Why Grand Theft Auto V’s Steam Summer Sale Shenanigans Look So Scummy

This is still showing up on my logged-in front page at the time of writing

Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 5 [official site] has made an appearance in the Steam Summer Sale. But the ensuing discussion is less “let’s all go a-heisting” and more “what is this shady nonsense you’re trying to pull?” I thought I’d take a peek and see what was going on.

The issue here is that GTA V isn’t part of the sale as a single game, it’s a bundle deal involving a cash card which gives you $1,250,000 in-game cash. After the summer sale discount is applied the cost is about £1 less than the full price game. There’s still a saving and you get a cash card you wouldn’t normally but the deal has garnered a lot of ill-will.

Y’see, when the sale first started the original game was not available outside the bundle deal so you’d go to the GTA V page and be faced with this game deal trumpeting 25% off but with no option to jettison the cash card if you didn’t want it. It felt shady. Green discount stickers all over the place but you were paying pretty much what you would have paid the day before the sale.

Given it was the only option available on the page, some people assumed that this was the same content you got normally when purchasing the game and that Rockstar had raised the price by over a tenner to fool users into paying full price thinking it was a good deal. That’s not what was happening but I can easily see how it would look like the case. The game has since been added back in as a standalone purchase which helps flag up that there’s a difference when you reach the page but I can see how people felt misled or irritated.

The other issue is that when I click through for Grand Theft Auto deals from the store home page (the franchise is featured on the daily deals panel on the Steam homepage) the listings which involve GTA V break down those deals in a scummy way.

Here's how it looks

Let’s take the first one on the list. You get Grand Theft Auto V, GTA: San Andreas and a Tiger Shark Gift Card. The breakdown lists GTA: San Andreas as 75% off, costing £2.49 down from £9.99 which it is as part of the daily deal. It also lists GTA V as 25% off, costing £38.98 down from £51.98. That’s only the price and saving when you include the Great White Shark Cash Card and NOT the price of the standalone game.

Reading the descriptions, this bundle doesn’t include the Great White Shark Cash Card at all so to use the Grand Theft Auto V listing for it AND make use of the 25% off sticker is disingenuous, implying the deal is a heftier discount than it really is. To make things even more confusing, the final price and reduction is £38.99 down from £53.17. £53.17 comes from the standalone price of GTA V, the standalone price of GTA: San Andreas and the price of one of those Tiger Shark cards. So that data at least is correct, it just doesn’t tally with the listed items.

The end maths is correct, the bundle stuff? Not so much.

The whole messy mess of implementation thus still gives you screens which imply you can get GTA V – just the game, mind – at 25% less than the normal retail value and that that normal retail value is £51.98. This happens on the deals screen. It’s also at the bottom of the Steam front page. When I’m logged in I see the bundle deal but also a panel devoted to what you’d assume to be a standalone purchase deal. That’s what the screenshot at the top of this post shows. I don’t know if that information is directed by Rockstar or curated by Steam or the result of an automated process. Regardless, if I’d seen that and considered buying it for a friend I’d feel totally misled when I got to the game page.

Another accusation I’ve seen is that in bundling the consumable cash card with GTA V Rockstar are trying to avoid having to give refunds. I’ve been looking at this for a little while and I can’t find a definitive answer. One Reddit user claims they were able to get a refund on the game despite the inclusion of in-game cash but that was for the pre-order deal. Steam’s refund policy isn’t clear on the issue.

This part of the Refunds policy implies that an in-game purchase from a third-party developer isn’t eligible:

“Third-party developers will have the option to enable refunds for in-game items on these terms. Steam will tell you at the time of purchase if the game developer has opted to offer refunds on the in-game item you are buying. Otherwise, in-game purchases in non-Valve games are not refundable through Steam.”

But bundles are treated slightly differently. In the case of bundles, the terms and conditions on the refunds page state: “If a bundle includes an in-game item or DLC that is not refundable, Steam will tell you if the whole bundle is refundable during check-out.”

