Jason Rohrer, published a blog post on Gamasutra the other day explaining why he feels Steam’s notorious sales are bad for players.
Rohrer is a famous indie game developer and creator of Passage, Inside a Star-filled Sky and most recently The Castle Doctrine.
I don’t think I agree with him. He has some well thought out points, but sales are still a very useful tool to bring exposure and awareness to your game, and make a call to action to buy now. Even if you’re killing sales in the long run, it makes sense that a game will have to get cheaper over time. In the old day, a title could be $60 new forever, until it was no longer “new” and put in a bargain bin or a best-of collection.
With digital, that “new” packaging can last forever. When a game is “older” it isn’t as high value or high demand, nor should it be. Why should I have to pay full price? I am more interested to try a game if I can get in on a deal for a significant discount. If you look at my steam library, it’s full of games I bought only because they were on sale, that I would have never (or much less likely to have) experienced if they were forever full price.
Having a discount event to bring a new insurgence of players into the game shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. More interest in a game is good for existing players, very much for games that involve multiplayer. Your sales will trail off either way, and the spikes you’ll gain from the sales I think will be longer than the revenue from a longer tail end.
Another thing to consider is Rohrer’s argument is awful close to JC Penney’s”Fair and Square” pricing. The clothing store famously changed the way they did business for a year, getting rid of “sales” that supposedly were in the best interest of consumers not to have. Normally, clothing stores mark up the cost of all of their goods, then list certain items on sale for the normal price they would expect it to sell for. If a customer was silly enough to buy an item not on sale, they would get a huge profit. Then the customer got an artificial satisfaction for getting those $100 jeans for the “bargain” price of $25, when that is what they were supposed to sell for all along.
JC Penney’s decided change it so that prices were always the same, and always the price that each item was intended to sell for. On paper, that seems like a good idea right? People want “fair and square” and to not get tricked, right?
This worked out horribly. Comically horribly, actually. JC Penney’s literally issued a public apology to get people to come back to the store. People did not like not having sales. If I bought $25 jeans for $25, who cares? But if I go “hunting” and nap those cool $100 jeans for 75% off, that is amazing! I’ll tell all my friends, I’ll brag about it, and I certainly would shop in that store again looking for more “deals”. Even when people know they’re getting “tricked”, they still felt good their bargains.
For a full explanation of the JC Penny effect, I like this Extra Credit video’s summary of it.
Selling games on Steam can be the same way. Yeah, it’s not “fair” pricing, yeah it brings the value down for all games, but that is what the consumers want. If you don’t have sales, you won’t be heralded as a pricing hero, but ignored as scourge.
Let players feel good about finding bargains, give them a sale now and then.