There are countries where by law they cannot mark an item on sale, unless said item was actually sold at the original price for a set period of time. The concept of MSRP (suggested price) is irrelevant. If the sale price lists 20% off, then the product had to have sold at that price prior.
We’re in the middle of Black Friday, which comes with “sales” everywhere. In the dark ages (pre-interwebs), you really weren’t able to tell if it actually was a sale or not. Today, sites like camelcamelcamel give easy reference to historical price point. So that 4K streaming stick at 50% off… well that’s the actual regular price. For most physical assets, you’re actually better off buying at a different time of year – perhaps of benefit if you’re trying to close off some holiday shopping. It’s a bit like COSTCO… if you need a lot of stuff now at a good price, great option. If you are looking for better price points, then a regular grocery store sale is a much better deal.
Virtual assets aren’t a whole lot different. Nearly all stores allow you to build wishlists, and they will let you know when there’s a sale on that item. Cyberpunk2077 is on sale, but it’s also on sale every month. Disco Elysium as well – $2 cheaper than 2 weeks ago. Epic Games, Steam, GMG, GOG are all having big sales, and my library of unplayed games is feeling a bit “meh”. If history repeats, the boxing day sales, in 1 month, will be an even lower set of prices.
Tangent – I still remember the joy of being a kid and unwrapping a game for my birthday or Christmas. I will forever remember unwrapping Hero’s Quest (Quest for Glory 1) at my grandparents. Today, I can still by a virtual game as a gift and delay delivery… well on some platforms at least.
The slight exception to all this is the Nintendo e-shop. There are very rarely any 1st party sales… in fact most games are still selling for brand new prices. Breath of the Wild launched in March 2017 and still sells for full price. It doesn’t help that the e-shop itself was designed by drunk monkeys in 2011, and has the least useful interface since AOL. You still can’t buy a gift for anyone on the store. In a fun time travelling twist, your best bet for a Switch game is to rummage through a sales bin, or a used games rack. If you want to buy for yourself, there are “sales” in the concept that BotW is on sale for more than the base price of Cyberpunk2077.
If you’re looking to get a bunch of stuff in a short time window, Black Friday/Cyber Monday may scratch that itch. If you’re not bound by time, you’re better off just creating a watchlist and checking other sales. And obviously, if you don’t need it, the best sales price is when you don’t actually buy it.
I spent half an hour looking at the Steam sale yesterday and came to pretty much the same conclusion. There were three games on my wishlist on sale that I would really like to play but apparently not at 33% or 20% off. The one I did buy was 50% off so that appears to be my trigger point.
The other, perhaps counter-intuitive, factor is that I quite deliberately decided not to buy two of the games because I knew that if I did I would start playing them.immediately. Because you don’t also get an extra allotment of hours in the day with each purchase, that would mean I would have to stop playing another game or take time from doing some non-gaming activity and I don’t want to do either of those things. I read a lot about people buying games they then don’t play (Backlogs) but not so much about buyer’s regret when people buy games they do play and then wish they’d showed more restraint and not divided up their time that way. That’s much more likely to be a problem for me than not playing things I’ve bought and the best way to avoid it is, as you say, not to buy things in the first place.
There are only a few games where I regret taking the time to play them, which I suppose is akin to opportunity cost. A game like Surge 2 has been on my list for a while and I seem to be waiting for it to be both $10 AND have to 20 odd hours to get through it.