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This Is How the World Ends: Steam Holiday Sale 2011

The Steam Holiday Sale has begun! Now you can win prizes for participating, and we have the scoop on the coolest Grand Prize imaginable

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Valve kicked off its annual lapse in responsibility today with a series of daily sales and discounted publisher catalogues on its digital distribution platform, Steam. Although our meteorological marketing experts have gained the ability to predict these regular calamities with a high degree of accuracy, this seasonal vortex of bargains—a particularly monstrous object in the pattern of storms that threaten to ravage our wallets—has caught us all off guard by fiendishly masquerading as a seemingly innocuous series of “fun” challenges meant to lure you into the monstrous Charybdis of buying things as you struggle to unlock achievements and post on friends' walls for no reason. What's this? You imagine yourself to be safe from such horrors? You've built an incredibly elaborate storm shelter and reinforced your wallet with steel plating? My poor, deluded friend, I haven't even told you about the prize yet.

Perhaps you'll recall last year's Treasure Hunt sale, whose structure paired daily deals with a set of challenges involving simple manipulation of the user interface but also, much more shrewdly, playing the discounted games themselves. A typical day offered you a box tick for simply joining a community group or uploading a profile avatar—just easy enough to sucker you into thinking that your participation might be a good idea—and followed it up with one challenge for each game currently on sale: score this many points, reach this point in the campaign, shoot 87 bad guys while performing a triple backflip on a highwire suspended over a lake of acid with 110% firing accuracy, etc. The more challenges you completed, the more times you would be entered into the drawing for a prize of 100 games... and, uh, the better the hat you would receive in Team Fortress 2.

This summer, Steam followed up with a similar Summer Camp event that rewarded users with tickets for completing challenges; those tickets could then be redeemed for an assortment of prizes, generally consisting of downloadable content. The thing is, you can't complete challenges if you don't own the games, right? But look! There they are—at 75%, 80%, 90% off. Valve won't say word one about how much stinkin' money the whole scheme nets each time, but psychological manipulation on this scale never fails to be enormously lucrative.

So what fresh hell awaits today? Well, you can buy Amnesia: The Dark Descent for 5 bucks, Portal 2 for $7.50, and Orcs Must Die for $3.74. But they couldn't stop there, could they? No; that would be reasonable. They built a Great Gift Pile where you receive either a gift or a lump of coal upon completing a challenge. Gifts might contain games outright or otherwise present you with coupons that can be used either immediately or starting January 2nd. You can send these gifts to friends using your Steam inventory, or you can trade them for coal. Yeah, you heard me; if you get a lump of coal, you just might want to hold onto it. Each one enters you into a drawing that promises wishlist items and other prizes. If you just loathe raffles because you recognize that winning anything due to sheer luck is inherently dishonorable, you can combine 7 lumps of coal to create a single gift, after which you will never receive another lump of coal.

But don't craft your coal yet, Ebenezer: I still haven't told you the Grand Prize. Do you want to know the Grand Prize? You do, don't you? Alright, then.

One person wins every game on Steam. I tell ya, it's the end of civilization as we know it. Look, here's the thing that tells you how it all works, but I beseech thee: collect what remains of your wits and run the other way. Think of the children, etc. However, if you are enough of a chump to take advantage of these sales, remember not to buy any discounted title or bundle that isn't featured in a daily sale until the very last day, January 1st, lest you might miss out on saving even more of your precious coins, you horrible miser. Merry Christmas or whatever.

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