With thousands of games in its catalog and over 125 million users, Steam has become almost synonymous with computer gaming. And, in great news for gamers, Steam is not afraid of discounts. But not all discounts are created equal — how can you score the best prices on your favorite titles? We're here to help, offering seven ways you can save with Steam.
Know When the Big Sales Strike
Steam's biggest yearly sales are the Summer Sale and the Holiday or Winter Sale, each lasting around two weeks. The Summer Sale's start date has been somewhat flexible, launching between mid-June and mid-July. The Holiday Sale is more predictable, usually starting a few days before Christmas and continuing until just after New Year's. Steam also offers a shorter event, often called its Autumn Sale, during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.
These sales are great times to look for big discounts on a wide array of titles. Steam used to try to keep users hovering over their computers for the entire sale by offering frequent limited-term daily deals, flash sales, and community choice sales, but recent sales have offered games at a single discount for the entire run of the event. While this may mean the very deepest discounts won't be available anymore, it also means there's a lot less guesswork involved in nabbing the best deal. (Previously, we recommended users wait until the last day of the sale before making a purchase, in case a title dropped to a lower price during one of these limited-term sales).
Use the Wishlist to Find Discounts Year-Round
In addition to its major sales, Steam keeps up a constant stream of deals on individual titles: Daily Deals, Weeklong Deals, Weekend Deals, and even Midweek Madness. With so many offers, it's too much to keep track of them all — especially when many will be for titles you already own or have no interest in.
However, there's an easy way to get a heads-up whenever a title you've coveted goes on sale. Go to a game's page in the Steam app and look for the "Add to your wishlist" button (below the video and screenshot panel). Once you add a title to your Wishlist, you'll get an email whenever it receives a discount. Plus, during big sales, you can simply visit your Wishlist page to view all of the available discounts on titles you're interested in.
Know What a 'Good' Steam Discount Actually Is
The kind of discount you can expect on a title depends on a number of factors — and plenty of exceptions exist — but we can offer a few rules of thumb. Older titles typically see the best discounts, and are frequently marked 60% off or more during major sales. That said, if you see any title you're interested in discounted by 75% or more, nab it — you're not likely to see a better price anytime soon.
More recently released titles often have strong discounts, too. If the game's been released in the last six months, 33% to 50% off is usually a great buy. Even titles released in the last two or three months sometimes see discounts during major Steam sales, although they're usually only 15% to 25% off.
Save More With Friends
Of note, you can often snag even better prices for multiplayer games if you find friends who want to split a bundle, or have old friends you'd like to get a small treat for. Many games with multiplayer functionality come in four-packs at a price that amounts to "buy three, get one free." When Steam cuts the cost for a title, multipacks and DLC typically gain the same percent-off discount, meaning you can double up on your savings (and play the game with your friends instead of strangers).
A warning, though: These multipack deals often aren't available if you already own the title. So, if you need more titles than the bundle includes, buy the bundle and gift the titles to people first, then get a copy for yourself.
Check for 'Hidden' Sales
Checking the Steam Store homepage may alert you to a great deal on a specific title, but frequently the publisher will offer that same discount for other related games — even if those games don't make the headline. If you check, you'll often find that previous titles in a game series have received a similar discount. (For example, a spotlight deal on Civilization V likely means you can pick up Civilization IV at a heavy discount as well.)
Supplement Your Steam Wallet via the Community Market
While this isn't a major income stream, free money always deserves a mention. Many Steam games come with the chance to earn digital "trading cards" as you play. Plus, major sales frequently offer a way to earn limited edition trading cards without making any purchases. And purchases often let you earn additional cards.
Why should you care? You can easily sell these via Steam's Community Market and earn funds to spend on more games. Though you'll only earn a few cents on some, rare "foil" cards may net you $1 or more apiece. Limited edition trading cards available during each sale often have the most value in the first day or two, and drop off in price quickly thereafter — so if you plan to sell yours, sell them fast.
Look for Steam Titles Through Other Retailers
Even if you're a Steam loyalist, that doesn't mean you should buy all of your games from Steam directly! Many other retailers, such as Green Man Gaming, Amazon, and Humble Bundle, often sell Steam game keys for a cheaper price than Steam does. Keep an eye on our Computer Game Deals page or set up DealNews Alerts for your favorite titles.
Readers, did we miss your favorite Steam saving tip? Let us know in the comments below.