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#1 Re: News » Why Rampant Sales are Bad for Players » 2014-01-17 01:06:09

jasonrohrer wrote:

As a Steam developer, I've made much of my Inside a Star-filled Sky money during Steam sales.  Sure, I made 25% of my lifetime Steam revenue during my launch week, but I made an additional 10% during my first sale, which happened only a few weeks after my launch.  After that initial taste of extra, no-effort money, I participated in sale after sale.  I was hooked.  In the long tail, my daily revenue dwindled down to almost nothing, except during the sales, when there would be another big spike.  I mean, making $3K over a few days, and a full year after launch?  Hard to resist. … yGraph.png

(As you can see in this graph, in 2013, I stopped participating in Steam sales. Oops!)

On its face, this seems like an obvious win for game developers:  they get to revive their dwindling long-tail numbers with a big revenue boost, and a sale will bring more latecomer players into their games too.  This also seems like a win for players:  people who can't afford to buy a game at full price get a chance to play it later, for cheaper.  The audience grows, and more people get to experience the game.  Good stuff.

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it seems as though you have years of anecdotal evidence and concrete data that both support the argument for Steam sales, as well as data that damages or (at the very least) fails to support your belief that these sales ultimately harm revenue.

jasonrohrer wrote:

But I suspect that something different is happening.  Something that is arguably bad for players, and possibly bad for developers as well.

To put it bluntly:  sales screw your fans.
Your fans love your games and eagerly await your next release.  They want to get your game as soon as it comes out, at full price.  But they are foolish to do that, because a sale is right around the corner.  Even in economic terms, the extra utility of playing the game early, at release, is not big enough to offset the extra cost for most people .  It makes more sense to wait, unless they love you and your work so much that they're willing to throw economic reason out the window.  It's nice to have fans that love your work that much.  And these are the fans that you kick in the teeth when you put your game on sale.

It seems that this would mean your initial sale of 50% off is also "screwing" your fans that learn of your game at a later point in time. While you may rail against the perceived injustice of fans  being "kicked in the teeth" by recurring sales that make them feel foolish for having bought the game at a higher price, this brings about another concern. You claim that Steam sales are a recurring loss in apparent value for those that purchased a game at full price. Your proposed model would, by that same logic, decrease the apparent value to anyone who bought the game AFTER the initial sale ended, but with this perception of lost value lasting for all of the years to follow.

They would look back and say, "How foolish I was to have paid full-price after the initial sale ended. Alas, I had not even heard of the game until a friend recommended it, and praised it's originality and thought-provoking gameplay, all for the low price of $8!"

Others that would have bought the game when it was on sale, but perhaps had neither knowledge of its existence or disposable funds at the time of the game's release, might also feel that the game is no longer worth their time or money.

It seems as though you offer a false dichotomy;  I don't see why a developer couldn't offer a sale upon the game's release, AND offer recurring sales in the future.  It would reward your longtime fans whom have been waiting for the game's release, and presents an opportunity for future players to find the game when it appears on a sale. This is incredibly valuable because these buyers may have otherwise never even heard of your game had it not received its time in the spotlight on Steam's frontpage during a sale that draws millions of potential players into the store.

Finally, and I say this quite honestly, I have never felt "screwed" by missing a sale. I have both purchased games at full price after having missed a sale, and I have also waited until the next sale and picked up the game at that time.

jasonrohrer wrote:

But forget the fans for a moment.  A culture of rampant sales is a culture of waiting.  "I'll buy it later, during a sale."  Launch weeks become weak, and developers grow to depend on sales for financial survival.  Even in my example from above, 25% is a pretty sad launch week.  In my case, that represented something like $23K.  I made more selling the game through my own website.  Pathetic.  Of course, sale after sale, later on, pumped my revenue up to way more than what I made on my website.

This waiting game 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 weaker, smaller player community.

I'm afraid that you have yet to provide any evidence that this is the case. It is also possible that much of the gaming market had no knowledge of your game's existence, or had yet to learn of its compelling themes or gameplay. You might have made more money from your own website simply because, if your game already had fans waiting in the wings, then of course they would head there first to buy your product.

Those repeated sales that you besmirch, the same "sale after sale" that gave you more money than if you had simply relied on your own website, seem anything but pathetic. Once again, these sales highlighted your game to millions of potential buyers who may have not heard of your game, and/or believed that the sale represented a valuable purchase for them.

jasonrohrer wrote:

Finally, there's the possibility that the culture of sales actually reduces developer revenue over the long term.  If just half of the players who buy the game during a 50%-off sale would have bought the game at full price if that was their only option, we'd already have a wash.  What fraction of sale-waiting players fall into this category?  I suspect way more than half.  The picture gets even worse for 75%-off sales.

This may sound awfully mean, but let me rephrase your statement:
"Finally, there's the possibility that all of the data I've presented, which actually damages or fails to support any of my arguments, is actually wrong. That would mean that X% of players who buy the game at X% discount, would result in something bad. What fraction of sale-waiting players fall into this category?  I suspect more than half. The picture gets even worse when I increase this to an even larger arbitrary number"

Yes, it's possible. It is also ignoring your own data to pursue an unsupported argument, instituting a straw man fallacy in place of that data, and further stretching that to somehow increase the impact of your claim.

jasonrohrer wrote:

Better that they spent that money on one full-price game that they really want rather than four 75%-off impulse buys to add to their backlog.

That's a personal opinion, not an argument. It is not your place to decide what is best for players, especially when you aren't aware of their circumstances. Perhaps they had a recent influx of cash that may not recur for some time. Or, like me and several of my lan buddies, a sale represents an opportunity for one person to buy copies of a game for several friends as gifts (which happened at the last two of our lan parties).

jasonrohrer wrote:

When we're talking about digital games, the potential full-price lifetime is pretty much eternal.  There is no shelf space.  Even the long tail isn't a hard-and-fast rule anymore.  As the game's audience grows, revenue can actually climb over time, sometimes even making launch week look like an insignificant blip.

In the course of your post, you have simultaneously lamented the "spreading out" of the player population due to gamers buying the product at a later date, and yet here you seem to praise the potential for a game to gain more players than it ever had originally as time goes on.

jasonrohrer wrote:

Consider Gary's Mod, which has been selling steadily, at an increasing rate, for seven years: … gSales.png

Yes, there are some big, thin spikes there during the sales, but they are insignificant compared to the day-to-day full price volume.  And how much thicker would that daily volume be if players weren't waiting for sales?

You have offered no evidence to support the notion that removing sales, with revenue increases that range from 100% to almost 1000%, would somehow "thicken" the daily volume. It is nothing more than supposition that flies in the face of all of your own data.

jasonrohrer wrote:

For the people who buy the game the latest, after the final, permanent price has been reached, they had the chance to wait to hear more about the game before buying.  They had less to lose at that point, because the game has been vetted and the community established.

Having backed Star Citizen at its cheapest during the original kickstarter, I can tell you that I'm seeing individuals on our forums who are paying $5-$10 more for the same game , and are already complaining at "being screwed," even though they have paid $20-$25 less than those who will buy the game upon release.

jasonrohrer wrote:

But in general, people who missed lower prices in the past may not even be aware of what they missed.  They come to buy the game now, and see the current price now.  On the other hand, when your game goes on sale later, everyone who bought it at full price remembers what they paid and feels the sting.  Being unaware of what you're missing has a different psychological impact than having what you missed thrown right in your face.

Once again, I can easily reverse this:
But in general, people who miss lower prices in the future may not even be aware of what they would have missed.  They come to buy the game now, and see the current price now.  On the other hand, when your game goes on sale earlier, everyone who buys it at full price knows what they paid and feels the sting.  Being unaware of what you would have missed has a different psychological impact than having what you missed thrown right in your face.


jasonrohrer wrote:

You can safely announce, "The price will go up next week.  This is the last week to get the lower price."  This will create a huge revenue spike as people race to get the game---no problem there.

But what about all of those people who haven't heard of your game yet, or don't know anything about it's gameplay? If you believe your prospective players are so petty as to request refunds for having paid full price, might these also be the same individuals who would spurn your game upon learning that they would never pay the same low price as those before them?

jasonrohrer wrote:

The final price of the game will be $16.  During alpha testing, up through launch, the game has a 50% discount for $8.  During launch week, the game will have a 25% discount for $12.  After launch week, the game will rise to full price. … cePlan.png

In other words, this is the last two weeks to get the game at 50% off (ending January 28).  If you want to wait until launch on Steam, you can get it for 25% off if you buy it during the first week (ending February 4).  Otherwise, the game will be full price at $16 forever after that.

Anyone feel burned by that plan?

Nope! I fully support your pricing, and I am greatly looking forward to your game.

That may sound strange, but I think your game sounds fantastic.  I read an article last summer detailing the origins of your project, and it struck a chilling chord within me. I spent nine years in the Army Reserves, but I'm no hard-bitten combat vet. In fact, by some grace that seems utterly impossible, I was never deployed to a combat zone. My nine years amongst so many soldiers, many of whom saw combat in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, made me realize how difficult it would be for me to defend my wife and our home from a determined assailant. There are simply too many aggressive individuals who are larger, more skilled, better armed, and just plain meaner than I am.

I've spent too many moments wondering what I would do if someone broke into our home, or mugged us while walking the dog. Should I get a knife? A gun? My wife HATES weapons, or any violence for that matter. What if I'm not there to even TRY to protect her? What would I do without my mate? Lie down and die, I suppose.

I'm sorry if my message appears mixed, but it's really not. You sound like an incredibly relatable, thoughtful, and intelligent person, who has created a game that taps into some of the most fundamental terror that anyone can understand. Reading that article about your fears at the prospect of trying to protect your family hit me like a ton of bricks, and I greatly looked forward to your game's eventual release to further explore this idea. But life happened. Funerals, weddings, classes, work, and family. I honestly forgot about this game until your words appeared in a Kotaku article, and brought me here.
I'm glad they did. I question the logic and reasoning that you have presented, but I absolutely support your prerogative to sell the game however you see fit, and I sincerely hope that your game is successful as a work of art and expression, as well as a product.

Good luck with the game, and I'm looking forward to playing it a great deal.

I...I think I need to sleep now. G'night.

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