Listen. We’ve all been there. You’re just living your life merrily, all sunshine and smiles, but all of a sudden, you see the email. 15 games on your wishlist are on sale, some of them at a DEEP price cut. You may say to yourself, “No, Gaben. You will not own my wallet this time.” But as you keep eyeing those Steam Sale pages, somehow your credit card leaps out of your pocket, or your PayPal account info just automagically fills itself in. Before you know it, you’re the proud owner of enough games to last you the next 3 months… conveniently until the next Steam Sale. But will you actually be playing them?
First thing’s first. When it comes to these mega-deals, do you really have the cash to blow on them? Yes, you may have been aching for a copy of Civilization VI, but could your $15 be better spent elsewhere? If you’re living with your family, have most of your meals covered, and your part-time job gives you all the spending money you need, then sure. Otherwise, let’s consider what that $15 could equate to at the time of this writing. Whenever I personally spend money, I think of how much that get me in another country I’d love to visit. For example, $15 is a NICE pork cutlet curry dish with all the fixin’s I so love (cheese and an egg omelet on top). Would I rather have this game that’s going to likely sit in my backlog for years before I remember I own it… only because I’m trying to buy it again? Or would I rather be chowing down on a meal in another country? Sure it’s a little tough to think about visiting Asia when you’re on a budget, but speaking from experience, if you throw these extra bucks towards a dedicated Travel Fund, you’ll get there.
Next, ask yourself, “Why did I even buy this game in the first place?” Was it a good deal that seduced you? Was it a massively high Steam rating? Was it a title that’s been on your wishlist for ages? In this modern era, games go on sale CONSTANTLY. Just try visiting the /r/GameDeals subreddit and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by how many damn sales there are on the daily. Not to mention how these are often digital games we’re dealing with. There is no limit to the stock they have (except in rare occasions). Remember, you are in control when it comes to your buying power. As a consumer, you decide if these developers and publishers deserve your money. Recognize typical marketing tactics of “LIMITED TIME DEAL” or “WHILE SUPPLIES LAST”. You and I both know those are just schemes to snatch your bucks.
Finally, dig deep and really probe your mind for an honest answer to the question, “Will I play this game in the next 4 months?” We say 4 months because that’s probably the next time the game will see another deep sale, if not way sooner. If you think you’ll actually touch it in that time, then we’ll consider it a potential keeper. But if you’re just buying because it’ll round out your collection and you have a few extra bucks to spare, consider pocketing that and waiting till next sales period. In all likelihood, it’ll be even cheaper then.
Analyze The Game
After we’ve grilled ourselves like a tender pork chop at a summer BBQ party (yes, I like food analogies), we need to grill a new piece of meat: the game itself.
Give your entire library a quick scan and decide if this game is supposed to be or likely to be better than any other game in your backlog currently. Check Steam ratings, Metacritic ratings, reviews from your most trusted sources, and then determine if this game is really worth your time for now. I was recently tempted to pick up a bundle with this awesome visual novel I’ve been meaning to play for over a decade. Ratings for it are solid… but I also own games like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Persona 5. Bloodborne. Some of the most impressive video games to be released in the past ten years. I like visual novels, but I’ve never gone through a single one 100% through. I skipped this sale until I’ve cleared out some of the better titles I own.
Next up, decide if this game is significantly different from anything else in your library. I’ve wanted the aforementioned visual novel for a long time, but I also already own somewhere around 18 other visual novels. If I’ve got a visual novel itch that needs scratching, there is no shortage of titles I could use to take care of that. However, if I have a craving for a music-rhythm game that doesn’t engage me in the same way as Crypt of the Necrodancer, Dance Dance Revolution, or Amplitude, then I’ll consider picking it up if it passes my other “tests.”
Now this one may be more controversial, but a big part of gaming these days stems from how much entertainment one can get out of a title. This is usually measured in content, or lack thereof. If a brand new, $60 game comes out and you visit HowLongToBeat.com only to find the average playthrough takes 6-8 hours, you’re looking at about $8-10/hr. That’s about the same rate as going to see a movie in southern California. But if you find, say, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for $15, you’re looking at a 50-hour game at minimum. That’s 30 cents per hour of entertainment. Compare that to the new release and you’ve got a serious deal on your hands. That’s not to say you’re guaranteed to like The Witcher 3 more than that new one, but in general it’s going to provide a significantly lengthier experience that could greatly impact whether or not you feel like your money was well-spent.
