I am a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology, with a bachelor's in English & Creative Writing. I specialize in subcultures and cognition.
I love gaming, and I have followed the industry and its technology since I was a kid in the 80's. I have gamed primarily on PC since 2000, though I still follow console news and hardware as well. I was also a sales associate at Micro Center for a while, which was a great experience and got me into PC hardware.
I worked as a mapper and beta tester for the mod Action Half-Life. My maps, most of which have vanilla Half-Life Deathmatch versions, are available on my website.
I've been meaning to make this guide for a long time. I get a lot of great deals on PC games, and I want to teach you how to do it, too! It's part strategy, and part knowing where to look. To that end, this blog starts off with some advice, then presents a guide to most of the digital game stores for easy reference.
Here are some general rules of thumb for digital PC game shoppers: 1) Check your favorite sites frequently, at least once a week. That alone will help you catch most of the deals. Sites often have weekend deals, too, so that's a good time to double-check.
2) Friend the sites on Facebook, especially Green Man Gaming and GoG.com, because often sales are mentioned there as well as new releases.
3) Sign up for email promotions. Normally I hate that crap, but it's how I usually find out about the best deals on Green Man Gaming, when a new Humble Bundle is released, etc.
4) If you want to preorder an upcoming title, keep an eye on Green Man Gaming. They don't have every game, but if you pay attention you can usually catch a preorder voucher for 25% or more off on the games they do have. That's often in addition to a regular discount, or a cashback or store credit option.
5) If you don't get a good preorder deal on a game, wait about a month and keep an eye on the sites. I bought Mortal Kombat Komplete for $22 (vs $30) via preorder. Great deal, right? Two weeks later I saw it for $12 somewhere. Game prices can drop that fast. Just look around frequently.
6) Patience can ultimately be your greatest ally, both in getting great deals and avoiding a huge backlog. You'll quickly get a backlog on PC... so focus on the great games you already have, biding your time to get other games on sale (see JoyfulSanity's blog on game hoarding, too).
I put together a list of most of the major – and some not so major – online game stores. My personal favorites are Steam, Green Man Gaming, GoG.com, and Amazon. GMG and Amazon often give you Steam or Origin keys, whereas GoG.com offers DRM-free games. Note that some indie games can be purchased on their developer's website – often netting you a Steam key and a DRM-free copy.
Different stores also have different catalogs. GoG.com started as "good old games" and has a ton of older PC classics in addition to some newer titles. GamersGate and Desura could use a little more quality-control in my opinion, but they do offer a lot of little indie and import titles (eg Japanese bullet-hell shooters) that aren't on other sites like Steam. Origin (EA) and Uplay (Ubisoft) exclusively carry some of their publishers' titles, though most can be purchased elsewhere then activated on their clients (eg you might buy Mass Effect 3 on Amazon and get an Origin key).
This list starts with the stores I am most familiar with, as I feel more comfortable sending you to sites I have used a lot personally and thus feel are safe and legit. Sites I have not personally used will be marked with an asterisk. I try to provide a link to both the store's front page and, if possible, its "sale section". I'd still check the front pages, though, as sometimes they might link to deals not in the regular sale section. At the very end of the article is a condensed repost of all the links for maximum convenience.
I'm going to start with Green Man Gaming because it requires some explanation.
Green Man Gaming "Hot Deals" GMG Blog GMG is a bit complicated. In addition to regular sales deals, most of which are mentioned or linked to on the front page, some games offer you a choice of getting cash back or a store credit. They also have "vouchers". These are codes you enter during checkout to get a discount.
Here's what you need to know about vouchers: * They are often on the front page, or with a batch of games linked to on the front page (eg a special 25% voucher on select preorders).
* However, sometimes they are only mentioned in the blog. So check it!
* Big vouchers (25-30%) are usually on a specific selection of games (often preorders).
* There is often a 20% voucher available for almost any game on the site, though.
* You can often combine vouchers with sale prices, though you can't combine two vouchers. For example, a $15 game on sale for 33% off is $10… then you add a 20% voucher to get it down to $8. It's not always clear when you can do this, but worst case you add the voucher and it won't accept it.
Steam "Specials" tab near bottom of store page lists games on sale.
There is no "on sale" option in the search unfortunately.
GoG.com On Sale tab on front page, as well as alerts to special deals.
These last sites compile sale info from other sites. CheapShark tries to give you a one-stop place to look for deals. It's pretty convenient, especially if you want to see if a particular game is on sale somewhere. CheapAssGamer is similar, but a bit more elaborate and detailed. SteamGameSales only covers games that are on, or activate on, Steam. Nice since Steam doesn't let you sort that way! However, I wouldn't rely on these sites entirely. You have to hope they are being updated quickly, and some types of deals like the GMG vouchers aren't going to show up on them.
I hope this guide is helpful to people just getting into PC gaming, or those looking for more places to find deals. Cheap games are one of the best parts of being a PC gamer, make the most of it! And if you have any suggestions, like sites I should add to this list, let me know in the comments.