Video game prices jump ahead of Steam Summer Sale. Why?

The Steam Summer Sale is one of the biggest annual video game sales. But gamers might notice that developers have hiked up prices on new releases. Why?

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    Matthew Fries plays a video game in his dorm room at American University in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2012. The Steam Summer Sale is one of the biggest annual video game sales, yet some games' prices are being hiked up prior to the sale.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
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Many PC gamers eagerly await the Steam Summer Sale, delaying purchases in hopes that a coveted title will drop in price. Seeing a hefty discount can make buying seem like a no-brainer, but you may want to look twice to be sure you're actually getting a deal.

Some developers have inflated prices ahead of the sale, making their supposed deals a lot less compelling than they seem at first glance. Here's a list of titles that savvy consumers have caught fiddling with prices.

Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V for PC at 25 percent off? Sounds great! But look again — the discount is for a bundle that includes a "Great White Shark Cash Card" that the developers say makes the bundle 25 percent more valuable. It's actually still $59.99, the same price as the undiscounted game alone. If you buy the game without the card, there's no discount.

In addition, some consumers have raised concerns that the inclusion of the cash card may make the game ineligible for Steam's new refund policy. The policy allows easy no-questions-asked refunds on games or DLCs purchased within the last two weeks with under two hours of playtime, but there's an exception for in-game purchases from third-party developers. If you try the game and don't like it, getting the "discounted bundle" could leave you unable to get a full refund.

Bethseda's Wolfenstein: The New Order

50 percent off at $29.99? Sounds like a good deal! But since March, Steam has listed the game undiscounted at $44.99. Comparing to that price makes today's sale only 33 percent off.

Gaijin Entertainment's War Thunder Ace Advanced DLC Pack

War Thunder, a free-to-play Steam game, relies on DLC purchases for funding. Its most expensive DLC, the Ace Advanced Pack, mysteriously jumped from $39.99 to $49.99 in early June. Their Dora Advanced Pack also jumped in price from $19.99 to $29.99, but in March. While the Ace Advanced pack isn't on sale yet, the company is on shaky legal ground if it is put on sale.

While most consumers will agree that these companies' actions are misleading and distasteful, it's still worth asking, "Is this legal?" The answer, sadly, isn't a straightforward yes-or-no. In the US, if the price comparison is found to be "fictitious," then yes, these companies' actions were illegal. But whether or not a price is deemed fictitious depends on how long a former price was maintained, how many sales were made at that price, and a few other factors. If you feel that these companies have priced their products deceptively, your best course is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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