Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Deep Game Sales: Awesome or Terrible or Both?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 28, 2014

stackofshameCliff “Cliffski” Harris contends that the deep game discounts and massive bundle sales are a horrible trick played on gamers that will be the downfall of the industry in the long run. In his rant, he does acknowledge that in spite of flaws (devaluing of games, emphasis on quantity rather than quality, nobody finishing games, etc.), it works, and there’s unlikely to be much we can do about it at this point.

Ben Kuchera at Polygon has a decidedly different take on having a huge gaming library including unplayed games (yeah, that would be me…). He suggests, “Your backlog isn’t a source of shame, but a matter of pride; it’s a well-stocked library from which you can take comfort, a pile of blankets waiting for a cold night.”

Gianfranco Berardi mostly sides with Kuchera at hisย  GB Games blog. Although he notes having 30 games across seven shelves from GOG.COM, and I have to say: Amateur!ย I have more than thirty shelves… I think the games I’ve gotten for free from GOG.COM could take up two shelves all by their lonesome. Obviously, my fellow blogger and indie game developer doesn’t quite understand just what a true stack of shame really means… ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s my standpoint?

Obviously, as a game developer, I am very concerned about the “race to the bottom” on pricing. I disagree with Gianfranco, as I feel I have seen a change in game design approaches and the emphasis on fast, short, and cheap permeating the industry.ย  I do see the issues Cliffski is concerned about, and they aren’t trivial problems. Although – and I suspect Cliffski recognizes this as well – I do see this more as symptoms of an industry & hobby in transition. How things will eventually look (if they ever even approach stability) may be nothing like they look today.

And I’ve had my game in two bundles already (and a few sales). In the bundles… I don’t know who has actually played it. It’s great to see that all those copies have been distributed, but have any of the bundle players actually loaded it up and invested the time into really playing it?ย  I mean, I appreciate the small amount of money I got out of each bundle, but I really included the game not for the pittance, but to get the game out there and played.

As a gamer with a pretty colossal “stack of shame” (which I’m actually pretty proud of), I’m just as obviously taking plenty of advantage of sales and bundles. Back when I considered myself more of a “hardcore gamer,” I had more time than money, and if I was lucky I would be able to purchase maybe one game a month. And not always for full price… As an interesting side note, on those occasions I happened to acquire two games at once, I often only ended up playing one of them, while the other one was guiltily ignored. I have a lot more guilt these days. On a good month (say, with a couple of great bundle deals, or during major sales at GOG.COM or Steam), I may buy as many games in a month as I used to buy in a year. I perhaps purchase two new mainstream games at full price in a full year.

So in that respect, I am truly part of the problem. And when I finally have time to play a new game? I browse through my lengthy list, and typically go with something I already know how to play. An old standby. I really don’t pick up new games nearly as often as I pick them up… if that makes sense.

So what are your thoughts? Have the sales and bundles encouraged you to build a massive backlog? Do you actually play all the games you get? Has this changed your perception of the value of video games? Do you refuse to buy games that are discounted by less than 50%?

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    Yep. I’m a major part of the problem. I rarely buy games that aren’t humble bundle or a similar level of discount.

    While I haven’t played all the games I own… I “PLAN” to play them all. Every month or two, I’ll install some new games and play for a while.
    Although… to be fair… my list grows faster than it shrinks.

    But the devaluing of games and lack of completion is mostly the games themselves.

    I was a NES gamer. Beating a game took 1 hour of playing. Obviously, more with learning but still… 1 hour play sessions.

    But modern games are 3 hours of cutscenes and 3 hours of sitting in cover picking off enemies that are desperately trying to avoid shooting you.

    Because games are about story… they don’t have the content to hold my attention. I don’t finish them because I’m bored to tears… not because I paid less.

  • Tesh said,

    I think this is a healthy and inevitable part of a maturing market. The lack of overhead on copies of the product (anything digital, for the most part) does change the calculus a bit, but this is just how markets work. We just have to find ways to compete and stay ahead of the curve as devs, and that winds up benefiting players as we try to make better products at smarter price points.

