"Hm, it's 10 A.M.. I'd better go check the Steam front page and see what the weekend deals are." Refresh. Nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Refresh. Nothing.
That must mean (prepare your wallets) it's time for (oh please no)...the Steam Summer Sale!
Yes, Valve is back with its annual bargain blitzkrieg. For the uninitiated: This is the biggest sale Steam has every year, with even relatively new games regularly hitting 80-90 percent off retail prices. It's so famous, there's even this amazing website commemorating the event. This year, the Steam Summer Sale will run from today until...well, I don't know. It doesn't say on the site. Normally it's two weeks, though.
If you're just starting up your PC gaming library, the Steam Summer Sale is a great resource to build up your collection on the cheap. If you're a veteran of several Steam sales there's probably less that appeals, but I expect a few 2014 releases will receive a decent discount, and there are always the weird back-catalog games to dig through in search of gold.
Unsurprisingly, Valve has kept the same format used in past sales: daily deals, flash deals, and regular ol' sales.
Daily deals are set at 10 A.M. Pacific Time every day and are available for twenty-four hours. Flash sales are voted on by the community and rotate out every eight hours. If you see a game on the Flash Sale or Daily Deal, you should probably buy it--that's typically the lowest price you'll see on the game for the duration of the event.
How to get the most for your money
But most everything on Steam is discounted for the entirety of the Summer Sale, typically at about 50 percent off. Wait! Don't buy it yet! If the game's not a Daily or Flash Sale, hold on to your wallet. There's always a chance the game you're looking at becomes a Daily or Flash Sale before the event's end. You don't want to be the one who paid for the game at 50% off the day before it went on sale for 90 percent off.
Also important: Don't buy games you won't play. I know, it's hard with all those deals in your face. I've made the mistake in the past of buying a game during one Steam Sale, however, only to see it go on sale cheaper in a later sale--before I'd even gotten around to playing the game. It feels bad.
Last but not least, check other sites for deals. The Steam Summer Sale is famous because it was the first of its kind, but other retailers have caught on in recent years and normally run sales directly opposed to Valve. Amazon, in particular, has a habit of price-matching on popular titles or even (occasionally) dropping prices even lower than Steam. Not all Amazon purchases come with Steam keys, but most do, so it's like you bought it on Steam anyway, only cheaper.
The easiest way to keep track of everything is the Game Deals board on Reddit (/r/gamedeals). The community there tracks not just the Steam Sale, but all deals. If Steam isn't offering the best price, someone in the comments will know as much and will alert you.
If you're a newcomer to this whole madness, I envy you--you've got an exciting two weeks ahead of you. Be careful, keep a firm hold of your wallet, and try to make it through alive. Before you know it, you'll have a Steam backlog as long as the rest of us. And to learn how to find low- to no-cost games all year 'round, check out PCWorld's guide to finding cheap (or free!) PC games.