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I usually spend the Christmas holiday with my family at my grandmother's place. Unfortunately, this leaves me with no Internet access during the Steam Holiday Sale. For the last few years I've been running out to McDonald's or Starbucks with my netbook at 2:00 PM every day to check the new daily deals. Yes, I have sat in my car outside a closed McDonald's on Christmas day to get online to check Steam sales.
Last year my friend Kelly texted me each day's deals so I'd know whether it was worth driving out to hunt down WiFi. This year will be different, though; I have a Galaxy S2 and the Steam app for Android, so I can browse the deals and make purchases instantly over my phone. I am so excited about this I could burst.
The Steam app for Android. Also available for iOS.
Why all the excitement over the app? And why would I go so far out of my way to check the Steam sale every day?
Because Steam is, itself, a game. A game that crosses the lines of virtual spaces and real life -- a meta-game, if you will -- but a game of sorts nonetheless.
How so? Because Steam is about more than playing games. It's about collecting games, and getting the best deals possible while doing so. It's a shopping game, I suppose, almost the opposite of Recettear, because in this case it's Gabe yelling "Capitalism, Ho!" as we scramble to get the best deals on software we may never use.
It became clear to me that Steam was about collecting games at least as much as playing them when I found Lambent Stew's Steam Profile Analysis page earlier this year. While Steam Calculator is a great way to see how much your Steam catalog is "worth" (I'm over $3,400), the profile analysis tells you how many of your games you have actually played. (Mind you, even starting a game once will put it into the "played" category; that's pretty generous.)
So. Yeah. I'm only at 58%. I have 133 games I haven't so much as touched, yet I keep buying more. And my percentage may be on the high side. My friend Kelly is at an abysmal 22% played. Nevertheless, she and I have been gossiping eagerly on Facebook about the next Steam Holiday Sale, because we want more. If Steam was just about playing games, why would we want more than we could possibly ever play? Why would we have so many games sitting unplayed in our accounts?
That awkward moment when you go to buy a game... and realize you already own it.
Steam gives us deals so good that we addicts often can't say no, even if we have a backlog that could last us the next three years. If our collections weren't virtual, we'd probably be labeled hoarders for our compulsive purchasing.
Want more evidence that Steam is also a "game"? Valve added Badges during the last Summer Sale. In other words, Steam has its own achievements, just like any other game. Valve also breaks the fourth wall with their crazy ARGs, and the odd games they come up with during certain sales (remember all those potatoes?). By linking different games together through ARGs, allowing the trading of items within Steam, etc., they make the platform itself a game space.
But here's the thing: Steam is a damn fun game. I enjoy checking compulsively for deals on Steam and other sites. Part of the fun is seeing how good a deal you can get on a game, even if you could afford it at regular price. And playing "The Steam Game" can have benefits for your gaming diet in general. I find myself more likely to buy and play outside my usual comfort zone because most games eventually reach impulse-buy price levels. Some of my favorite games over the last few years have been indie games I picked up on sale, and if I'm unsure about a $60 AAA title I can always wait for the price to drop a bit so it's less of a risk. Finally, from an industry standpoint, purchasing more games but at lower prices "spreads the wealth" a bit more between AAA publishers and smaller developers.
In any case, the Steam Holiday Sale will be starting in a few days and I can't wait to play Steam: The Game during its yearly climax -- even if it's on my phone! I leave you with this great wallpaper PC Gamer made a couple years ago: