“Summer’s here”, as Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Martha Reeves and quite possibly one or more Vandellas sang, “and the time is right for computer games offered for purchase on the Steam store to be discounted in the street”. For the last few years, the actual sale bit of the Steam summer sale has been the least interesting aspect, the novelty having faded with constant offers, discounts, bundles and the like. I did pick up Space Engineers this year, thanks to Tim and Jon’s intergalactic adventures, to add to the list of stuff that I really must get around to sometime, but that’s been about it.
More interesting, for fans of making meaningless numbers go up, are the bits and pieces that Steam puts in around the sale, events, trading cards, contests and what-not. This year, it’s an incremental game, essentially “click on monsters lots!” It’s quite fun, for what it is; I did get into CivClicker a while back (the textual interface doesn’t obviously look like a game, if, hypothetically, you’re after something to do on your lunch break at work), incremental games can be quite diverting. Naturally a meta-game soon evolved around Steam as people first started using various means to automatically click, then poked a bit more deeply into the mechanisms of the game to produce browser scripts to automatically execute the optimal strategy, finally reaching level ONE! HUNDRED! MEEEEEELEEEEON! today, which appears to be the upper limit.
More interesting still, for sufficiently small values of “interesting”, is the monetisation around the game this year: there isn’t any. You get trading cards just for joining in, a Steam badge based on the level you reach, and that’s about it. It’s quite a contrast to last year, when everyone was arbitrarily assigned to one of five teams, and granted points for crafting badges n’ stuff. Items were available to increase points, switch teams and suchlike, and these could be bought and sold in the Community Market for actual money. It must have been a fascinating psychological and economic experiment; there were prizes, the (rather small) chance of winning games from your wishlist, but as this year’s event shows people hardly need an incentive to make numbers go up, and as last year’s event showed at least a few don’t mind spending actual money to do so. I’m not sure if I should glad that Valve just made a fun little diversion this year with no marketplace silliness, or worried that I’m glad that merely not creating an ethically dubious event seems like a positive move.
Mind you, conspiracy theorists have come up with a plausible explanation: as the game involves clicking your mouse button as much as possible, it’s a cunning ploy to cause users to break their mice, and thus order a new Steam Controller to use when playing games. Hmm, tempting…