And on a related note, figure out if this game is legitimately on sale. Use IsThereAnyDeal.com to see the price history of the game across basically every computer game store on the market, be it Steam, Fanatical, Humble Bundle, or any other more obscure (though legitimate) site. If you bought Stardew Valley for $17 but happen to see it was on sale 8 months ago for $12, you may want to rethink your decision. You can even set up email reminders to trigger if a price ever drops below a certain threshold. This takes out the guesswork on your end and makes it easy to know if you’re getting a truly sweet deal.
Refunding The Game
Alright, so now you’ve really probed your gray matter and discovered you’re not really happy with your purchase. But you were really wanting to play this game in the moment and gave in to temptation. What can you do?
First, if you haven’t already, watch some YouTube gameplay videos. Gameplay trailers are often made to highlight some of the best experiences in a game. Only through authentic gameplay videos from third parties can you expect to get a less-biased perspective. For example, some games can look like they’ve got this frenetic action and constantly engage the player with challenging puzzles, but when you get into the actual gameplay, the pacing is like trudging through molasses. Try and find a YouTube video without commentary if possible, as that can throw off an evaluation too.
So you’ve bought the game, you’re not totally committed to it, and you still want to give it a whirl. If you bought your game on Steam, you can actually play the game some before getting a no-questions-asked refund for the title. The specific policy as outlined on the Steam Refund Policy site at the time of this article says:
“You can request a refund for nearly any purchase on Steam—for any reason. Maybe your PC doesn’t meet the hardware requirements; maybe you bought a game by mistake; maybe you played the title for an hour and just didn’t like it. It doesn’t matter. Valve will… issue a refund for any reason, if the request is made within fourteen days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours. …Even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.”
That’s a pretty generous refund policy if I’ve ever heard one. So what you can effectively do is use this policy to get a 2-hour “demo” of any game you want on the Steam store. That way you can figure out if that fancy new Final Fantasy everyone’s been talking about isn’t a slog for the first two hours, or if it can even run on your PC. Just make sure you try to stay under that two hour mark! Otherwise, your refund request may be denied, should you decide to go that route.
Keeping The Game
By now, you’ve taken this newly purchased game of yours and put it through the ringer. It’s passed every test we’ve set up to this point and you’ve decided this one is The One. Does that mean you should just throw caution to the wind and jump right into it? Before that, let’s categorize the game! I’ll have a future article detailing how to do this, but for now, set up a few folders in your Steam Library window that you can use to separate games based on various categories. I have folders for Fighting games, Multiplayer games that are competitive, Couch Co-Op games for when friends come over, RPGs, Shooters, and the like. You could have folders for average length to beat (1-5hrs, 6-10hrs, 10-20hrs, 20hrs+). You could even divide by Steam ratings so you’re only taking on the “best” games you own before any others. The sky’s the limit when it comes to this step.
Even if you don’t really dig the categories by genre, you could at least set up a folder called “Completed” and drag over games that you’ve already beaten or don’t have an end. That way you can free up precious mindspace and not get distracted wondering “did I beat this one?”, only to install it yet again and figure out you’ve saved the kingdom three times before.
And at the end of it all, make a solid, dedicated, whole-hearted resolution to NOT splurge next time. Set yourself an attention budget. Say “Next Steam Sale, I will only allow myself to buy TWO games, no more, no less.” This makes the experience both limiting and rewarding: you’re getting two games out of it no matter what, so what’s there to complain about? Or set yourself a goal: “For every five games I get through in my backlog, I can buy another three to replace them.” That way you’re still getting to play games you want, buy games you want, and your backlog is overall shrinking while your wallet stays firm and sturdy.
No matter what route you choose, know that only you have the power to fend off Gaben and his beloved yet dreaded price cuts. Be strong, my fellow budget-centric gamers! We will not lose sight of the goal: play awesome games, save money, and change gaming forever.