Positech Games Boss Calls For An End To Deep-Discount Sales

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Positech Games Boss Calls For An End To Deep-Discount Sales


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 [http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/2014/03/20/we-need-to-talk-about-unplayed-games/]



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Tradjus

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I feel like this is one of those situations where you can safely discard the opinion of the person in question. Developers and Publishers will never be satisfied until they can assure that a game will stay it's launch price forever, and everyone will pay it. Until that happens, they'll whine and whine and whine, but that's all it is, just white noise, they don't bring up any new or interesting ideas. They want money, and they want control of their products, that's all.. what the gamer wants, that's ancillary, it's at the bottom of their list, and that's why we don't care when they ***** and moan.
 

Gxas

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"We shouldn't put our games on deep sales because people will eventually stop paying $60 for games that don't even hardly have $60 worth of content on them."

Sorry, but even games that do have that much content on them, most I still wouldn't touch if not for 75% off sales.

Believe me, I was sure I'd never touch a Borderlands game again. But when I saw it and all the xpacs for 75% off totaling something like $25? Yeah, it was mine.

I will rarely feel a game is worth the full price tag.

The only games that have done that for me lately are Southpark: TSoT, Dark Souls 2, and Bravely Default.

This guy is insane. His complaints are meaningless, as it has been proven that games in these deep sales still make the company money. Especially when they're older games that have already sold to their "base" demographic (those who will purchase day 1 no matter what)
 

Ne1butme

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It looks like he is offering two choices: a small audience that pays a lot, or a large audience that pays a little. It seems like every time there is a steam sale, there is a news article that some older game made more in a single day than it had in the previous 6 months or something like that.
 

Kuredan

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Perhaps when developers return to making games worth my $60 without an additional $30 for DLC, I'll be more inclined to pay full price. This is especially true for digital distribution, where the overhead is so much lower and as such the cost should be lower as well. That being said, there are games I do pay full price for. As a point of fact, I usually get the collector's edition which throws off the developers assertion that sales devalue games. Getting games I'm not thrilled about (but still interested in) on sale allow me to get games I am excited about at full prices or greater. If I had to shell out 60 clams for each game I wanted to try, I'd play a lot less and be pleasantly surprised less frequently. Viva la Steam and Viva la Humble Bundle!
 

Slash2x

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The real problem is that the new games RARELY have the content needed to justify the $60 (USD) price tag they want to throw on it. When they stop making check the boxes half assed products then the full price is worth paying. Example SR4 worth full price. Thief 2014, worth about less than half of its starting price.
 

Beetlebum

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Well, if you put all negatives together it might seem like a lot, so lets put all the positives out there as well.

-Some people don't have the money to buy it a launch.
-Some people actually do not care about the game.
-It gives older games a sales boost.
-It creates advertising.
-It creates fans that might buy your new games.

It is better to sell ten copies for ten bucks than one copy for sixty, I think.
 

Adam Jensen_v1legacy

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Yeah, I totally feel manipulated when a game I wanted to buy goes on sale so I can save some money instead of spending it all on games. What a sinister plan.
 

Qhartb

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The existence of flash sales doesn't prevent me from buying $50-60 games. It makes a game have to do a lot more to convince me to buy it at the higher price point instead of waiting. Half-life 3? Psychonauts 2? I'd put down $60 for those right now. For other games I'd pay that price after reading glowing reviews in the first week of release. If anything, it incentivizes devs and publishers to make quality products such that a large percentage of the audience is willing to pay the higher price to get the product on release day instead of waiting 6 months to save money.

There really aren't a lot of games I've bought for <$20 that I would've paid $50 for, even if I didn't expect their price to come down over time.
 

Pyrian

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Sales are there to maximize profit. Steam quickly came to the conclusion that additional sales from discounts were more than offsetting any loss of revenue from the lower price - after all, they don't get any money from a game not sold. A long-term effect where people are less likely to buy at launch is not a far-fetched idea, although I'd like to see some actual evidence before I believe it. Pre-sales seem to be doing brisk business. Meanwhile, gamers like me have libraries with many games never even downloaded - talk about free money! I don't think they're getting less money through this approach - if they were, they wouldn't do it.

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.
Ooops - button up, there, Cliffy! Your sense of privilege is showing. Your game has no right to anybody's time, at any price point. If your game, given away completely free, cannot keep players' interest, I'd say the failure is yours. Relying on people wanting to get their money's worth to drag them through your game against their own disappointment? Not good.
 

