I love the Steam Summer Sale. It’s my method of clearing out my wishlist and it helps me add games to my library which I may no longer have access to. It’s also a powerful tool for developers to squeeze the last drops out of legacy products. Better still, it helps plenty of people get access to games they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. And yet, for all the good it does, the Summer Sale encapsulates some of the worst parts of videogames.
Because of its fire sale, everything must go mentality, the Summer Sale feels less like an appreciation of great games and more like wringing out the towel. In years past there were themes, contests and stories hidden among the digital shelves to make participation that much more valuable. Now, it’s just a sale. No different from any department store just in time for the 4th of July.
If you’ve ever participated in a Summer Sale, you almost certainly have a slew of games that you’ve bought but never played or even installed.
The issue with the Summer Sale is that it demands “buy, buy, buy” without asking us to “play” even a single time. Videogames bring disparate people together. They can be a force for good and change. They can be riotously silly, darkly haunting, or deeply stirring. Or they can just be a fun diversion. The thing is, in order for games to be those things, people need to play them. And the data is there, possibly as many as 40% of games being bought aren’t being played.
Though developers must love a few extra dollars, how much more would they love it if people actually played the games? It’s the digital equivalent of buying up books on sale and leaving them on the shelves. Paying someone for their hard work but actually taking the time to enjoy it is a gift in itself.
The worlds inside these games can only be explored when we activate them. Art can only be seen when we choose to look. Books can only be read when we open them. Buying but not playing is a disservice to what games actually are. They don’t live Wreck It Ralph style lives on our hard drives, they simply don’t exist as games when we don’t play them.
Valve has worked hard over the years to make Steam into more of an ecosystem for games and a platform unto itself. Steam Machines, Big Picture Mode, Steam Controllers, all of it drives people who love games to Steam. Why not work harder to make sure those people buying games are actually playing them? By aggressively hawking their wares in limited time windows they don’t create dedicated players or cultivate fan bases. Though they create consumers, mobs demanding with a smile that St. Gabe take their money.