When it comes to finding the best console video game deals, you can generally follow the retail sales schedule: President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc. However, PC games tend to follow a completely different schedule since most are sold as digital downloads via a litany of different distributors in dozens of different countries.
Luckily I’m here to guide you on how to be a savvy PC-gamer.
Know the sales
The first step towards being a savvy PC game shopper is knowing when to look. Every summer and every winter, you can expect games to go on sale. A few years ago, this was relegated to the Steam sales, more on that below, but today most of the gaming stores are competing and price-matching summer sales. If it’s warm enough for ice cream, there’s likely games on sale for less than the price of the double scoop.
On the opposite side of the thermostat, expect the same blowout sales in winter.
Between summer and winter sales, most sites feature weekly specials via specific publishers (e.g. Capcom Week). My personal recommendation would be /r/GameDeals , but there are dozens of sites that serve the same purpose.
Know the sites
The second step towards being a savvy PC game shopper is knowing where to look. Here’s a quick run-down of my favorite store-fronts:
Steam has been delivering digital titles since 2003. Starting as a Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution, Steam now does it all for PC gaming. It handles social networking, matchmaking, achievements, real-money items market, streaming, and beyond. With frequent sales, the ability to gain cash from playing your favorite games, and an excellent system to find new titles, Steam will always steer you right.
Tip: Watch for the big sales events, usually summer and winter, with the occasional Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and rare super-special events.
Strength: You buy a game, get a rare item, sell the rare item, and use the money to buy a new game!
Weakness: Older titles tend not to go on sale on Steam. You could be waiting forever to see your favorite classic discount a mere 50%.
Over the past 5 years, Amazon has positioned itself as a competitor in the digital game downloads market. I won’t bore you with a summary of Amazon; you already know it. Their digital storefront used to have the most competitive prices for both DRM-free, Steam, Origin, and Uplay games, but they haven’t had any blowout deals recently. Amazon likes to compete in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday madness though. These are your best times to watch for deals. Further, take a look at their indie game store front, they carry a large variety of curated titles.
Tip: Look for retail copies of older games. They tend to be much cheaper than the digital versions and often activate on digital clients (like Steam) anyway.
Strength: Amazon being a full-retail storefront, selling everything including games, it has the ability to also sell special items such as Hardware, Collectibles, Toys, and other gaming-related goods that you may want in addition to a product activation key.
Weakness: Amazon doesn’t cater specifically to gamers, so it may not always have the best deals compared to newer gaming sites.
Greenman has been aggressively pricing themselves into the market since 2009. GMG will often do sales you can’t believe, and they’ve positioned themselves as being extreme deal-makers, even on games that aren’t released. I’ve pre-ordered several games at 40% off retail price. Further, GMG often does themed sales around the holidays (Easter, Halloween, etc.).
Tip: Sign up for their VIP newsletter to get the best deals. Also keep an eye on their top-sellers’ list. It’s a good indicator of the best deals.
Strength: They only deal in digital keys; they want to be competitive with pricing. Greenman makes a solid effort to consistently offer the lowest prices they can muster, especially with newly released titles.
Weakness: If you’re window shopping, Greenman isn’t the best site for discovering lesser-known titles. They tend to highlight the bigger releases.
Humble is the newest store on this list, coming in at a mere five years old. Humble is a beautiful and charitable site. Every week they team up with developers, comedians, authors, comic book veterans, and a variety of other creative minds to deliver fantastic bundles. Humble has both a storefront that runs sales (around the same holiday structure as above) and a bundle site. The bundle site features top-tier games delivered in featured bundles on a pay-what-you-want structure. Better yet, there are payment sliders to add charitable donations with your purchase. It’s a delight that every PC-gamer needs to be aware of.
Tip: If you’re a Steam fan (who isn’t?), know that many Humble games offer DRM-Free versions in addition to Steam keys. It’s like having your cake and eating too.
Strength: Insane bundle deals! Not to mention, 10% of all the proceeds go to charitable organizations.
Weakness: Being the youngest store on our list, Humble also has the smallest selection.
Know your budget and avoid the backlog
Everyone knows the feeling of impulse buying. It’s all too easy with digital downloads. After all, what’s another game in your Steam library? Digital downloads don’t need any more room on the bookshelf, and certainly won’t clutter up your desk.
Be aware of your spending habits and set your limits. “You Need a Budget” is a greattool for this, but it’s just as easy to set up an excel spreadsheet. Make sure you aren’t overspending your budget to get the latest and greatest! It’s easy to spend hundreds within your first few months of PC-gaming. Trust me.
Regarding the endless stack of games you haven’t played yet (AKA the backlog), you’ll inevitably run into it. Try not to. All too often game deals are too good to be true. That release you’ve been dying to play is 50%, maybe even 75% off, and you can’t resist. But next week, it happens again, and again. Sooner or later, you’ll have a full hard-drive and 0 achievements. Don’t fill up a backlog; enjoy a game fully before moving on and purchasing the next.
There are plenty of other sites out there, and it seems like every few weeks a new one pops up. I probably missed your favorite, so let me know the URL!
And if anyone out there has gotten a good haul from a sale, let us see the haul. Nothing is prettier than a receipt filled with games.
Your Most Humble Community Servant,
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