Steam Sale Strategies: When and How to Get the Best PC Game Discounts

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There's no question that building a gaming PC is often more expensive than buying a console. That's especially true for people seeking relatively future-proof hardware that can push a respectable number of frames per second without making games look like they're from the late '90s. But that upfront cost is offset by lower-priced games, especially when Valve's running one of its seasonal Steam sales.

Publishers typically offer steep discounts as part of those sales. It's not uncommon to find relatively new titles at a slight discount, and older games are practically given away, especially when bundled with a bunch of their geriatric counterparts. The problem is figuring out when Valve plans to run these sales, especially since they aren't announced ahead of time.

When Are There Steam Sales?

These seasonal promotions are (fittingly) called the Steam Spring Sale, Steam Summer Sale, Steam Autumn Sale and Steam Winter Sale. Valve also tends to run a Steam Halloween Sale. The Autumn Sale doubles as the company's Black Friday celebration.

These sales don't start on the same date each year, but they're still fairly predictable. We can generally count on the sales to start around:

  • Steam Spring Sale: Late May
  • Steam Summer Sale: Late June
  • Steam Autumn Sale: Late November
  • Steam Winter Sale: Late December

Steam Sale Tracker: When Is the Next Steam Sale? 

Valve builds its sale schedule around the Steam Summer Sale and Steam Winter Sale, which means there's a major sale every six months with a smaller sale in between. The sales often start on Thursday, presumably so they can run over the weekend, and run between six and eight days. However, the Steam Winter Sale is usually the exception and lasts for two weeks.

Keeping those trends in mind, we predict that the next Steam sales will take place during these dates:

  • Steam Spring Sale: May 23-30
  • Steam Summer Sale: June 27-July 4
  • Steam Autumn Sale: November 21-28
  • Steam Winter Sale: December 19-January 2

Remember that these are just estimates, though. We stuck with a week- or two-week-long sale instead of trying to account for any variance. We'll update this post when Valve starts each of the sales, which should also help us more accurately estimate when they'll start next year. For now this should be enough to help you plan your gaming budget accordingly.

A Few Tips

Don't worry about missing deals. Most publishers offer the same discounts across multiple sales, which means having to pass on a specific promotion isn't that big a deal. Valve used to let publishers offer different discounts throughout a sale, which meant someone could buy a game on Thursday and find that it's became even cheaper on Friday, but now they're consistent for the length of a sale. Combine those factors with the frequency of Steam Sales, and missing a deal is probably fine, unless really can't wait to play a give title. And if that's the case, you probably wend ahead and bought it before waiting for a sale.

Check price comparison sites for historic lows. Publishers will run different promotions on varying platforms. They'll also change a game's base price and, when they feel like breaking from the norm described in our first tip, offer a better or worse deal than before. Checking sites like  IsThereAnyDeal will allow you to see a given title's historic low price, its last sale price, when its base price has changed, etc. before committing to a purchase. It can also let you know if a different seller has beat whatever Steam's price is.

There's a difference between spending a lot of money on Steam and actually, you know, playing those games. There's nothing wrong with collecting things (with obvious exceptions for junk, contraband and gross stuff in your PC). But it's easy to spend a small fortune on games without really ever playing many of them. Technically, Steam is selling a license for a game, not the game itself. Any games that go unplayed are effectively wasted cash. We tell deal-eager gamers the same thing we tell our grandparents when they go to JC Penney: You don't have to buy something just because it's on sale.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.