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Are Heavy Discounts Bad for Gamers?

Good Old Games’ Managing director Guillaume Rambourg and marketing exec Trevor Longino think so. It’s an opinion that you don’t hear too often — that big sales on providers such as Steam are…not a good thing. Here’s the reasoning, according to Rambourg and Longino when speaking to RPS.

“Selling games at too high a discount – one often sees discounts above 80 per cent off here and there – sends a message to gamers: this game, simply put, isn’t worth very much. Of course you make thousands and thousands of sales of a game when it’s that cheap, but you’re damaging the long-term value of your brand because people will just wait for the next insane sale. Slashing the price of your game is easy. Improving the content of your offer when you release your game, that’s more ambitious.”

“Heavy discounts are bad for gamers, too. If a gamer buys a game he or she doesn’t want just because it’s on sale, they’re being trained to make bad purchases, and they’re also learning that games aren’t valuable. We all know gamers who spend more every month on games than they want to, just because there were too many games that were discounted too deeply. That’s not good for anyone.”

Curious. When you see a game that has its price drastically slashed does that tell you, “This game must suck” or “Hey I need to jump on that. What a bargain!”

This is only a snip from a very lengthy interview that is well worth a read. A lot of good stuff here from DRM, Kickstarter and the future of GoG.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

42 thoughts on “Are Heavy Discounts Bad for Gamers?

  1. Bad for gamers? No.

    Bad for game developers and publishers in the long run? Probably.

    I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for a game on Steam.

    1. Here’s the thing though, digital downloads have inherently less value. Why would you pay full price for digital vs physical game copies?

      SO from that end I see 3 options

      1) force full price sales, and forego large market segments
      2) add value, like the extras GOG uses
      3) offer sales, a la the Steam model

      Let’s take a game I’m interested in, but haven’t bought yet (too much backlog) Mass Effect 3. With the current Origin price at $60 they can bugger right off. That isn’t going to happen (ignoring the fact they are at $60 not the standard $50) so option 1 results in a no sale from me.

      With option 2 it’s a maybe at $60. There would have to be some good incentive (like offering the Javik DLC included) not just some paltry wallpapers or something. So done right (and there are limited number of right ways) I could pay full price for digital at number 2.

      Option 3 is one almost guaranteed to get a sale from me though. Drop that price to $35-$40 and I’m pulling out my wallet right now.

      Now that only applies to full price AAA games, not your $20 indies, or $30 Paradox type AA games. But that’s another story.

  2. When I buy games on a discount, it is usually for games that I wouldn’t pay full price for anyway. Not because I think they are bad. Usually because they are a gameplay / genre type that I don’t play very often (or am just plain not good at). Or perhaps they were games that I was on the fence about. That I was intrigued by, but not quite enough to drop the 50 or 60 dollars for.

    For example, while I like the idea of RTS games…. I am terrible at them. Absolutely horrible. I would never have bought the Warhammer 40k RTS games unless they had been steeply discounted. But they were, so I gave them a shot, and I am glad I did. But the main thing I want to stress here is that I would never have even considered buying those games at full price.

    An example of a game that I was on the fence about that a steep discount made me decide to purchase: Metro 2033. And because I ended up playing that, I am much more likely to drop full price on the sequel.

    The only time a steep discount would make me question the quality of a game is if it is sitting there at 75% off four to six months after it was released… but a game that is a year+ old and on sale? I don’t think “whoa.. that game must be bad” I think “Hmmm… maybe it’s time I finally give this game a shot”

    1. +1, this is pretty much exactly my experience. There are a lot of games on my Steam list that I would not pay full price for, for whatever reason, but I’ve paid out a fraction of their retail value because I think they’re worth a shot, and I’ve rarely been disappointed.

