Are Steam Sales Doing More Harm Than Good?

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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Are Steam Sales Doing More Harm Than Good?

Just yesterday we noted some big impact for Steam, and noted how it was drawing in a whole lot of gaming fans from all around the world with incredible bargains released on a fairly regular basis. But one point being raised by a game developer is that the amazing Steam sales that come around may be, ultimately, doing more harm to gamers than good.

Jason Rohrer, who developed “The Castle Doctrine,” a massively multiplayer online game focused on burglary, put up a blog post describing a set of unintended consequences that may lead to the ultimate detriment of gamers. Rohrer notes that sales like Steam's, which feature incredible markdowns, do draw attention, but draw the attention away from a launch date, instead convincing gamers to wait until a game is released at a steep discount before buying.
While many gamers are eager to get the newest game right when it comes out, there's always that percentage of gamers who look at the situation, realize that there will be a discount somewhere, and instead choose to hold out until that day has arrived. With Steam's regular sales events, said sales are always right around the corner, so there's a distinct advantage to waiting. For gamers to voluntarily ignore that benefit requires said gamers to do something that's distinctly not in their own self-interest. Worse, when the game finally does go on sale, Rohrer noted, it's essentially a slap in the fans' face—Rohrer describes it as “kick(ing) in the teeth”--to put the game on sale, forcing the fans to voluntarily absorb losses because said fans wanted to promote a game from the first day.

Rohrer elaborated, saying “This waiting (for sales) is likely decimating your player base and critical mass at launch by spreading new players out over time. And your fans, who are silly enough to buy the game at launch and waste money get to participate in a smaller, weaker community. I get why a culture of sales has blossomed, and I also get that it's impossible to escape from it now.”

Indeed, Rohrer seems to have the right of it. How many made the decision ahead of the PS4 or Xbox One launch to wait until the price cuts started up before buying their own? How many gamers wait until a game goes on sale, or goes used, before getting a copy? The concept is everywhere. But by like token, how can such a system be removed? Gamers are no different from everyone else; the need to save money is constant. Gamers have jobs like anyone else—well, not always—and many of them are concerned about the long-term viability of same in a difficult economy. Spending $60 on a game that will be $40 in a few months just doesn't make sense, as Rohrer noted. To leave games at full price permanently will likely reduce sales anyway as gamers, regretfully, go without.

Sales events drive sales. We see it every Black Friday. But in a bad economy, sales are about the only thing that people will show up for. And this ultimately does damage to the industry; if sales run too hard too long, there will be less on hand to use to develop the next title, and so on down the line. The Steam Sale may be harming game culture...but there's not much choice until the economy improves overall.
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