July 02, 2013, 4:19 PM — If, like me, you plan to waste a large portion of your summer sitting inside and wondering whether you should be more productive, you'll be excited to know that Valve should soon announce its annual Steam summer sale extravaganza.
This is war, comrade gamers. Here are six tips for making it through this pack of giant sale-a-thons with your wallet intact.
Set a budget
It should be obvious, but your first step--before you venture into the store, before you even think about buying that [insert awesome game-pack name here]--is to set a hard limit on what you're willing to spend. Just do it. I'm not saying you'll regret it if you don't, but...you might.
This is especially important if you allow Steam or Amazon to save your credit card info for easy purchasing. Make a budget and stick to it.
People joke about how much money they spend on games, especially during Steam sales, but the undertone is "I'm laughing on the outside, but inside I'm a bit ashamed at how much I just spent."
Games are great. So is paying your rent.
Check other sites
Back in the day, Steam's sales were legendary. In an era when the all-digital future was still a novelty and games still cost an arm (though you could keep the leg) even years after publication, Valve's discounts took the industry by storm.
Today, however, you have a wealth of options. Other game retailers are entering the competition.
Past sales on Steam have coincided with similar promotions by Amazon, GameFly, GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, and GOG.com, and this year is no different. Competition drives prices even lower, so it's always worthwhile to check out other sites before blindly purchasing on Steam, even if it is the Big Kahuna in this arena.
Most of these game sites even give out game keys you can activate on Valve's service, so it's functionally identical to purchasing through Steam in the first place (though, if that's important to you, check to make sure you will receive a Steam key before purchasing on any third-party site).
Valve values your patience
Smell that? That's the scent of shiny new deals. It's intoxicating, right? Well don't give in! Not yet, at least. The sale prices aren't necessarily the same all week long once the Steam sale starts, and you could literally lose dollars if you pull the trigger early.
During a Steam sale, almost everything on the site has lower prices, from the first day of the sale to the last. Many of these games will keep the same discount for the entire week. A game with a base discount of 50% on the first day will remain at least 50% off for the duration of the sale. Thus, you lose nothing by waiting and purchasing the game on the last day of the sale.
But you have everything to gain! Steam runs a variety of special deals, including Daily Deals and Flash Deals. Daily Deals update every 24 hours and are determined by Valve. Flash Deals change every eight hours and are voted on by the community from a subset of games.
When a game goes on sale as a Daily or Flash Deal, buy it! Those are likely the steepest discounts for the titles in question you'll see during the sale. Occasionally, the discounts are as high as 90% off.
Of course, Valve sometimes brings back popular Daily Deals for the final day of the sale with an even steeper discount, but it's hard to predict those. To be safe, it's better just to purchase them during the initial Daily Deal.
If you have your eye on a game, but it never gets featured as a Daily or Flash Deal, pick it up the final day of the sale for the same discount as that given on the first day. There's no harm in waiting.
Check your bundles
Before you purchase anything, do a quick check to make sure the games you plan to buy aren't cheaper as part of a bundle. Sometimes buying the game by itself is just as expensive as buying a bundle that includes the game and its downloadable content, or the game and its sequel.
If you're just getting into PC gaming, make sure to check out Valve's publisher bundles. With popular or prolific studios, Valve packages all the games together and then charges a fraction of their combined worth. It's a great way to jump-start a Steam library, though exponentially less useful as you accrue more titles.
Check for hidden games
As I said, pretty much everything goes on sale during a Steam sale. While big-budget games and a few fan favorites will get the spotlight each day, lots of niche titles in the store are worth purchasing but won't get featured on the front page.
We'll have a list of hidden deals up later, but consider drilling down through the store.
You have to run Steam in order to run any games you purchase from the site, so Steam (and your Steam account) is your DRM implementation.
Most PC gamers put up with it out of convenience--Steam keeps all your games in one place and easily accessible.
But many outdated DRM formats are less beneficial--Games for Windows Live and Uplay are the big offenders these days. Even though you're buying through Steam, there's no telling what restrictions a publisher has placed on its game.
Consider checking out The Big List of 3rd-party DRM on Steam before making a purchase, or check out the fine print on the game's Steam page to avoid any nasty surprises when you first boot the game.
And hey, if you're one of the few who really hates Steam, consider checking if the game is for sale on GOG.com--all its games are DRM-free.