Saturday, December 26, 2009

We live in an era of game pricing madness.

There used to be a fairly established pattern of game pricing. New releases were sold at top prices. If you shopped around you might get a special offer or pre-order discount but otherwise you could wait about a  month and get the game for perhaps 75% of its new price.  Six months or so after release most games could be picked up for half their new price and after a year those titles migrated to the bargain shelves at a quarter of their original price or even less. This was a very reliable pattern - only a tiny number of titles had sufficient staying power to buck the trend of price decay. Age of Empires and Medal of Honour Allied Assault being two that I can remember but they were  the exceptions that proved the rule.

The last year has seen a revolution in pc game pricing spear headed by Steam and their fellow digital download distributors.  They have finally broken free from the artifical restrictions which held digital download prices higher than the high street (a restriction apparently imposed in order not to annoy traditional distributors). Their only variable cost is internet bandwidth so they can sell the game for almost any price and they do. A game that is priced at €49.99 today may well be on sale for €9.99 tomorrow but don't delay because the day after the price may return to €49.99 or why not €59.99.  While bargains are great for the consumer the total unpredictability of the current pricing situation makes for some very confusing game purchasing decisions. Should I buy this game I really want to play today or will I wait in the hope that it features in next weekends sale?  Unfortunately there is no real precedent to help you decide. The old rules are gone and a new pattern has yet to emerge. We live in an era of game pricing madness. The current Steam Christmas sale is perhaps the most obvious statement of this. A game that was on sale yesterday for a 50% discount may today feature at 75% discount. If I bought yesterday should I be pleased with my bargain or disappointed?  It all makes for confusing but interesting times for a game purchaser.

I suspect that this current unpredictability is just a reflection of what happens when any old regime falls and new rules have yet to be established. Once the initial heady excitement has passed new patterns will probably emerge. My expectation is that these new patterns will mean generally lower prices all round reflecting the underlying economics of digital distribution,. I strongly hope that Activision's €60 price tag for Modern Warfare 2 remains no more than an anomaly - a spirited last sortie by a soon to be extinct pricing model.  

2 comments:

Thallian said...

I totally agree, it bounces around so much I never know if I've gotten the best deal, but one can usually figure what's a "good" deal at least, though not ever the "best".

mbp said...

Hi Thallian. Sometimes I wonder if these sales are counterproductive. I find myself not buying some games I would like to play just in case they come on sale.