Positech Games boss Cliff Harris says deep-discount game sales are a "big psychology trick" that play gamers like pianos.
We all know how it goes. A new game comes out, you're not all that interested in it, but then it goes on sale on Steam for 80 percent off and suddenly your wallet is out and your backlog is one title bigger. It's the norm these days, something we often joke about, and it's helped get an awful lot of games out to an awful lot of people. But is it actually a good thing?
Cliff Harris doesn't think so. In a blog post, the head of the Democracy studio said that Steam sales, Humble Bundles and other big game blowouts are a bad thing that should be stopped - although he also acknowledges that's not likely to happen.
Harris cites a number of reasons for his stance but they can be boiled down in general to a belief that big price reductions devalue games in a number of ways. They create the perception that games are only worth $5 or $10, which in turn encourages gamers to ignore them at launch and walk away from them the moment they run into difficulty, rather than persevering and finishing them. They also commodify games, making purchase decisions about price rather than quality, with the knock-off effect of "handing power" to people who run the sales as opposed to those who actually make the games.
He pointed out that Positech's latest release, Democracy 3, has never been on sale for more than 50 percent off, and said he has no immediate plans to reduce it by that amount again. But discounts work, and he also admitted that the likelihood of convincing gamers that really cheap games aren't good for them is probably slim.
"I understand that varied price points to suit different gamers is good, I understand the reasons for sales being economically efficient ways to maximize global utility. But this implies utility is derived from the product," he wrote. "We are no longer selling products, we are selling discounts. The endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually *playing* the game. This is bad."
I'm inclined to agree, both that the ongoing tumult of big sales has seriously devalued all but a very few elite triple-A releases, and that there's likely nothing to be done about it. After all, devaluation may be bad for developers and publishers, but it's good, at least in the short term, for gamers. How do you convince people that they're better off spending more money, instead of less? Generally speaking, you don't; you just hope it all works out in the long run.
Source: Cliffski's Blog