I’m staring at my shopping cart right now and there’s nothing to imply one way or the other whether a refund would be available, just a warning that I already own GTA V so won’t get another copy of the game. Does this absence of information mean that the DLC is by default refundable or does it mean that the system isn’t working properly? I tried taking one of the cash cards to the checkout by itself in case it flagged up a giant NON-REFUNDABLE sign but nothing doing. This was perhaps a bigger issue when it seemed the bundles were the only options for purchase but it’s a subject which needs clarification. For one thing, the question mark on this situation is making Rockstar seem pretty scummy on the sales front, for another, it might be highlighting a part of the checkout process Steam need to bring in line with the new policies or to clarify within the policy itself.

I emailed Rockstar with a bunch of questions – whether the GTA V standalone purchase option was removed deliberately, whether the daily deal submissions came from Rockstar or Steam, whether they would be addressing the confusion on the bundle pages, whether the cash cards are refundable or not… They haven’t got back to me at time of writing. I’ll update if they do.

67 Comments

  1. Electricfox says:

    You should have seen what happened when the sale first started!

    link to i.imgur.com

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Thats my sweet spot right there

    • yan spaceman says:

      Yeah, I got the same. I was whooping with glee, until I returned to purchase it a few minutes later. From bargain to rip-off … what a let-down.

      • Aetylus says:

        Heh, you should try being in Australasia… even if they were giving us 25% of the base game we would still be paying more than US/UK/EU because… well essentially because Take Two are pricks and will milk any extra dollar they can by fixing prices and shady selling.

  2. Pich says:

    >“If a bundle includes an in-game item or DLC that is not refundable, Steam will tell you if the whole bundle is refundable during check-out.”

    That’s so fucking stupid i can’t see straight anymore.

    • devland says:

      They’re basically circumventing the refund system.
      link to reddit.com

      • dorobo says:

        such cunts..

      • nearly says:

        While I do agree that it’s shady and not necessarily consumer friendly, I do think refunds are not very developer friendly and profit Steam significantly more than anyone else in the equation. Rockstar doesn’t need any of this but I imagine this kind of thing could become very common from other parties. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that they’ve brought it to everyone’s attention.

        • Sakkura says:

          Refunds are consumer-friendly and are required by law.

        • qrter says:

          Gaming as a commercial market has been extremely unfriendly towards consumers for decades, now – you basically had no rights. You bought a game that’s half finished and riddled with bugs? Well, tough luck! You broke the plastic seal!

          Now finally consumers are getting back a bit of power – we should grab it with both hands, and hold on for dear life.

  3. wu wei says:

    Any guarantee that they won’t remove music from the game in a future update like they did with San Andreas?

    • Apocalypse says:

      Assume they will remove music again, after all that makes it a whole lot cheaper for them.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      A better way to ask that question would be “Did they manage to get a long term license on all the tracks this time around?”

      • gunny1993 says:

        Didn’t they remove the tracks like a decade after the game released?

        That’s fairly long term

        • wu wei says:

          I have no problem with them removing tracks from further sales once licenses expire but not from pre-existing installs.

          • Sic says:

            I have a massive bloody problem with that.

            What kind of utter ridiculous statement is that about games? That you can just choose to destroy them at any point in the future, just because they’re games, and not another medium?

            I’d like to see people removing parts of books because of licencing issues, or films even. “Nah, you see, you didn’t get the lifetime Coca Cola licence, so we’re going to go ahead and edit out ten minutes of your film. Oh, that’s the final ten minutes, is it? Well you should have thought about that before messing with a large multinational corporation.”

            Bloody ridiculous.

      • pepperfez says:

        Or rather, did they bother to get those contracts.

  4. schlusenbach says:

    It’s a special talent to be able to create an offer in a steam sale that is so f****d up, that it makes your customers feel scammed instead of pleased. Well done!

