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How long does it take games to be cheap on Steam?

The takeaway

As we noted earlier, sub-$30 games are significantly less consistent in their discounts than $30+ games, as evidenced by the higher estimates for the low tiers of both the 50% and 75% discounts. That unpredictability leads to the counter-intuitive conclusion that more expensive games drop in price quicker than their cheaper counterparts.

Again, though, this is likely due to the lack of sales data and marketing experience of the independent developers and publishers constituting the sub-$30 category, or the decision-making processes large corporations. In practical terms, this means we can be more confident in the next Call of Duty hitting $30 around 7 months after release than the next Stardew Valley dropping to half-price after 9 months.

Popularity has a clear and consistent effect on averages for $30+ games, with the less commercially successful games dropping in price approximately 60% faster than the bestsellers. For sub-$30 games, meanwhile, the relationship between popularity and time-to-discount is weak. The combination of low price and limited audience leads to these games holding their value for longer, reflecting the different financial expectations independent developers often have compared to big AAA publishers. Couple that with the fact that smaller studios typically lack comprehensive sales and marketing data to guide their discounting strategies, and it becomes considerably harder to accurately predict their price drops. Keep that in mind if your prospective purchase falls into this category.

Given all the outcry following the removal of flash sales, it's interesting to see that, though some 2014 averages are indeed lower than 2015 and 2016, there are also some that trend much higher. Flash sales created a market of unpredictability, especialy among sub-$30 games.

From a consumer perspective, flash sales benefited only certain games released close to the Summer and Winter sales, and even then you had to be paying constant attention to not miss the brief window of opportunity to snap up a deal.

There we have it: a discount gamer's guide to Steam. The next time a new release piques your interest but your Steam wallet's a little light, you'll have a good idea of how long to hunker down in your spoiler-free bunker before the discounts hit. And hey, maybe you can use that time to chip away at that mountainous backlog we've all amassed? I mean, when else are you going to play that copy of Bad Rats?

Notes regarding collected data: 

  • The records for 2014 only began around September, meaning lower discount tiers are either absent or misrepresented. As such, they are ignored in conclusions.
  • Flash sales were abandoned in Holiday 2015, meaning that 2014 titles are prone to reach discount tiers faster than later years. However, due to the previous point regarding 2014 data, the effect is less pronounced than it might otherwise have been. Conclusions take this into account.
  • Because we collected most of this data in fall 2016, observations regarding 2016 titles are restricted to general estimates based on consistency with previous years' trends.
  • Mean and Median values are provided when calculating averages. Mean is the standard average, and is used in cases when the data are symmetrically proportioned. If outliers skew the data one way or the other, the median is used instead. The preferred method is highlighted in bold.
  • Early Access games have been removed, as their discount rates trend differently to traditional titles.- Discount tiers are singular. When games are discounted, they don't always hit every tier on the way down. So, a game at half-price might never have hit 25% or 33% prior to that. This can make some of our observations look odd, such as when the average for a 90% discount is lower than 80% because the 90% data doesn't influence the 80% data. That's why we stick to the 50% and 75% tiers for estimates where possible, as few games skip them over.
  • The number of owners on Steam is approximated through data from Steamspy
  • Sales data was gathered used SteamDB