January 6th, 2010

I bought these.$119.01USD — that’s what I spent during Steam’s holiday sale. For less than the price of two new console games, I bought nineteen PC games, all from Steam. Although I was aware of sales at other stores, I bought nothing from them. Steam demanded my undivided attention; its two week store-wide sale grabbed me, and its daily sales held me tightly. Just as a clumsy analogy reinforcing a simple point, Steam’s sale refused to go unnoticed, and it refused to be forgotten. No other digital distributor’s sales accomplished this; apart from some festively redesigned websites, they were unremarkable.

Impulse could have sold me some games, but for every attractive offer they had (Nikopol: Secrets of the Immortals, And Yet It Moves), Steam had the same game at a deeper discount. Impulse had no daily sales, so once I finished comparing deals, I had no reason to revisit them. GamersGate held daily sales, but they were mainly composed of games from Meridian4, 1C Company, and Paradox Interactive — it’s peculiar when their games aren’t discounted. I almost bought King’s Bounty: Armored Princess for $20, but Steam had it for $26 along with the promise of more daily sales, so I decided to wait. Two days later, I bought Armored Princess from Steam for $7.49.

Good Old Games did all right by discounting their catalogue by up to 40%, but I still didn’t buy anything. I was tempted, but their games are always inexpensive. It’s difficult to get excited about 25% off when Sanitarium is already $9.99; if I’d wanted it, I’d probably have already bought it at its regular price.

Despite their dominance, Steam’s holiday sale will benefit the entire industry, including their competitors. Valve — Gabe Newell specifically — likes sharing data, and I have no doubt that statistics from the sale will be shared at D.I.C.E. or GDC, if not sooner. I’d like to know how the sale has affected Steam’s market share; how far does such a massive promotion reach? How many new accounts were made? How many purchases were people’s first since creating their account with their CD-key for Modern Warfare 2, Dawn of War II, or Empire: Total War? How many new accounts were made whose initial action was to send or receive a gift?

Just a few months ago, I examined Impulse, GamersGate and Direct 2 Drive and concluded that, while Direct 2 Drive is altogether unpleasant to buy from, I should do more to support Impulse and GamersGate. The benefits of altruism are blurring, however, as Steam’s service continues to satisfy, and as Impulse and GamersGate’s continues to underwhelm.