      I do agree that conditioning gamers for seasonal sales is an issue, but keep in mind that I’m Australian and we get SCREWED on game pricing. Go look for yourself on We get fucking SCREWED for no good reason. There have been many times where my decision to not buy a game at release or at it’s full cost has hinged simply on the fact that the same game can be bought for half the cost elsewhere (geographically and occasionally store-wise) and there is no way I’m going to encourage that kind of daylight robbery/asshattery by adding another purchase to the already too-long list of idiots that keep that practice alive.

      So yeah, sometimes I wait for seasonal sales to buy my games, not because they are going cheap, but because a lot of the time it’s the only way I get a fair fucking price.

      Wow that went off topic a bit but I’m posting it anyway because it feels good to get it off my chest.

      1. Another reason to like GoG aside from the lack of DRM. They price their games the same worldwide. :)

        1. that is not strictly true but after being forced to up their price on the witcher 2 they (wink) decided that using ip to find location (nudge nudge) was not necessary for their store.

  3. I’m inclined to agree based on my experiences. I’ve impulse-purchased several games from Steam sales that simply sit in my library, gathering digital dust.

    The biggest cause has to be the heavily discounted collections. Gamers see the one or two games they want for a bargain and disregard the rest. I do believe that that devalues those games.

    1. I would just like to add that consumers are now being conditioned to wait for the huge seasonal sales rather than picking up games at full price. Sure, there will always be day 1 purchasers, but as the practice continues more and more people will simply wait until the price drops 20%-30%.

      1. Perhaps that would be remedied simply by not pricing everything at $50-60 to start. Not every game is worth that.

  4. Ridiculous.

    Sales encourage growth and broaden gamers to try stuff they otherwise wouldn’t.

    I would not have Vessel or SPAZ if sales did not exist.

    I only pay full price if I want to show my full support for something obscure or I really cannot wait.

    Otherwise games cost to damn much as it is.

  5. Doesn’t every market pretty much work like this? If you buy a 2011 car in 2012, it’s discounted. You can wait a few months to see a movie in a dollar theater. Newly released books are always more expensive then books that have been out for months. Last years fashions can be picked up at pennies on the dollar.

    If there’s been any “conditioning”, we’ve been conditioned by decades of sales in multiple different markets: if you wait to buy, you get it cheaper.

    What makes the games market special in this regard?

    1. The thing that keeps getting lost in this discussion is that he didn’t say that all sales and discounts are bad. As I recall, he mentions specifically 80% off sales, so he’s really talking about the deep discounts, probably from about 70% and up.

      You’re not likely to ever get 80% a new car.

      1. That’s true; although it does work that way for clothing and movies (at least, if the Burlington Coat Factory commercials are to be believed).

        I’ve always been curious how Steam is actually able to give such deep discounts. Aren’t they ultimately beholden to the publishers of those games? If I published a game for sale on Steam, would I be able to tell them “No” if they wanted to sell it at 80% off?

  6. And this comes just a week after i bought Bioshock 1 and 2 for a total of 7 dollars, same happened to me with Portal 2 and L4D2 … i bought them with a huge discount, and no because i think the game isn’t worth my money, but right now i cannot spend that much in games so an offer like that, which also makes not look for a piracy game, is more than welcome.

    I would buy a game as soon as it comes out if i’m pretty sure the game will be really good, but that would be like 1 per year right now.

  7. It just shows me once again that people who know about games almost never know anything about economics. The purpose of sporadic sales like this is discriminatory pricing. The marginal cost to the company of ‘producing’ one more copy of the game to sell is zero, so they’d be happy to sell it at any price above zero, but they don’t want to do this if they can make the people willing to pay more do so. So, when you buy a game, you aren’t really paying for the game, but for the privilege of getting the game at that time rather than waiting to play it until a sale comes around. The people who have high time preference are going to buy the game when it first comes out, so sales aren’t going to affect their behaviors anyway. The people who have low time preference aren’t going to buy the game until its on sale, so not having sale just means that they won’t buy it at all. Having sales just means that more gamers will eventually buy it, which means more money for the developers and distributors and more games for the gamers. It’s a win-win-win situation.