  5. NarcoSleepy says:

    I don’t know if they are doing it specifically to get around the refund policy on Steam, unless there is a similar policy XBOX (there isn’t – no refunds, period). The game is NEVER discounted without that blasted in-game cash card that I don’t want. Therefore, I don’t own GTA V, and won’t until they give it up.

  6. 2late2die says:

    I was looking forward to picking up GTA V on sale, but fuck this. I’m not touching it with a 10 foot pole until the thing is on sale completely stand-alone. This is what I still get no my steam – there is no way to get the 25% discount with getting the stupid cash card, which I have absolutely zero interest in since I have no intention of playing the game online, and if it’s applicable to the SP part as well, well frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.

    So because of the cash card the actual “discount” is a little over $2 – fuck that!

    • 2late2die says:

      Gah! I obviously meant “_without_ getting the stupid cash card”

  7. gunny1993 says:

    Its double shitty because ingame cash is easy as fuck to get.

    • Cinek says:

      Easy – yes. But getting over 1 million is grindy as fuck, especially if you are a low-level player (cause getting to high level is even more grindy)

      • gunny1993 says:

        Eh, maybe if you do it alone, my and 3 buddies got well over 5 million by just playing missions then heists together In about 5 very fun afternoons.

        I guess if you dont have reliable friends to play with it would be a lot more grindy.

  8. Grayman says:

    hrm that is a shame. Browsing from my phone I was having trouble understanding why the game was costing 70 dollars Canadian at a discount. The refund part is unfortunate. GTA V is a game I would actually like to see how it ran on my system before buying.

  9. Rizlar says:

    Slimy bastards. :(

  10. BlueDragon says:

    And thats why I said goodbye to buying GTA this summer. There is limit to being greedy. 2 years late, price 60 euros. Nope. Until its -75 Rockstar can kiss my buttocks.

  11. just to say this says:

    Valve did the exact same thing with every older Counter-Strike title.

  12. fish99 says:

    Yeah scummy thing to do, and not at all surprising from greedy R*, but TBH the people buying should be making their own mind up whether what they’re buying is worth the price, not relying on the stated discount. If I saw GTAV for £80 and it said 90% off, I know PC games don’t cost that much.

  13. Jimbo says:

    I’m more annoyed about how new PC games (and I use ‘new’ loosely in this case) seem to have jumped from £22-£25 to have a physical copy hand-delivered to your door a couple of years ago, to pretending to be £50 on Steam.

    So much for everyone benefitting from massively reduced unit costs.

    • Hohumm4sh3d says:

      I agree. Some of the prices of games on steam are more than the xbone and ps4 games. The idea behind downloading games is that your cutting out all the middle men. Instead their making even more money by fleecing players without providing anything tangible.

      I refuse to buy a game more than £35 on steam which even at that price I would rather walk into a shop and buy a boxed product.

      • natendi says:

        Hehe, I have an either lower threshold! I don’t buy games for more than £5 on steam, unless its a boxed copy (then it depends on the game). Means I don’t play much new games, but I’m quite content playing games with all the dlc/addons/hopefully no bugs from 2+ years ago today :p

        It will be a sad day for me if boxed games ever disappear entirely in favour of online only.

      • Seafort says:

        I don’t pay more than £25 for any game now.

        If they want my money they can price their digital games at a reasonable price or GTFO :) I choose to use cd key sellers or just won’t buy them at all.

        • gbrading says:

          It’s especially happened with pre-orders of Fallout 4. The digital version I’ve seen advertised at £49.99 on Steam and GMG. The disc version from Amazon? £37.85.

    • duns4t says:

      Blizzard is the worst about that. Boxed copies of the D3 expansion are easily obtainable new at $15-20 but the download direct from Blizzard is still a steady $40 almost year round.

  14. drfdisk says:

    This is EA/Ubi level shit.

  15. Wulfram says:

    I don’t think there was anything scummy intended, it seems more like the Steam website couldn’t properly handle the atypical sale offer they wanted to make.

