It’s that magical time of year when we spend too much on people who probably don’t deserve it, and will likely wind up returning half of what we buy them in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve extolled the virtues of gaming sales on this very site previously, but it really seems like we are beginning to get caught in an endless cycle of sales and discounts. A couple of weeks ago it was the Steam Autumn sale, and then in a few days the Steam Winter sale will begin. We’ve just got over Black Friday, which coupled with its offshoots like Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and Throat Warbler Mangrove Thursday is almost an abject lesson in avarice and greed (full disclosure: I may have made up one of those).
I like saving money, you probably like saving money, but all these sales are beginning to make my head spin a little. To some extent this is due to the pricing mechanism that the gaming industry uses, at least for triple-A titles. You will essentially be paying $60 at launch for most high-end games, and even PC is no longer safe from this, as its traditional price point of $49.99 has magically become $59.99 just because that’s what the big publishers wanted. This is not true all the time – I pre-ordered Dragon Age: Inquisition on the PC and paid only $48 for it, for example, but these kinds of pre-order savings are much rarer on consoles.
A quick examination of the front page of SlickDeals shows Destiny for $30, Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition for $30, The Last Of Us: Remastered for $19, and others. Those are healthy discounts on some good games, some recent releases, some a little older. Still though, it would be nice to see a little consistency on pricing. Games can be expensive to develop, I get that. Some titles are worth the $60 and then some, some are worth half that, and some the publisher should have paid me to play. Thankfully that last category is more spartan, but everyone reading this can readily think of a couple of examples of games which were not worth the purchase price.
This can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby people deliberately do not buy a game at launch for the reason that they know it will probably go on sale within a couple of months for $10-$20 less than the launch price. This in turn can make publishers think that game X didn’t sell particularly well and so think it was a failure, when it may have nothing to do with the quality of the game and everything to do with the $60 price tag. Games make most of their revenue within the first month, maybe even the first couple of weeks, and publishers watch those sales figures like a hawk, pouncing on various metrics and making assumptions which may not be completely accurate.
How about this: games take a flat 20% price cut (so a triple-A game now costs $47.99 instead of $59.99 on all formats) but there are no discounts for the first six month of a game’s shelf-life. Anyone who wants the game, you either pay the $48 sticker price or you wait it out for half a year. Early adopters will benefit, as they now pay $12 less for their games, and companies would be able to gauge their sales and market responsiveness much easier since they’d have a six month window of stable pricing to do so. Holdouts could still pick up their cheaper prices, it would just take a little longer to do so from how long it takes currently.
Of course, something like that is never going to happen. For one, that kind of price collusion may be illegal (you’ll be shocked to learn I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on TV), plus it represents a significant change from how the gaming industry currently operates. If you’ve learned only one thing from the big publishers like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision these past few years, it’s that they do not like change. They want to make their product, sell it to you, and collect your money over and over and over again. If they could push you into a freezer and thaw you out once a year for easy access to your wallet, that’s what they’d do.
Sales are nice (and finding a great deal on something can make you feel like the king of the world for at least a couple of minutes), but being treated like a human being is even nicer. The gaming industry has chosen the former; we need to show them that the latter is the better option.