Why Steam Sales No Longer Affect When I Buy Games

Since Steam sales have become such a hit we’ve seen a bit of push back against the idea of them, culminating somewhat with a developer swearing off them and writing a blog about why they’re bad for the business of games. I understand the theoretical danger of increasingly lower sales but I’m not so sure it really plays out. That might depend on how I’ve recently decided to buy games though.

First I’ll admit I didn’t read the entirety of The Castle Doctrine developer Jason Rohrer’s blog against Steam sales on Gamasutra. This here is really more of an argument about Steam sales in general, not a response to that blog. I understand Rohrer and others in the past (like EA and GoodOldGames) think Steam sales affect people’s perception of the value of games. I understand concerns it might delay peoples’ decision to purchase games. In my opinion though that behavior starts to fade as soon as the consumer takes a step back to look at how they’re actually buying and playing games.

I used to grab up games on Steam sales all the time and as a result have over a hundred that I’ve never even installed. For the most part though I’ve reigned in that behavior by taking a relatively simple approach to buying games.

Basically, in most cases today, regardless of price, I don’t buy a game until I’m actually ready play it — until I have both the time and desire to play it.

Steam sales prey on people’s short-term thinking. If a game is 75 percent-off for a limited time you don’t want to miss out on that price. This mentality has gotten me and probably other people to buy games on Steam they’d never even thought about before. A few years ago I bought the entire Star Wars Jedi Knight series (five games) for probably less than $10 during a Steam holiday sale despite having minimal previous interest in the series. To this day I haven’t installed a single one of them. As soon as you start to think long-term though that desire starts to make less and less sense.

For starters, a few major Steam sales will eventually teach you games can always go on sale for lower prices. A few years back (I don’t even remember when I bought most of my Steam games anymore) I bought Just Cause 2 for $7.50. It’s been on sale several times since for lower prices and I haven’t played the game yet.

Now when I see a game on sale I’m interested in I ask myself two questions: 1) When am I going to play this game? 2) Will there be another sale between now and whenever I’m able to play this game? As of recent, time and other games are the only things that have stopped me from buying games on day one at full price.

If I wasn’t busy with other games I probably would have bought Luftrausers or Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition on day one at full price. Even since being exposed to Steam sales I’ve still bought games at full price if I didn’t want to wait to play them: Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored, Left 4 Dead, etc. On the assumption that people who pay higher prices earlier get screwed, prices drop on practically all products. I paid full price for Fallout New Vegas on week one and didn’t feel bad at all when it went on sale for $2.50 last year because by then I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth out of the game.

If I’m really hyped for a game I’ll still buy it on day one and make the time to play it on day one (or at least week one), which is what I plan to do when Dark Souls 2 comes out on PC. I guess the issue there is that right now, I can’t think of another game coming out in 2014 for which I’m hyped enough to pay $50 or $60 on day one. Perhaps Super Smash Bros. The Witcher 3 was my main one for this year before it got delayed.

The only time I’ll buy a game on sale and shelve it these days is if it goes below $2.50. That’s the point where to me the price has become absolutely trivial, as would be any money “lost” from lower sales that occur before I play the game. If a game goes that low before I have time to buy and play it then I guess it’s a victim of either the lack of time on my hands, my backlog, or both.

Maybe I’m able to behave like this with long-term consumer thinking because short-term thinking on my part has already amassed a sizable back catalog of games to install and play. I could probably just play nothing but my backlog and not buy any new games for the next three or four years. But I’m still buying games under the aforementioned circumstances so it’s not like developers have lost me as a consumer.


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