    • pepperfez says:

      I’m of the opinion that bundling in-game currency with your single-player game is inherently scummy. The percent-off shenanigans are just scummy icing.

      • dethtoll says:

        Yeah, giving away what amounts to free in-game currency and maybe even a whole free other game is pretty scummy.

        • Save Me Grilled Cheesus says:

          You have an odd way of looking at “free in-game currency”.
          The game costs $59.99 by itself. But normally if you want the card which a lot of people don’t seem to want, the normal price is $79.99… meaning that that “free in-game currency” costs $20 of real life money. Not free in the least.
          Since you are still paying $59.99 for the game and card you can look at it several ways:
          1) The game has no discount but its “free in-game currency”, though that makes no sense since they say there’s a 25% discount, not 100% (for the ingame money).
          2) The game has the 25% discount they say, but then you are paying $20 for the “free in-game currency”.
          What they are trying to do is stay on the front page during their short tail sales period without losing any of that sweet sweet full price money. Because if they didn’t have any sale whatsoever they wouldnt be on the front page till after the sale ends on June 21st.

    • Applecrow says:

      On the contrary, its the Steam Summer sale, they were counting on all the people who would see the percent off and click buy, only to realize not only did they not get a discount, they can’t get a refund.

      If this had been during a standalone sale I might be more understanding, but its obvious they were trying to hoodwink people. They added a cash card onto the total of the game and then discounted it the price of the card so that when you look at it, it says -30% off ! yet the total price is the same as the full priced game.

      On top of that, the cash cards are considered DLC and applied immediately, which makes it so you can’t refund the game.

      What does the consumer get: the game at the same price, with what was essentially the pre-order bonus people got free anyway.

      What does R* get? People who waited for the Steam Summer Sale and were a little too spammy with their buy button who not only got tricked into paying full price, but can’t get a refund either.

      That is the definition of a scummy move.

  16. brulleks says:

    Very amusing booting Steam up to find this headline on its GTA V news page.

  17. MrNash says:

    Just plain sleezy. I got the console version ages ago, and was thinking of getting the PC one at some point. Guess I’ll be waiting a few years for it to be under ten bucks like GTA IV then.

  18. Kraizk says:

    Wish I would have taken a screen shot of the New Order Bundle today. You lost 44 dollars (US) if you bought the bundle instead of the two individual games.

  19. Chaoslord AJ says:

    The game was just released so they wouldn’t have to discount it at all. If it looks shady now they’re entirely at fault – trying to bait customers into buying with discounts.

    • airmikee says:

      It’s a nearly two year old game, just because they barely got around to releasing it on PC two months ago doesn’t make it a two month old game.

      • Tekrunner says:

        Sales do not follow some prescribed formula that says they have to go up over time. Don’t forget that the first goal of a sale is to maximize profit by increasing volume. GTA 5 PC is still very popular and selling like hotcakes at full price, so there’s little reason to significantly discount it just yet. I sometimes feel like some people have come to expect a little too much from sales.

      • fish99 says:

        When the PS3/360 version released has no bearing on how far along it’s discount cycle GTAV PC is. Hence it was still a full price release.

  20. NotToBeLiked says:

    I do think it’s quite hilarious that Rockstar decided to name their currency buying scheme ‘Great White Shark’ cards.
    “No dearest customer, you are not one of those ‘whales’ you have heard about. Those guys are suckers who get ripped off. You, dearest customer, are a cool, dangerous Great White Shark, which looks nothing like a whale, you can look it up!”

    • ffordesoon says:

      I think the names of the microtransaction packs are supposed to be at least notionally satirical. The PR descriptions for them often mock players for “laying out fat stacks to get ahead without working for it.” It’s not particularly great satire, since they’re essentially doing the thing they’re mocking, but it is at least meant to be thematically consonant with GTA proper, which is all about a world in which money and power can bail you out of literally anything.

      Not excusing it, just explaining the presumable intent.