IceStar100

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Depend on the game to me.

Best example I can think of is Skyrim. Why Skyrim because it was the first time I saw people upset that there was no more DLC coming out. People liked it so much they wanted more. It was not fill in the black DLC it was ok we'll add something you guys want or a whole new way to play like vampire lord. So yeah we are willing to pay full price if it's worth it to us.
 

Exterminas

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Yesterday I went to our basement to pick up some apples we stored there from last fall. If you keep them dry they remain edible well over half a year. Sure, they get a bit wrinkly, but overall we can pretty much each apples from our garden all year long.

Those apples from my garden keep their value longer than the average video game these days. Half a year after a game is released, it'll be 50% off, if not more. My apples don't spoil that fast.

My apples also don't required hundreds of people to work for them or millions of dollars. That makes me think that there is some sort of point to this.
 

Gorrath

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Deep discounts are not the reason games have been devalued. Games have been devalued because of the increasingly shit nature of the productions. And telling me that my enjoyment of a game comes from the feeling of getting it cheap instead of the gameplay is downright obnoxious. Last I checked, I am in complete control of my faculties and can decide why it is I enjoyed a game. Pointing out that I am more likely to buy games I would have passed over for being low quality because they are cheep is certainly true, but that does not demonstrate that I'm enjoying the sale and not the game, it demonstrates that I find the value prospect of the discounted game agreeable.

If the developers and publishers want me to buy a game for sixty bucks upon release, then convince me that the game you've made is worth that much. I won't wait for a 75% off sale if your game is worth what you're actually asking for it. This whole thing sounds like someone complaining that publishers are having to take the financial risks involved with making a game instead of consumers having to take a financial risk when buying something that might be crap. Boo fucking hoo. Change and adapt to the new environment.
 

TiberiusEsuriens

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Kalezian said:
so if I want a game but cant afford it, I shouldn't wait until it goes on sale or there is a price drop?


Remind me never to buy a game from this developer.
He's not saying sales are bad at all. It is even pointed out they've gone up to 50% off, but not any lower. He's not talking about all discounts - he specifically targets DEEP discounts.

He's got a solid point, though. I always say that sales don't devalue games, but I fit squarely into the realm of people he's talking about. There have been a bunch of games that I was stoked for, but specifically waited a year before buying because I knew they'd all go on a 50-75% off Steam sale. My thoughts don't devalue the games, but my actions do. I've found myself wondering why on earth I waited forever to buy/play the games, as they would have been worth every penny at full price. Many of my favorite publishers and studios have gone bankrupt because people like me buy their games too little, too late, and often through a used game dealer that doesn't give them a penny.

Andy Chalk said:
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.
This I think is the heart of the matter. Deep sales, above all else, give a game exposure. Small or indie studios benefit greatly from this, as most of the sale income is pure profit. Bigger AAA publishers have almost absolutely no need for that sort of exposure, and very little of the sale income is profit - most of it gets thrown to licensing and keeping the lights on.

It's healthy to recognize that sales aren't black/white good/bad, but that it all depends. It IS a great short term thing for buyers, but there are too many pieces that too few people are willing to recognize, and that hopefully will change. This knowledge is important, so people should really stop screaming one way or the other, about how holy or evil sales are.
 

Andy Chalk

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It's a bad thing (and I argue this point primarily as devil's advocate) because it hollows out the industry: You have major triple-A launches like Titanfall on one end, and low-budget indie stuff on the other, with no sustainable middle ground. Indie devs are effectively forced to sell their games at sub-$10 prices almost from the day they launch, and while some of them have done quite well for themselves that way, it's not entirely clear what the long-term effect will be. But it's not unreasonable to suggest that at some point, when these prices become the de facto norm, they'll no longer have the impact they do now. And then what? Free-to-play everything? That's where we're headed already, and it's not a future many people care for. So what's the alternative? What happens to indie devs when gamers finally decide that nobody is worth more than 99 cents?
 

