SteamSummerSale banner

The Steam Summer Adventure is a Hilarious Exercise in Socialism

UPDATE: As of Day 6 of the Steam Summer Sale, Valve has tweaked the rules to allow for 2nd and 3rd placing teams to earn a chance to win free games. Clearly Valve is none too pleased at the level of organization and dedication that’s been on display. Only time will tell if the system described below continues to be adhered to; so far everyone wants to keep to the schedule for winning teams, but they’ve begun fighting for 2nd and 3rd. The sociology experiment continues….

I’m one of those PC gamers that looks at the Steam Seasonal Sales as mini holidays. Sure it’s easy to get cynical that most of the sales are repeats but the amount of entitlement required to brush off giant sale events is mind-boggling, even for the average elitist gamer. The Steam sales are a fun time when my friends list is full of people playing everything from newly discounted AAA titles to interesting indie games, and my activity feed fills with fun screenshots and achievement listings.

Although Valve has recently expanded their sale events into Halloween and Thanksgiving, the two main sales remain in the Summer (June/July) and Winter (December). For the last few years they’ve tried various additional little games and incentives during the events, the most successful of which is the community voted flash sales.

For Summer Sale 2014 they really wanted to double down on the trading card system – players earn tradable cards from playing games and can craft badges when they collect ’em all. Crafting badges gives points to your colored team during the sale, a team you’re randomly assigned at the beginning. 30 lucky Steam users from the winning team each day get three free games off their wishlist (I dunno about you, but mine is much more $10 games than $60). What started as a somewhat fun and silly contest as we watch the colored bars zoom across in real time quickly became an eyebrow raising oddity, then a conspiracy’s theorist’s dream (or nightmare).

steam sale

Every day since the first, a single color team has surged ahead in the very beginning and remained dominant throughout the day. The scores are reset every day to give each team equal footing, but one team gets so far ahead that the rest never had a chance. But, it’s a different colored team each day. How is this possible? Is Valve purposefully rigging the system to give everyone a fair chance? As a side note, I find it despairing that a supposedly beloved company like Valve, one of the few in gaming, is quick to be pounced on the moment people smell blood in the water.

The answer is actually much more fascinating – it’s rigged by the people themselves. What started amongst the Reddit collective has since blown up and spread across the internet like Mono at a teenage makeout party.

Users organized a schedule for each team to win so that every team will win twice over the course of the contest, with the final day being a free for all. Through the use of holding off on crafting until it’s your team’s day, stealing points via tokens and switching teams, this system has been brutally effective as anyone watching the contest can plainly see. Operation Everyone Work as a Team is instituted Socialism; any semblance of a free market or open contest was quickly dissipated once the organizers figured out they could take complete control of the entire contest by promising a fair and equal opportunity for all.

Here is the proposed schedule which has been followed perfectly thus far. Keep in mind that the new day doesn’t start until around noon in the USA, depending on time zone.

19th – PURPLE – Thursday
20th – RED – Friday
21st – GREEN – Saturday
22nd – PINK – Sunday
23rd – BLUE – Monday
24th – PURPLE – Tuesday
25th – RED – Wednesday
26th – GREEN – Thursday
27th – PINK – Friday
28th – BLUE – Saturday

It’s also an interesting look at sociology and how people react given this unique opportunity: would you rather receive a guaranteed two wins for your team (and thus whatever miniscule chance you personally have of winning) or accept the risks of a truly open, fluctuating market, er, contest? The people have chosen the former.

Even more fascinating are the subreddits and groups that have rallied around their team’s color. Green calls themselves the “Master Race”, Blue chants “Go Blue” like any good sports fans. My personal favorite? “Glory to Redstotzka.” These groups organize everyone to horde all their badges and points until it’s their team’s day to win, like dutiful members of this new frightening society. Topics spring up that other teams will attempt to steal their day, and so far the only thing keeping the system from completing falling apart is that, so far, it’s working as everyone wants it to.

steam sale

Except maybe not everyone. Maybe some of us are bummed that the entire contest is nothing but a sham, and it’s completely pointless to even follow. Maybe some of us were working hard to trade cards and work the marketplace to make sure we were crafting at least one badge a day in case our team won to remain eligible for the prize. Maybe some of us would rather accept the risk of never winning just to have a more interesting contest that would actually be fun to watch.

Maybe Valve will come up with something different for the next Steam Sale. Personally I really enjoyed the one from 2-3 years ago, when you could earn tickets and trade those in for little DLC packs for indie games. It was fun, thematic for Summer, and actually had tangible rewards you could use (and incentivized you to buy those indie games), instead of just a small chance to win. Alas they never reused that format and in came the trading cards and now this.

I don’t want to complain, the actual sale is still awesome and Valve need not do anything extra to make it that way, but the fact that this contest involves the marketplace and real money being spent leaves a bad taste in my mouth, even as I watch this insane sociology experiment unfold.