    There will, of course, be distortions like EA’s Dungeon Keeper and the Candy Crush Nonsense, and a fair bit of shovelware. It seems that the trick is staying afloat in the middle, between AAA big budget games and absurd aberrations like Flappy Bird.

  • Steve H said,

    Bundles are the biggest source of owned-but-not-played games for me, but there are always games in a bundle that I had no intention of playing anyway. So I own them, but it just seems like a technicality. I figure it all works out to be like a Netflix-style subscription-for-access kind of thing anyway, with the ability to watch lots, but only watching what I can.

    As someone who, through the 80s and 90s, never bought new games, waiting instead for them to hit the sales table or used bin, I’ve always been of the opinion that games are over-priced. It’s not like sales and deep discounting didn’t always existed, it’s just it’s become significantly more timely and efficient for the bargain hunter.

    As a counter-argument, the frequent sales and bundles of the past five years have kept me more engaged with gaming, more actively interested in the state of gaming, spending more money now compared to my previous 30 years of playing games. If anything, accumulating a large library of games has only increased my esteem for the art.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I enjoy checking out the bundles but I rarely buy them. Price is not an issue, I just don’t want to accumulate a lot of games I will never finish

    I’m a completionist, I expect to finish any game I start, assuming it is the sort of game that can be finished. I also force myself to play every game I buy for at least a few minutes. I’ve discovered some unexpected gems this way.

    I agree with Cliff that despite games being very cheap, some gamers are obsessed with game length. Even $5 games are expected to last well over ten hours. But even that isn’t enough, games are expected to provide replay value.

  • Anon said,

    What Steve said – and:
    I’ll never have a guilty conscience of paying not enough for games (= bundle purchase) as for every game that I wanted from a bundle I paid a developer for a game that I never had the intention of getting (and will never play).

    And I’m not even a major collector or completionist so others will undoubtedly “support” the industry more than me…

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    It seems like most people buy Bundles for just one or two games. I know I rarely play more than one of the games when I buy a bundle. If you are the developer of that one great game people are buying the bundle for, it seems participating is more like charity to your fellow developers than anything else.

    I think reduced prices and sales are a great thing for developers and players alike if handled correctly. The fact is, each game has a potential audience at each price point. The lower that price point, the wider the potential audience willing to jump on-board. The trick is to try and max out awareness and purchases of your game within each potential audience before moving down to the next lower price point.
    Different people have different levels of excitement and interest in your game. This is reflected in how much money they are willing to part with. Once your game hits the “sweet spot” in price for these people, and they are aware of it, they’ll jump onboard. They were never in your potential audience at higher price points.

    Knowing games will go on sale doesn’t stop me from buying them if my excitement level for the game is high enough, and I doubt other players are much different. I knew for a fact that Bioshock Infinite would be on sale, probably drastically, within 6 months on Steam. I bought it at $60 anyway when it released.

    I think the worst thing you could hear as a developer is “This game is great! I would have bought it for twice the price!” It means either the price went too low too soon, or the game didn’t have good awareness when it was at higher price points.

    If only 5000 people would buy your game for $20, but 20,000 would buy it for $5, you’ve gotten the same money either way, but with the lower price point you’ve widened your audience for any sequels or future games. Plus, more players equals more word of mouth equals more awareness equals more sales. The goal is to get those 5000 people to pay the $20 first before you lower the price and grab the other 20,000 people. But if you just sit at the same price point year after year because “that is what my game is WORTH”, you fail economics.

    Introversion Studios was going out-of-business, couldn’t pay their mortgages, and had nearly stopped selling any copies of Darwinia+. They got Steam to put it on sale for a $1 and funded their studio for an entire year in one weekend. They had a whole new audience hidden behind a lower price point.

  • Xian said,

    The same could be said of other media too. Before getting a Kindle I never had a backlog of books. I would read one and return it to the library or buy another. Now with Amazon Gold Box, daily sales, and even Humble Book sales, I have a huge book backlog too. The primary difference from my previous habits were that I usually had a good idea what I wanted to read next but didn’t purchase it until I was ready to read it. Now I buy books during sales and have a backlog. Instead of waiting as I did before, I already have my next title(s) waiting in the wings.