IndomitableSam

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Sorry, most games aren't worth $60+ these days. There are very few I'll buy at full price. The last one I think was probably FFXIV. And Banished, if you count $20. My personal mindset is I'll wait six month to a year and then buy the game - I don't like paying over $20 for a game - it's pretty much my limit. Which is why I'm eagerly waiting for the summer sales, because there are games I want to play, but can never justify spending more than an hour's worth of salary on them. I also only buy 3-4 games a year, though, so I'm not really a heavy consumer. If I spend $200

Money has been tight for the general populace for... well, forever, but I'll say the majority of people are more discerning with their purchasing these days. Yeah, there are the idiots that see "Ooh, a AAA title for $5, let's buy it and then never play it!" or "Hey, indie games for 99cents! Let's get ten!", but that's their own responsibility of not being educated or informed consumers... or they just want to spend their money their own way.

If someone buys a game for $5 instead of $60 and likes it, then says "Hey, maybe I'll get the DLC because it's still not that expensive", then the companies have won and were very savvy. Deep sale prices are not going to go away. And I'm fine with it.
 

Rabid_meese

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How many Triple A games go golden now a days even before their launch? A good chunk of games are already sold before the product is even printed in a physical manner. A deep discount only gives incentive to lower income individuals to buy the game, and/or gives people who were on the fence an incentive to purchase the game.

An example: Lets say I'm working a minimum wage job to pay for an apartment. I have an apartment and college loan payments to make. Thus, my entertainment bill takes a hit in the knees. Some hyped up game releases, and I really want to play it, but its just not in the cards this month.

I can either wait till the game goes on sale and pick it up cheap, or I can hit whatever piracy hub I want to and get it for free.

Now, imagine if you eliminate the first option. The game doesn't go on sale. Now the chances that the developer will get a cut from me just shot down significantly. If I can't afford the $60 model, but I still want it, a good chunk of people will just take it anyways - especially given that it does no direct harm to anyone. It's not like stealing a copy from Walmart, where a physical copy is gone, and Walmart has to cover the difference.

Now, example two - some new game comes out, and I kind of want it, but meh. I'm just not sure. $60 on a concept I'm not 100% on is kind of much. But... hmm... 50% off? $30 isn't that bad. Or ooh, the game is on sale for $15. Ya know, that's not bad at all. I may give it a shot. Now, if the price was still $60, I probably wouldn't sink the cash. But as soon as that price is cut, the likelihood of me buying it skyrockets.

I could go on with theoretical examples. Not everyone is keen on waiting - just like not everyone is sold on a day one purchase. There are cases where this model has burnt developers - they were stating their game didn't sell unless it was at a discount, and that undermined profits, but as a consumer, I have to ask - why should I care? Why should the consumer give up a practice that's always beneficial for them in favor of a system that's perfectly fine price gouging?

And more over, some games AREN'T worth the $60 price tag. I remember when $60 would get you a game that lasted on the upwards of 10-20 hours of gameplay, with replayability. Now the average is 6-8. Just because you slap a $60 tag on it doesn't mean that its worth the $60 price to me.
 

The White Hunter

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Oct 19, 2011
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The last 4 games I bought were near full price: FFXIV, Titanfall, Thief, and bravely default.

I buy games that interest me but I am uncertain on at discount, or on impulse/
 

AnthrSolidSnake

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Most games aren't worth $60 of content. They MIGHT be worth $60 of work, but you can put all the work you want into shiny graphics and high price voice actors, but that won't make the game worth it automatically. Some games are really short. Anything under 8-10 hours definitely isn't getting my $60. I'm sure they poured a lot of money in it, but it's not my problem that they didn't bother to use that money to make the game fun to play for an acceptable length of time.

Also, I'm not paying $50-60 for a game that's been out for a year. EA used to do that a lot (more often). Hell, I think they tried to sell the original Crysis at near full price on Origin even when it was 5 or 6 years old. (maybe it was something else). After a year, most of the hype has died down and most people who were willing to pay full price already have. I'm then buying an older product, when there are obviously much newer ones I could buy. Even if it's new and unopened, if it's almost a year old, I'm not paying that much. Other products discount items after some time because they know eventually something newer than it will come out, and bringing down the price is the only way to stay relevant.

The last game I bought full price was Titanfall, and that's because it has the potential to be infinite play time (or at least until servers are gone...), or until I get bored of it. They also knew how to market the game. Is there really anything else that combines all the aspects like Titanfall does? No, not really.

But then there's something like Thief. Am I interested in it? Yes (despite what some reviews say), but I'm not paying full price. Why? Because I already have tons of other stealth games I could buy, and chances are a lot cheaper too.