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Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Steam Summer Sale; the ACTUAL pay-to-win game

I'm a Steam fan. It's one of the first things I open when I boot up my computer and I would estimate that I get 90% of my games there. The biannual sales are holidays that I look forward to with the same childlike impatience that once accompanied the approach of Christmas.* One of the highlights, aside from cleaning up on all the games and DLC that I wasn't willing to pay full price for, has been the gimmicky "event" that accompanies the sale. Past events have included solving ARGs, incentives for playing the games on sale on a given day, and something akin to an achievement scavenger hunt (if memory serves). This year, it's a bit less satisfying.

This is what Valve wanted it to look like. Go pink team!
The gimmick this year is very simple. Capitalizing on their futuristic, patented "Badge" technology, Valve splits the users into five random teams; red, green, blue, purple, and the best team (pink). Members of each team can complete badges to earn points for their team. Every Summer Sale badge is worth 10 points, with Foils worth 100. Non-Summer Sale badges are worth 1/10th that number of points for their regular and foil variants. The Summer Sale badge requires collecting one of each of the ten cards associated with the sale, and a random card is given out for every $10 spent and for every 3 times you vote on the community choice sale. So without voting you would need to spend at least $100 to contribute a summer sale bade, assuming you get no duplicates.

Each day the team with the most points wins 3 games for 30 of their members. Second place gets 2 games for 20, and third gets 1 game for 10.

Did I say it was simple? Oh right there's one other mechanic that isn't as obvious. By crafting the badge you have a chance to get items that help your team or hinder others. Specifically the below:

The top allow you to boost your team or steal points from another, the bottom switch you to the team of the token's color.
These items are selling like hot cakes on the community market. So for Steam to get it's full benefit, they want players buying games as much as they can to maximize their team's chances. Each badge crafted also has a chance to give you some in-game items for participating games, such as Warframe of Path of Exile.

So what it all comes down to is that the only way to really play and win the steam sale game is to spend as much money as possible. Wise to this, some reddit users devised a means to game the system, as reported by PCGamer. Essentially they agreed to focus their efforts on specific days so that each team would win twice. Unfortunately for Valve this meant that a specific team would take an early lead, dissuading people from buying more or crafting badges if it was clear that their team had no chance that day because of the rigging. Valve created measures to help put a stop to this behavior, but can you really blame the players? Steam created a game where the only winner is Valve so the players tried to even the score and potentially benefit people they don't even know by ensuring each team got a shot at victory.

I'm disappointed. I like the idea of joining a sort of meta-game team on Steam and helping generate points to win, but I would rather do that by playing the games I've bought than simply shelling out cash. I'm even willing to buy games to participate, so long as the benefit I confer comes from the playing, not the paying. Rather than a fun side-game to the Summer Sale, it's just a blatant attempt to squeeze out more cash. Yes, every sale IS an attempt to squeeze out more cash from customers, but they don't have to be this obvious about it.

*Which consequently, is when one of the sales typically takes place.

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