2 min read


I sometimes find my attention hijacked by video game sales. If I find a huge number of games on sale, I sometimes lose my mind for the next eight to ten hours. I must amass a list and narrow it down.

This process goes downhill quickly. First I pick up on the obvious wins, the games that I will very probably like and have time for. In any given sale I can usually find five to ten games like this. After the obvious wins, things get much more dicey. This is when I look at the deep discounts, those "70-90% off a $60 game" deals. Often I don't even expect to like the game that much, but the discount makes me question myself. If you pay $6 and get at least 6 hours out of it you'll be OK, and that's not that much, right? There are the games at less steep discounts, the ones I've heard are good but they're not my usual genre, and/or they're potentially huge time sinks – on the scale of 50 to 300 hours. There are the indie games that could be good and they're at substantial discounts to their already low prices. There are a few games that are good picks and a lot more that are dubious picks. The worst is that I end up spending most of my time agonizing over the latter.

This isn't only a me thing. I know some others that lose their minds over sales. Different sales, but there are similarities. The feeling of "I don't really need it right now... and may not have any use for it in the end... but that's such a good deal!" The desperation. "Get your goods now, before the dark times."

This process seems deranged in reflection. What dark times? What does stockpiling buy you? But I don't expect interrogating the feeling is going to go anywhere. Maybe it's more useful to focus on what it feels like from the inside.

The core loop of this process feels something like anxiety. What if, what if, what if? Fear of missing out.

Maybe it is useful at this point, if I notice myself doing this, to try a rational method. Step back and try to estimate the percentage of dubious games I expect to "work out," maybe by estimating a "confidence this game will work out" for each game and averaging. Then work backward from there to define a minimum average discount. If I expect only 50% of these games to "work out," then I should make sure the price-weighted average discount is at least 50%. This makes some sense from a risk/portfolio perspective.

(Or maybe we actually want to analyze based on the "marginal game" – the "least expected return" in terms of entertainment per dollar. That sounds more complicated though and could be its own post.)

I'm doubtful, though. This time I tried a slightly different rational method: Predicting hours per game over the next year, adding up and dividing by total cost. This method didn't seem to improve things. It certainly didn't break me out of the sale mentality.

One alternative that might work better is deferring most of the dubious purchases. Pick 3 to get now, to assuage anxiety, and defer the rest for later. If I still want them next sale, or if a good reason comes up to buy them in the future – for example, a friend buys it and we want to play together – then I'll buy it then, "on demand," rather than speculatively. I suspect this might be a more cost-effective plan vs. sticking with most of these dubious picks.