Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How Much Do You Value Your Games?

The long awaited annual event on every gamers calendar has now been and gone. Some of us are smug whilst we bask in our own glorious ability to keep our hands firmly off the mouse and away from the 'add to cart' button, whilst many of us I'm sure, are smashing open the piggy bank, counting the pennies and wondering if we can live off dried pasta for the month. Yes of course I'm referring to the Steam Summer Sale where gaming consumers allow themselves to buy any game that they may vaguely play in the distant future that's at least 50% off, usually resulting in accidentally going over your budget reserved for a single AAA title anyway. 

I know people that practically sunk their whole wage packet on the sale, with the justification that they would play their backlog of games throughout the year. A statistic I plucked from last April stated that 36% of registered games on Steam are unplayed, which is quite high! Remember when you would go to a shop, buy a title at £40 and actually play it? This got me thinking about my games and how many I actually play, not only on steam but on my shelf. I've been wanting to upgrade to a PS4 (other consoles are available) so perhaps now is the time to really look at my hoard of games and be ruthless about what NEEDS to stay and what, in all honestly, could be let go and traded in.

Unlike my Steam digital shelf, I've played ALL of these games a decent amount.

I tried some online trade-in price checkers and was pretty disappointed at some of the offers I was getting. My limited edition copy of Halo Reach (black box with Halsey's journal etc) is apparently worth a whole English pound. I know it's almost 4 years old but still, compare this to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which came out about 10 months before Reach) currently available on Steam and you will see it priced at £19.99 (not including map packs). Assuming my physical copy of Reach is in perfectly good working condition, is this product really only worth 5% the cost of the digital version of an older game? Sure there are some advantages to having a digital copy of a game - you can download it as many times as you like, you don't need to worry about losing it, storing it; you're paying for convenience. I am partial to the odd digital download myself, but I would much prefer a physical copy. This brings me onto pricing structures for digital games generally.

Physical copies of Grand Theft Auto V can be bought from multiple online stores for around £30 (Xbox 360/PS3), however if you browse the PS3 games on the Playstation store you will see it priced £49.99. I cannot fathom why this is the case, and perhaps it explains why we as the consumers wait until those ridiculous 80% off offers appear online before we commit to a purchase. This model is broken, it surely de-values not only the products, but the jobs, the time - and if you like, blood sweat and tears - that individuals have invested into these projects. I have no problem dropping £40-50 on a new AAA release if I can store it on my shelf and touch and read the manual (although in this day and age, even that's a luxury), but I cannot see me ever buying a digital copy for the same/higher price. If digital pricing aged appropriately with the physical games, then maybe we would be more willing to spend our cash on them and less likely to be sucked into flash sales which de-value games when we already have plenty of things to play anyway! 

£20 difference, surely only the impatient would choose the digital copy over waiting a few days for delivery?

Who is this hurting? You'd think the AAA publishers a little but no I don't think so, I think they will be just fine. They'll keep their digital prices nice and high so ultimately it's the 'little people': you, me, indie game dev and consumer alike that suffer because we don't have the willpower to say no to a sale and because digital games 'aren't worth buying' until they are in one. Even after all these flash sales finish, we get on with our lives and many sad looking games sit on our digital shelves, collecting digital dust, unplayed and unloved; so what, we only spent £2 on each of them, right? I haven’t even mentioned the new Playstation 'NOW’ streaming service and it's pricing structure - but there are plenty of articles about this already of which Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a common case study. In short, Playstation value a short duration of gameplay ridiculously highly when compared with how much the game costs outright on Amazon and other stores. This won’t help to balance the games/digital download economy.

 The Summer Sale has ended apparently? Nope, it never ends.

I'm not an expert in sales, and I have generalised quite a lot, but I think this 'de-valued digital download' mentality exists. I have said 'we' a lot, but I am guilty of all the things I have mentioned above, and assume that many of you who read this will agree that this applies to you also. I currently have unplayed 39% of my Steam games, and this isn’t even truly representative considering the average duration of play of the other 61% is about 4 hours. I will also add that my library, ignoring any sales prices, is currently worth £837.97 with the value of my unplayed games being £273.67. I will say though, that this summer I have done quite well for the most part. When I saw a game I wanted on sale I pulled myself together, checked my existing library and installed one (of many) games I bought years ago and played it for the first time. 

I would love to hear from indie developers who have games on Steam and other services and your thoughts on how you structure your prices, generally and during sales. Give your existing Steam library some love guys, and when you do have some spare cash don't feel bad about spending more than the price of a sandwich on an indie game - it will satisfy you for longer. -oP

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