  21. ffordesoon says:

    Sad thing is, this is GTA. These games do insane numbers at full price, and have a tail so long Horace would be green with envy. If they hadn’t put it on sale, it would still have been in the top sellers list. What do they care if anyone gets a refund or pays twenty-five percent less for a couple of weeks? Someone is guaranteed to be along shortly to pick up the tab, and I’m sure the game’s long since made its money back several times over. Assuming all is as it seems to be, this is a cash grab astonishing in its brazenness even for a AAA publisher.

    If this were an indie dev or a troubled publisher, I would at least vaguely understand why they would have tried this crap. I’d even kind of understand if this involved Evolve or a similarly underperforming franchise. But GTA? That’s just pure greed.

  22. brandonb70 says:

    There was never any sale on the game, sure you got the cash card but when they finally put the game itself up, at least from what I saw it was $59.99 with no discount at all. They didn’t have to be a part of the sale if they didn’t want to, but too make it seem like they did was pretty lame, even if it was like 10% I would have been happy, really makes me just want to “borrow” the game now…

  23. gbrading says:

    Yup it’s a horrible, classy move from Rockstar. For actually discounted titles, it’s worth keeping an eye on sites like isthereanydeal.com; it’s already possible to get GTA V substantially cheaper from several different sites. Now the launcher for the non-Steam version also can launch manually through Steam, there’s no real reason to get the Steam version. It still demands Rockstar Social Club.

  24. airmikee says:

    Oh no! A company that has repeatedly over many years treated PC gamers like second class citizens (at best) is now treating PC gamers like second class citizens (at best). If only there were some way of showing this company how we really feel, maybe by not purchasing any of their products. Nah, who wants to do that? I’m going to buy their games and bend over the counter willingly, then I’ll just complain about it later and pretend like I didn’t help create this monster company by buying their garbage over the years.

    There’s an old parable about a girl picking up a snake to help it and getting bit. The snake holds no sympathy for her because the girl knew what it was before she picked it up. Maybe most of you have forgotten that story, or never knew it to begin with, or maybe you’re operating under the delusion that Rockstar actually cares about you?

  25. dethtoll says:

    This whole fiasco is ridiculous. The game’s easily the hottest AAA release in years this side of Call of Duty but y’all want a discount 2 months after release? More to the point, I’m not so sure it’s really good business sense to be basically offering free in-game money AND a free extra game (MP3/GTASA) for the same price as GTA5 by itself.

    I still maintain that the weirdness with the store page early into the sale was the result of technical issues, and rather than just fiddle with the prices some more they left the bundles as is.

    • dethtoll says:

      It’s really telling to me that RPS is the only major news outlet that’s even discussing this.

    • April March says:

      I don’t want a 25% discount two months after its release, but if you advertise such discount to me you must provide it.

  26. Tayh says:

    It’s almost as if steam is the sole distributor of this game and there’s no where else to buy it.
    But then again, who wants to be an informed customer when they could just have father gaben hold their hand.

  27. brettski says:

    I’m still not sure about the details of this due to my lack of research, but it feels like something I’ve experienced before in regards to civ5. at least a couple of steam sales recently would feature a civ 5 sale that included all the dlc and expansions at a low price.

    I bought the base game as soon as my wallet could stand it, soon after release. My reward? I can pay for the original game I already own, yet not own two copies of it, nor gift it to someone else, to get the expansions for around $20. per sale. Or I could buy the expansions for $20 a piece, not including the scenario packs/ alt civs included in the deal. This is the antitheses of brand loyalty. I’ve been playing civ essentially for the entirety of my gaming life, and my reward for my time and money invested felt like, EVEN IN THE MIDDLE of a sale, the goal was to extract as much money as humanly possible from me.

    The free marketeer in me tells me that discounts are used to increase business and capture price sensitive customers that would have otherwise chosen to find value elsewhere. But the consumer in me feels like I was cheated out of a deal, with my loyalty to a product goes unrecognized.

