There are certain guarantees in life. For me, one of them is that anytime a Humble Indie Bundle or a big Steam sale pops up, I’m going to spend some money. At this point it’s become a reflex; I may not have time to play whatever it is I’m going to buy, but when you can get quality games for so cheap I find it hard to say no. These events may only come a few times a year, though at any given time you can head over to Steam (or GamersGate, Impulse, et al) and find any number of games heavily discounted. Roughly two dozen games are on sale on Steam right this very second, including Arcania: Gothic 4 for $4.99 (75% off), the Cities in Motion Collection for $13.99 (65% off), and Sniper Elite for $2.50 (75% off). This is great news for gamers, right? Games can be picked up for a fraction of their regular prices, developers make some money, and everyone is surely better off. Or are they?
I’ve picked up on some buying behavior of mine that’s had me questioning that line of thinking in recent months. Having not played Braid in quite some time, I thought about buying the PC version and playing it when I’m stuck with only my laptop. A quick visit to Steam showed it costs $9.99, a price that it is more than fair for such a terrific game. Yet rather than go ahead and buy the game right away, as I ordinarily would be happy to with an indie game I already own on another platform, I decided to wait. “It might be on sale soon,” I told myself. Next time I logged into Steam I found out I already owned Braid (no doubt as a result of some previous Steam sale), rendering the decision to wait a moot point. Yet it isn’t the only time I’ve found myself interested in a game that I decided to wait on in the hopes of it eventually going on sale; since buying an iPad recently, I checked on the price of Civilization Revolution every day, only to be rewarded with a big price cut after a few days. A similar situation played out with Ticket to Ride where, after a week or two of waiting, it was made available free for a day.
There’s nothing wrong with being a smart consumer and waiting for a good deal, yet the frequency and steepness of the discounts seen in these sales (and Humble Indie Bundles, where you can pay any amount you wish for a handful of games) may be hurting the value of games. That’s precisely the pointed raised by GOG.com managing director Guillaume Rambourg and marketing boss Trevor Longino in an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
“Selling games at too high a discount – one often sees discounts above 80% off here and there – sends a message to gamers: this game, simply put, isn’t worth very much,” the duo said. “Of course you make thousands and thousands of sales of a game when it’s that cheap, but you’re damaging the long-term value of your brand because people will just wait for the next insane sale. Slashing the price of your game is easy. Improving the content of your offer when you release your game, that’s more ambitious.”
This issue is now of greater concern to GOG as a result of the website’s recent shift from focusing exclusively on classic titles to also selling new ones. While the site does offer weekly discounts on games, the reasons the two attributed for its success are the bonuses and extra it offers, its DRM-free offerings, and quality customer service. “GOG has always been trying to add as much value as possible into their offer; and we hope more gaming companies will follow this direction,” they said, noting the “the best way to support a publisher or developer from a financial standpoint” is to buy a game on day one.
Rambourg and Longino also claimed the discounts are harmful to gamers, and not just developers and publishers who hope to be able to sell their games without the assistance of steep discounts. “If a gamer buys a game he or she doesn’t want just because it’s on sale, they’re being trained to make bad purchases, and they’re also learning that games aren’t valuable. We all know gamers who spend more every month on games than they want to, just because there were too many games that were discounted too deeply. That’s not good for anyone.”
There is another side to this debate, part of which they did acknowledge: “There’s a counter argument to that, of course, which is that sales encourage people to try games that they’re not sure about. And there’s a certain truth to it, but I think that you need to reach a happy medium between giving someone a chance to take a risk without feeling like they’ve gotten a bad deal, and pricing things so cheaply that you tell gamers, ‘this game I made isn’t worth very much.’”
There’s no denying these sales do impact the way some gamers go about buying games, as my example above (which I know is true of others) illustrates. Those who would suggest all that matters is developers ending up with some money have somewhat of a point. However, an indie developer with only one game on the market, for instance, may not be able to afford to keep all of its staff around during the months when prospective customers are waiting for a sale. By the time a sale comes along six months later, it may have been forced to lay off some of its staff.
Rushing to have a sale shortly after release is an equally risky step, as it could alienate the gamers who decided to spend full price on the game at launch. Whether or not you classify that as the risk of being an early adopter, those people may decide to wait for a sale next time the developer releases a game.
Rambourg and Longino are right that there must be some sort of balance that can be established between discounting the game to drive sales and not hurting interest in the game at full price. Judging by GOG’s sales, the 40%-to-50% discount range is what they feel provides “plenty of incentive to pick up a game if you’re interested or if you just think you might like to try it because you’re not sure about the game, but not some crazy 75% or 85% discount that damages the long-term value of a game.”
Whether that is, in fact, the right sort of discount for digital games, there is still the matter of when those sales should take place. Developers don’t want to do it so soon that they run into the scenario laid out above where early adopters feel burned by their full-priced purchase, nor do they want to wait so long that those who may make a purchase during a sale lose their interest and move on to something else.
I do think it’s clear there is a devaluing going on as a result of these sales. Not everyone may be impacted by them, and even those who are (like myself) will still buy plenty of full price games, but developers should certainly be thinking about the long-term effects when considering the short-term benefits a big sale can provide.
Article source: http://www.1up.com/news/steam-sales-indie-bundles-devalue-games