I’ll admit right here I probably buy my indie games on sale most of the time. In fact I buy most games on sale period, months or years after their initial launch. It’s a prominent discussion right now — on whether consumers are too cheap and whether Steam Sales and Humble Bundles devalue games, especially indie games. I’ve started to value games based on how much time I have to play these games relative to how good they are — that is, how much a game causes me to want to make the time to play it. Too many games are also suffering from a discoverability problem. At the point we’re at now, I won’t really think about buying a game at launch or at full price unless it’s nearly a game of the year contender.
For years I only owned an N64, and for years after that I only owned a Gamecube — two consoles that didn’t have the best third party support and thus not the biggest selection of games. My N64 and Gamecube libraries are full of games ranging from merely decent to mediocre to probably bad (I bought Superman 64 at full price and still own it), and this is because I didn’t have much to play at the time. N64 fans jumped all over a game like Quest 64 because it was basically the closest thing to an RPG on the system at the time. Now people with Steam accounts or mobile devices are neck-deep in not just games, but good and even great games. I no longer have the money or time for every merely “good” or even “great” game. If a game turns out to be just pretty good I will buy it when I’m ready to play it, that’ll probably be after it’s been on sale.
I’ll buy a game on day one or at full price if excited enough to where I’ll set aside other games to play it. This fall, two upcoming games fit into that category: Super Smash Bros. on 3DS, and the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. And maybe Hotline Miami 2. There are many other games this fall I’m interested in, but they can wait. I even have a whole tier system going on ranging from “day one full price,” to “I’ll wait on reviews and videos,” and “I’ll wait for a sale in six months.”
One reason for this is my backlog, which itself is full of games considered to be all-time classics. Some of the most fun I’ve had with gaming in 2014 has been from games that came out last year, in 2009, in 1990, and in 1988. I could buy and play Destiny in September, or I could finally start my unplayed copy of a game like Final Fantasy VII, or Mark of the Ninja, or finally install both Baldur’s Gate games. That’s what any new release is up against when it comes to my time and attention.
That said, there are some games in the past I might have been more enthusiastic about if I had more information about them before launch. FTL and Hotline Miami were game of the year candidates for me in 2012, but I bought both on sale because I knew little about them beforehand. Meanwhile, as crazy as it sounds I didn’t become hyped for GTA V until after I rented the game and played it for several hours (on PS3, then waited for the inevitable PC version). There are at least a few indie games I bought as a direct result of having downloaded their demos from Xbox Live Arcade. This is why I’m disappointed a lot of high-profile indie games (and games in general) don’t have demos anymore. I wasn’t sure about buying the PC version of Super Time Force until I finally tried the demo on Xbox Live. I wish I could say the same for games like Shovel Knight, Azure Striker: Gunvolt, and Broken Age. My favorite Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter pitches are the ones that come with playable alpha demos like Stasis or Chasm.
One system I really like is the trail system XBLA used and PlayStation Network on PS3 sort of adopted by default, where the initial game download is a trial and you can pay the full price for an unlock key. That to me sounds like a quick way of turning the first sections of a game into a demo. Capcom seems to like doing this with its iOS games as well. This is basically what old PC games like DOOM did back in the day — make the beginning of the game shareware. I’ve heard a lot of people don’t like this method but I’m not sure why.
Maybe demos aren’t a positive for sales on a general level but they definitely work as marketing tools for me. I guess the same goes for video content like Let’s Play videos or Giant Bomb Quick Looks. Perhaps I should have watched more of those for FTL and Hotline. The recent video for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does a really good job of marketing the game if you ask me. PlayStation Now is trying out a rental or trial system which sounds nice, and rumors indicate Microsoft is readying some other kind of trial system on Xbox One. Either way, there are definitely really great games out there that still suffer from a visibility problem. In my opinion it’s from a lack of playable preview content.
Maybe my saying all this means these games really have been devalued. If so, then it’s due to the sheer quantity of games being released these days. When something becomes more common or more numerous it naturally drops in value. The increased competition has raised my personal standards for how good a game needs to be to get my attention and money.
…Or you can just look at this data indicating a lot of people absolutely do still buy games at launch for full price.