PIXEL BURN – Rockstar’s Steam Summer Sale Shenanigans

In which Matt does some impromptu work for the Scottish Tourism Board.
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Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I take a sarcastic look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in the week’s gaming news.

And it would be remiss of me not to start with one the biggest gaming events of the year…for PC gamers. The Steam Summer sale began this week, slap-bang in the middle of the month when nearly everybody is skint, peddling bargains galore to suck up the last meagre pennies PC gamers foolishly believed would would tide them over until payday. I myself picked up a copy of Shadow Warrior for a whopping 85% off. Coinciding nicely with this trailer for Shadow Warrior 2, due out on PC, Xbox One and PS4 sometime in the future, which will be adding four-player co-op gameplay to all the ninja silliness.

Not everybody was getting into the summer sales spirit however. Like Rockstar, who put Grand Theft Auto 5 for sale at a 25% discount…after jacking up the price.

Don’t believe me? Check out this picture I took of the the GTA sale page on Steam, where GTA 5’s base price is shown as having been raised to £51.98 pence. Which it sure as bloody hell wasn’t when I looked at it last week. It was £39.99, the same price it was on release. I’m not imagining that either: Steamdb.info backs me up. If Her Majesty’s currency means nothing to you, here’s the same GTA sale page with the prices listed in Yankee dollars for context. And the corresponding data on Steamdb.info.

Sudden price-hikes right before a sale are illegal in most civilised countries and the United States. The way Rockstar got around this is that the version of GTA 5 advertised at a discounted…was a version of the game bundled with some of Rockstar’s in-game currency. Thus technically making it a new product.

Yet as soon as the Steam Summer sale began these bundles became the only version of GTA 5 you could buy. The standard, no frills, just-the-basics version of GTA 5 became mysteriously unavailable for purchase as a standalone product. For a while at least.

Meanwhile people with GTA V on their Steam wishlist would’ve received a notification telling them the game was on sale for 25% off. Except the vanilla GTA V on their wish-list was replaced with the new GTA-plus-magic-fairy-coins bundle, making it an outright bait-and-switch if they went ahead and bought it without looking. And why should they bother looking at it? You can say “Caveat Emptor” til you’re blue in the face. That doesn’t change the fact that the game they put on their wish list was bog-standard no-frills GTA V, not some bundle with added worthless space dosh.

If I have Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag on my wish list – which I do – and receive a notification saying it’s on sale, when I then go to the purchase page I don’t expect to see it replaced with a full-price copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Anyhow, the alleged reason for vanilla GTA V’s disappearing act was an error with Steam that listed the game at Twelve pounds and five english pence. An argument snootily espoused by sites like Kotaku, to cover the slurping noise of them licking Rockstar’s boots. Except clicking the link in question actually took you to the Steam store page for the GTA Collection, which does NOT include GTA 5. So it wasn’t really GTA 5 being mispriced, more a case of the GTA Collection being mislabelled. After a barrage of complaints the ordinary no-fripperies version of GTA 5 eventually reappeared, sporting its Recommended Retail Price. Which is fine. Rockstar are not obligated to give vanilla GTA 5 a price cut.

And yet, as you can see here, the banner on the GTA sale page still displays the standard, no frills, just-the-basics version of GTA 5 as having a 25% discount.

The counter-argument here is that it’s listed under a bundle that includes an in-game cash card, so nobody’s being misled.

Except there are actually two GTA sales pages with almost identical URLs, the first being this familiar one with GTA written in lower-case. Then there is this one with GTA in upper-case. Note how the GTA V shown here makes no mention whatsoever of any magic in-game unicorn pennies, or of being part of any bundle, yet still has a 25% discount sticker. Similarly if you do a search for GTA V the Steam store displays it with – again – a 25% discount, and no mention of any Leprechaun coins. All of which is at the very least confusing, if not misleading.

Some of you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. What’s wrong with Rockstar selling GTA 5 in a bundle with some in-game currency when it would cost you more if you bought them both separately. Well, remember last week when Steam instituted its refund policy?

Did you pay attention to that bit about refunds for microtransactions? And that particular sentence where Valve say: “Steam will be unable to give refunds for some third-party DLC if the DLC irreversibly levels up a game character.” So in theory if you bought this GTA 5 plus in-game currency bundle – which need I remind you was, for a short while, the ONLY way you COULD buy GTA 5 on Steam – thinking you were getting a bargain, only to realise you weren’t, and then tried to get a refund…it was highly likely your refund request would be refused. Y’see as both the vanilla game and Rockstar’s horseshit moon-money count together as a single item, the entire bundle would technically be classed as a “microtransaction.”

Not that any of that even matters because GTA 5’s in-game cash is automatically redeemed on purchase, rendering it non-refundable anyway.

And people said “greedy entitled gamers” would be the ones exploiting the refund system.

Incidentally Valve also claim Steam will tell you at the time of purchase if an item is eligible for refunds. Guess how much of a load of steaming old goat bollocks that is.

We can probably safely assume Rockstar didn’t really want to give a discount for the PC version of GTA 5. Understandable given it’s only been out a few months. So why then go through this whole pantomime of negating the 25% discount with some in-game currency that costs Rockstar absolutely nothing to include.

Well, it gets GTA 5 onto the front page of Steam during a huge influx of traffic without having to actually lower its price. Alongside games like the Witcher 3, which came out only last month yet is currently for sale on Steam with a legitimate 10% discount. And on GOG.com too.

Just so I’m making myself clear, I’m not against GTA 5 being on Steam at it’s recommended retail price. Rockstar are within their rights to sell their product at the price they feel is suitable, and they’re under no obligation whatsoever to take part in the summer sale.

What I AM against is deceptive advertising practices designed to obfuscate the details a consumer needs to make a fully-informed purchase. Putting GTA 5 in a bundle with some of Rockstar’s magic fun bucks to pad out the price, then removing standalone GTA 5 from purchase, is NOT “putting GTA 5 on sale for 25% off.” And shouldn’t be advertised as such.

I also object to the attitude of places like Kotaku and other outlets that published articles defending Rockstar’s shifty practices. But I’ve come to expect as much from a gaming press so far up the industry’s arse they could give it a tonsillectomy with their teeth.

And I’m frankly saddened by the army of shills that leapt to Rockstar’s defense like whipped dogs, barking things like “ENTITLEMENT!” Deluding themselves into thinking Rockstar was somehow their best friend, and not a multi-million dollar company that couldn’t give two fucks about them. Sure, demanding Rockstar put GTA V on sale WOULD be entitlement, but nobody besides one or two mad crackpots are actually DOING that. What people are doing is voicing their displeasure at being treated like clueless idiots who can’t spot a shitty deal when they see one.

If Rockstar didn’t want to give GTA 5 a discount then they should’ve just not given it a discount. It would’ve at least been honest, and nobody’s going to magically forget GTA 5 exists just because it’s not on the front page of the Steam Summer Sale.

So to summarize, Rockstar have pissed-off their fanbase, tried to circumvent Steam’s refund policy, made people more suspicious of the Steam Summer Sale – which has a knock-on effect for other developers – and perhaps worst of all: perpetuated the stereotype of Scotland as being a nation of misers. It’s not by the way. Scotland is a lovely place full of beautiful scenery, rich history and warm, friendly, generous people.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you still liked it then please let me know by clicking the button down below, and let your friends, family and Nicola Sturgeon know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. In the meantime until next week, as always, you can go now.


About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.