    Another thing to examine is impulse purchases. Many of the games I have on Steam or GoG were bought due to, hey, it’s only $5, I’m going to try that. And as LWR said, it has got me interested in some developers. I picked up Mars War Logs for cheap, but may end up paying full price for Bound By Flame when it is released.

    I usually only buy a few games a year at release, and wait for the inevitable sale, or play some of my backlog first on the rest. One factor is that single-player RPGs usually age well, I can have just as much fun years from now as I would today. On the other hand, if you look at the multiplayer FPS crowd, if you don’t jump on the bandwagon at release or soon after, the community and players will have moved on to the next great thing.

  • ShadowTiger said,

    I found that instead of buying one or two $50 games each year before the digital revolution , I now buy 5-10 games in the $5-20 range.

    While sales are a good thing in my opinion, I do think that games are going on sale too fast. I think Skyrim did a good job of slowly lowering the price, but other franchises have been shooting down to 50 or 75% of after a few months. For indies its a different calculation altogether, though I recommend people to think twice about going the cheap route… you can always discount later if you don’t need the cash right now.

  • Bryce said,

    Bundles have drastically changed how I buy games. I have a huge library of unplayed games, but when I buy a bundle it typically is for the one or two games I want to play. I’m not buying Stanley parable or jazzpunk right now because I have a big library and expect they will be in a bundle. I withdrew funds from the Book of Unwritten Tales kick starter because they were charging $25 when they released the rest of their library on humble bundle at the same time, and I thought, meh its succeeded I’ll wait for a deal. That being said, my funds are limited and a lot of games I would have never bought at retail I’m now willing to put money down on. PC game pricing has also allowed me to explore the Nintendo games (that never drop in price) on Wii U and 3DS that I would never have purchased before. I’ve also managed to play games in genres that I thought would never appeal to me, and am much more likely to want to buy future iterations at day 1 (e.g. batman, saints row, amnesia).

  • Anon said,

    Skyrim is a massively successful game, even despite all the bugs, at least in the console versions.
    The prices of games as successful as Skyrim usually sink slower but I assume company politics play a large part in it, too.

    Take PS+ for example:

    Sony will pump out their own stuff like the Uncharted series for PS+ subscribers without so much as a second thought.

    Other companies like Ubisoft are also on PS+ with Assassin’s Creed 3 – obviously as a marketing instrument for Black Flag. AC3 was a reasonably successful game, though.

    Even Eidos isn’t shy to offer the next Tomb Raider there – and they don’t have a newer one.

    I haven’t seen Skyrim there, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Chris said,

    I have a *huge* backlog of unplayed games, but I don’t feel any shame in that. I have no doubt that 25% of that will never be played in this lifetime due to various reasons, but hey, at least I continue to support the game industry, a hobby that gives me a lot of joy.

    Having said that, I do admit to being price sensitive due to my budget. It is what it is. Plus, I can afford to be patient until a certain game reaches my price point since I do have such a store of unplayed games to tap when the mood strikes. Even though I avoid paying full price, I feel strongly about always paying for my games (when it’s not freeware), I don’t have respect for the pirates out there who think they have a right to steal other people’s work without any recompense.

    Most of the bundles don’t really interest me. One of the few that did happened to be that RPG one (a genre I like) which included your Frayed Knights game. ๐Ÿ™‚ That was a good deal! I wish you luck on the sequel.

  • Modran said,

    It’s been 6 months since I last bought a game. “Not until my backlog is halved”, I said.
    Very happy with that decision. I’ve played Dishonored, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Saint’s Row 2, Bioshock, Antichamber and others which have been gathering dust for aeons.
    AI can but a game at full price when it comes, but I have such a huge backlog and sales come so often, I can easily wait for the price to drop.
    I try to refrain from doing this for indie games, though.