The Ultimate Guide To Steam: Pay Less and Get More for Your Games

The Steam platform is a digital distribution platform and one of the first of its kind. In addition to allowing one to purchase and download games, it utilized its online nature to keep games updated automatically and later on connect them to various Steam-powered services.

In the earliest days of the platform, Steam was an annoyance that PC gamers had to deal with to play the latest Valve titles. Nowadays, Steam is used by nearly all PC gamers, with a large number of them refusing to buy their PC games anywhere else. There’s many reasons for this: the in-game overlay and social networking features, the abundance of sales and cheap games, and the integration of game features with the Steam platform.

Now that you know what Steam is, let’s cover the “rules” of shopping on Steam.

Never buy a game that’s not on sale

First and foremost, if a game isn’t on sale, don’t buy it. Games on Steam go on sale all the time. You’re rare to go more than a month without most of the games on your wishlist going on sale and attainable at a cheaper price. Patience is key when using Steam.

Don’t preorder games, or buy them on Day 1


Beyond the obvious reason you should follow this rule (see the above rule), there’s another reason. This one is tied to PC gaming as a whole.

Unfortunately, PC games can often suffer from severe performance issues or game-breaking bugs on launch. Two prominent examples in recent memory include Watch Dogs and Batman: Arkham Knight. While things have improved in recent times, especially thanks to the implementation of the Steam refund policy, it still isn’t always a safe bet to buy a new game as soon as it comes out.

Additionally, you can still save a lot of money, anywhere from 50% to 85% off, on triple-A titles by waiting for a sale. Day 1 is rarely, if ever, worth it.

Always check system requirements before making a purchase


All games on Steam are required to provide system requirements. While you can refund a purchase if your system can’t run it at a desirable performance level, it’s smart to have a good idea of whether it’ll run or not before dropping your money on it.

For instance, a glance at the system requirements in the above image tells me that I can run this game well above the lowest settings but not quite at “recommended,” which means I’ll have to compromise on either visuals or framerate for a good experience.

While not 100% accurate, a resource like System Requirements Lab can help you when determining if a game can be run on your hardware, and you can always look up graphics configurations for a game and your specific hardware if need be.

Always read recent reviews before making a buying decision


While Steam’s review system often hosts silly memes and jokes, a look at recent reviews will generally tell you all you need to know about a game before purchasing it. Once you sift through the joke reviews, you’ll find plenty of in-depth reviews about whether or not the game is right for you. Additionally, if a game is outright bad or broken, the reviews will tell you immediately.

Never buy individual DLC packs

DLC and micro-transactions are considered by many to be the bane of the current gaming industry. This isn’t the article for debating that, but if you’re budget-minded, don’t buy individual DLC packs. DLC often goes on sale and gets bundled eventually – enjoy the base game for now, and grab up the GOTY edition or DLC pack upgrade for $5-$10 whenever it drops. Once again, patience is key here.

Use Enhanced Steam

Enhanced Steam is an extension for all major modern browsers that you can use to … well, enhance Steam. While it may seem convenient to browse the Steam Store in the client, it’s actually much smarter to do so in your browser since you can open multiple tabs simultaneously. Adding Enhanced Steam on top of that adds a lot of vital features to your entire Steam experience, but most relevant to this section of the article is the ability to check prices at other outlets.


At the time of writing, for instance, Dark Souls III costs $60.


But with the Enhanced Steam plugin, I’ve discovered that I can purchase a Steam key for this game for just $30 on the Humble Store. There’s no downside to redeeming the game in this way, and for my extra effort I’ve gotten a 50% discount!

When the Best Sales Are On


There are two major sales on Steam each year. Even the latest triple-A games see huge cuts around these times, and if the game is a year or two old, you can expect to see discounts as high as 95% off. These major sales are the best times to purchase games on Steam, and they are the Summer Sale and Winter Sale. (Summer Sale is the best one overall, but Winter is a close second.)

The Summer Sale typically strikes in mid-July (though in earlier years, it was known to strike in late-June instead), while the Winter Sale almost always starts around December 20th and ends within the first five days of January. These sales have the best deals and drive the most traffic because of when they’re placed in the year: Summer Sale because kids and teens are out of school for two months and have a lot of free time and Winter Sale because it’s the holiday season, and people are wanting to buy games as gifts for their friends and family.

If you don’t see yourself impulse-purchasing games on a frequent basis, save up your game-buying money for these two key sales during the year. Autumn and Halloween Sales are common as well, but generally you’ll get your best deals during the Summer and Winter Sales.

Regret an Impulse Buy? Refund the Game

For a long time users weren’t able to refund games on Steam. Fortunately, this changed in mid-2015. Now, any game on Steam can be refunded if it meets the following two requirements:

  • Purchased within the last 14 days of the refund request
  • Played for less than two hours

If the game you’re attempting to refund meets those requirements, you can have it refunded, no questions asked, by simply going to Steam Support and requesting the refund. Games that fall outside of these limitations will also be considered for refunding, but typically you should know within two weeks/two hours whether or not you want to keep a title in your Steam library.

I recommend playing any game you purchase before you forget about it and request a refund if you find it doesn’t suit your tastes after your first few play sessions.

All that aside, you now know everything you need to know about shopping on Steam. Be sure to bookmark this article if you ever need to refer to it again, pass it on to your friends if you think it’d help them, and enjoy your games!

Christopher Harper
Christopher Harper

I'm a longtime gamer, computer nerd, and general tech enthusiast.

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