    Is this just the growing pains of a distribution platform? Does the size of steam make it difficult to parse out all the if’s and’s or but’s of purchases? I don’t know. But I do know the most powerful statement we can make is to vote with our money. So if it feels shady, walk away.

  28. Chorltonwheelie says:

    I got it on release day for £32 on cdkeys.
    Not bad for new AAA game.
    Try a little bit harder.

  29. Applecrow says:

    It’s the Steam Summer sale, they were counting on all the people who would see the percent off and click buy, only to realize not only did they not get a discount, they can’t get a refund.

    If this had been during a standalone sale I might be more understanding, but its obvious they were trying to hoodwink people. They added a cash card onto the total of the game and then discounted it the price of the card so that when you look at it, it says -30% off ! yet the total price is the same as the full priced game.

    On top of that, the cash cards are considered DLC and applied immediately, which makes it so you can’t refund the game.

    What does the consumer get: the game at the same price, with what was essentially the pre-order bonus people got free anyway.

    What does R* get? People who waited for the Steam Summer Sale and were a little too spammy with their buy button who not only got tricked into paying full price, but can’t get a refund either.

    That is the definition of a scummy move.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Ah I did not realise this, so the fact that they bundled the game with DLC means refunds were non-applicable? That makes it even worse lol, instantly trying to game a week old system put in place to protect the consumer by making it void.

  30. TechnicalBen says:

    This is an amazing story. Not that it’s the scam/switch that is amazing. It’s that the discussion misses the elephant in the room. It is complaining there is a fly in the soup, while the soup has been kicked out the window by an elephant and eaten off the street by a bull barging out a china shop.

    What I mean to say is, your already paying for in game currency/points. Your already paying for nothing more than an incremental counter to count on a computer and in a computer game/software.

    Why is the sale discount a problem? People are already duped into paying for DLC that consists of having a higher score than those who did not pay for the DLC. Pure and utter madness.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Also, the idea to me of microtransaction in game cash is bizzare. Isn’t the whole point of the GTA games since 3 that you start off as some petty low life criminal with nothing, doing drug runs for tiny amounts of cash and gradually build up a criminal empire. Instantly having 1.25 mil makes the game completely ridiculous because why would anyone with 1.25 mil be bothering doing any of the stuff that you encounter in at least the first 3rd of the game (probably more of it, dunno haven’t played it yet).
      Also, in previous games this shit was cheat codes. They are now bundling a one time use cheat code in with the game in order to create some illusion of discount?

  31. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    “some people assumed that this was the same content you got normally when purchasing the game and that Rockstar had raised the price by over a tenner to fool users into paying full price thinking it was a good deal. That’s not what was happening but I can easily see how it would look like the case.”

    Whether or not it was the same content you got normally it was still a blatant attempt to fool people into buying the game because “OOOH it’s 25% off”.

  32. mana says:

    how about Wolfenstein New Order that had a price increase the day of the ‘sale’ – and that steam doesn’t list historic prices. I’ve seen other games do this in past sales too… shady as a mofo

    What are the rules on claiming that products are in a sale or on special offer?

    Broadly, any price comparisons of this kind must not be misleading. For example:

    to claim that products are on sale, you should show the previous price and should have been selling at that price for a meaningful period of time
    you must not claim a discount against the recommended retail price (RRP), if the RRP is significantly higher than the price generally charged for the product
    you should not claim that you are selling at an introductory price if you plan to continue selling at that price indefinitely, or to stop selling the product after the introductory period
    Some unfair sales practices are specifically banned: for example, pretending to have a closing down sale. You may want to take advice to ensure that any special offers or sales you plan meet the legal requirements.

  33. carazzy says:

    Question here: i want to buy gta v anyway, and i was waiting for the summer sale. should i just buy the game now, as i was prepared to spend 40 anyway, and the cash card is a sweet bonus, or is it possible the game might be further reduced? thanks guys