  8. I get that they have an issue with price levels being pushed down and that it gives them less flexibility in their pricing strategies. However, I think it is a little hypocritical of them to talk about games being devalued like that, when this industry has made physical copies generic and cheap(we used to get thick boxes and manuals and other goodies). Then, we’ve been told that we don’t really have any rights to what we buy. It’s just a licence after all.
    Further, this industry has reduced the amount of free content we are seeing, been resistant to pleas for quality (bad ports on PC, for instance), and so on. To be fair, this isn’t a universal problem. There are nice and good developers here and there.

  9. Deep discounting may seem good for a number reasons- we all like to get games on the cheap and low prices encourage you to buy things you may not normally put your bucks on the counter for- but the reality is that there’s some very negative effects that it has on consumer behavior and the overall health of the industry. This applies to the tabletop/board game market as well, where the concept of paying full retail price for a board game is practically extinct with online sellers going as low as 35% off retail across the board.

    One of the key problems is that it trains consumers to wait for these kinds of sales. It’s a simple retail concept. If your customer sees your clearance rack and detects a pattern of what, when, or why they’re going there, they’ll wait. You effectively dissuade a full-price purchase. This is great for the consumer, but bad for business. And bad for business doesn’t pan out in the long run when the clearance rack is in the dumpster out back because the store is out of business.

    The argument that “I wouldn’t have bought this game otherwise” doesn’t make a difference in terms of justifying deep discount sales…the health of the industry isn’t exactly helped by someone making an impulse purchase of a $5 game that used to be $60 that they never really wanted in the first place.

    Traditionally, deep discounts and clearances were used to liquidate stagnant inventory and put that capital back into saleable inventory. Now it’s rock-bottom standard pricing for a lot of things. It’s not even loss leader material.

    I’d be willing to bet that disappointing sales of many AAA console titles are tied directly to trained consumers that know to wait for the price drops, sales, and clearances. A shitty preorder bonus of an extra costume or a gun, or a 60% savings off of retail…which do you prefer? And if the game isn’t worth full retail, who cares about the online pass anyway, particularly if the multiplayer is going to be a ghost town within a month of release?

    Another issue is that it changes perception of value and it skews the viability of consumer products. You’ve got people now that believe a game is only worth a dollar in a Steam sale. Again, that’s great for the consumer but not great for the parties involved in creating, developing, marketing, and producing that game.

    It points to bigger problems in the industry as well. If people aren’t willing to pay $60 for a game…why the hell is it getting made? Is the $60 price point wrong in the first place? Why aren’t your customers willing to pay full price for your product? Why are they waiting for the massive Steam sales?

    It’s a race to the bottom, and what winds up happening is that this sense of thriftiness and frugality becomes the dominant consumer attitude…and people load up on junk games just because they’re cheap. I’ve seen this happen SO much in board games…board gamers will buy ANYTHING that’s on clearance or on sale. Doesn’t matter if they don’t need or want it.

    What makes this different (in regard to a poster’s comment above) is that depreciation of games is SO sharp. If you take the shrinkwrap off a launch day game, it’s value is practically halved. And over time, games literally become worthless- I bought Age of Empires III a couple of years ago for _ten cents_.

    In the board game market, the deep discounting has very literally killed off the brick and mortar stores. I saw a figure in Comics and Games Retailer back in 2007 that was chilling- in 2006 alone, over half of the existing hobby games retailers in the United States shut down. But the online retailers with their deep discounts continue to thrive- they don’t have the same kinds of overhead costs and can do larger volume than a local store. B&M stores can’t survive making $5 profit on a $50 purchase.

    But the consumer wins because they saved money. Right?

    1. As a PC gamer, and a bit of an iOS gamer, all I have is the entertainment value of the game. Depreciation is 100% upon purchase. Games have simply become intangible goods and so putting real world value on it becomes kind of hard thing to do. Just as hard as putting a value on losses due to piracy.
      This price and value thing is just not that big of a deal. The industry isn’t failing from what I can gather. Titles not selling well and studios closing down has always been part of the industry.

