structure directs us to think that we are best fulfilled when we choose to interact with others. It’s certainly deliberate on Steam’s part — common sense tells us that people spend money where they invest their time, and a few little items here and there can translate into quite a bit of money. Yet these minor elements within the Summer Sale betray an attempt to integrate those purchasers into a greater group.

What makes this area unique is that it’s completely optional. If we only want to play a game, that’s acceptable: Users are not forced to belong to a team during the sale, just as they are not forced to interact with others during the rest of the year. But that’s also not the best way to exist within the system’s structure, and it’s certainly not what Valve intends for us to experience within its community. The Summer Sale demands achievement and identity be tied to the roles users occupy within the Steam community, and Valve, Steam’s parent company, readily understands and promotes that connection. There’s a sense of individualization through togetherness, where we can only further our own desires and identities because of the efforts we’ve spent learning and operating within that community.

Ultimately, there’s an integral part of our faith within this practice. If we practice the words of Philippians 2:4 and consider the needs of others alongside our own, we would recognize our own lives are made complete and bettered if we occupy a place in their lives. Steam is composed of users from around the world, and as they spend their money on an untold amount of games over the next week, perhaps we could learn from Steam’s example as we look to connect with those in the communities around us. Just don’t expect any coupons or fashionable hats in return.

1 Comment

  1. You didn’t mention perhaps the most “community-oriented” aspect of the Steam sale: Bundles.

    Many multi-player games can be purchased individually at a large discount, or in bundles of multiple copies at an even *larger* discount, and you can send the extra copies digitally to your Steam friends and play together.

    I’ve done this several times with games that I’ve played with my wife, brothers, and other friends (most of whom live far away), and we’ve gotten many fun hours together, playing a game that cost me two to five bucks.

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