    2. To be fair that AoE3 sale wasn’t permanent, or a reflection of market value. It was what retail calls ‘spiffs’, sales you take a loss on to get people in the door. GFWL, which offered that sale, was universally reviled, and having a store does no good if people refuse to use it. So they took a first party title with enough value people would be interested, but not enough to be worth a lot of sales, and basically gave it away so they would get many people to install GFWL in the hope they would use it.

      It’s effect is debatable, but that’s why.

      1. Right, it was effectively a loss leader. But at the point I bought it, its retail value wasn’t even really ten cents. My point is the depreciation more than the value of the game or the purpose of the sake.

    3. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for brick and mortar being out-done by online retailers with more overhead. The only way you can stop that form happening is by punishing online retailers because they found a more efficient way to do business.

      The brick and mortar stores have other things to offer, though, that an online retailer doesn’t. Obviously, community, game nights, stuff like that.

      Also, as someone who is just getting into board games in the last year or so, I think the prices are confusing to someone who is not already involved. Like, when I look at a game that is $100 I have to think about how often I am going to be able to play it. If I buy it, will my friends like it also? Will I be able to convince them to do so regularly? That is a bit different of a computation than whether I buy Mass Effect. That, I just have to think about myself. That said, I recently got the Game of Thrones boardgame and have played it nearly a dozen times in a month and have really gotten my worth out of it!

      1. As a complete and total side note, how is the Game of Thrones board game? I’m interested in it theoretically, but internet experts can’t stop talking about the unstable play length and the clear unbalances with Greyjoy & Baratheon.

        1. Well. I really like it. I can’t recommend it for less than 4 players and it gets dramatically better with 5 and 6. As for balance, I thought it was pretty bad the first time we played (with only 3 players), but I think I’ve seen every player win the game at this point.

          As for length, that’s true. I’ve played one game that ended on the second turn, out of maybe 10 games. The rest of the games go between 3 and 5 hours and have involved teaching someone the rules every time, and then playing with people who just learned the rules. I think, if you had players that knew the rules you could do a full game in 2.5-3.5 pretty standard.

          I really like the game though – it catches the flavor of GoT. Every player feels like he is about to lose on every turn, even when they are about to win. There’s an entertaining amount of dealing and backstabbing available. If you can overlook some, probably legit, balance problems and have the time to play, I recommend it! Also, I think it’s only $60.

          1. There’s an example right there – I bought GoT for $60, even though I wanted MageKnight and Eclipse more and knew they were “rated higher.” And I did it simply because of the price point. Is the price point on boardgames tied to, what, the amount of plastic in the box? Or are those games more because they are not American?

      2. That’s absolutely true- B&M offers a different set of benefits. However, having owned a hobby game store, I can tell you that what happens is that Tommy Boardgame shows up on Wednesday night to participate in a community event with the five games he bought from one of the online retailers. Then he buys $5 of chips and drinks to say he’s “supporting the store”. Maybe once or twice a year he’ll buy something more substantial.

        The thing about game stores too- and this is something that is getting lost- is that they give you somewhere to play and people to play with. 35% off an free shipping over $100 doesn’t do that.

        I tried to compete with online pricing and I did make up some of the profit loss on volume, but there’s just no way to do it unless you’re doing A TON of volume. Board games that used to be sold at wholesale for $25 and sold for $50, giving the retailer $25 profit, are still sold at wholesale for $25 and sold for $30-$35, reducing margin by as much as 75%. This is a losing proposition.

        With PC games, it’s different because of the digital distribution and other factors, but the point is still the same- a market that is filled with products considered unsaleable without deep discounts and with customers trained to refuse retail prices is not healthy.

        1. Sorry to hear about it!

          Do you think there are any solutions?

          I wonder if things will improve in the future. I used to play a lot of warhammer and I know the store loved to see my friends and I roll in because we were going to spend a bunch of money – but that happened maybe once a year. It has always seemed to me that boardgames, wargames, and to a larger extent, videogames, are a passtime of the younger-ish generations. Or, people with less disposable income. Do you think as the new generations get jobs (hopefully!) and stable careers, people will have more money available for this stuff and will spend it? Or is it inevitable that with those careers they lose the time to enjoy hobbies?

          1. Ha! Well, that is sort of the death march of hobbies, isn’t it? Post college careers, families, money that used to be spent to buy games shunted elsewhere…let alone the time commitment.

            As far as tabletop goes, there is no solution because it’s too far gone at this point and it’s such a small market anyway.

    4. Isn’t this shift the consequence of publishers refusing to alter their basic business model? Game prices have trended steadily upward for the past couple decades while the audience has aged and become more risk-adverse. At least on PC, there is not the market for sixty-dollar games that publishers continue to imagine. Instead, we have digital distribution undermining that model with constant sales and aggressive pricing, just like the used game market is doing with console games. If anything, the onus is on publishers to adapt, not consumers.

      But then again, when has the game industry ever understood market forces? It’s like they don’t understand that their product is fungible with almost any other.

  10. Isn’t it the responsibility of the creator of the product (be it a board game, video game, whatever) to justify a full-price, don’t wait around for the sale purchase? Don’t blame the consumer for training themselves to beat the system, when the system isn’t doing the right job in the first place.

    1. Yes, this is exactly the case- and it also stands to reason that if a product is deemed not worth its retail price…then something is either wrong with th product, the pricing model, or both.

      It is the system that’s not doing the right job. ANd I do agree with you, if that’s the case then the consumer has plenty of justification to exploit it.

      But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t repercussions, precedents, and unhealthy trends going on in the business end of games.

  11. I wonder if this is just an example of games being overpriced. I don’t know if I buy things because they are on sale – I guess that is possible. Isn’t it just as possible, though, that I buy things because they cost less than $60? That if the “full price” was $45 or $50 I would just buy a lot more stuff?

    I don’t exactly remember the jump from $50 to $60 on price points, but it seems to me that there is just something about that higher number that leads me to caution. Make your game $50, or $45, or whatever, and I’m significantly more likely to take a flier on something that seems interesting. (I guess that is the concept behind indie games!)

  12. I can’t see how it’s a bad thing.

    Personally I pay for 90% of the games we review at OBGB so if I can get something cheaper so we can cover it that’s what i am going to do. Board games aren’t cheap even at discounts.

    As far as PC and console games go retail outlets have also trained us to wait. Take the last SSX I bought it full price and the next weekend it was $10 and less then 3 weeks later it was under $40.

    Those big blowout Steam game sales, they actually provide growth to games that are old or lesser known and wouldn’t sell. Half of my Steam collection are games I would of never heard of or tried if not for those sales.

    I love GoG but I think his stance smells of something I won’t say here.

    1. This… definitely. He seems to not be able to draw the line between espousing his own ideals/systems and belittling other ideals/systems while doing so.

    2. That’s true about the older games- publishers definitely see these kinds of sales to monetize property that would, in previous eras, have just sat collecting dust. If you can make a dollar off of 10,000 downloads of a five year old game that otherwise has no retail outlet…that’s $10,000 of profit. That isn’t anything in the coffers of an EA or Activision, but 100 games selling 10,000 copies each at 100% profit for a dollar is a million bucks.

    3. Dan, here’s one way that deep discounts are bad that I think you can relate to.

      Before deep discounting, we didn’t really have too many $75-$100 retail board games. Now that customers know they can get a $100 for 30-35% off, this enables companies like FFG to up the retail of their games. They almost have to, not only because of inflation, oil costs, the weak dollar and what not. But also to keep pace with pricing trend.

      Deep discounting is one of the reasons (of a few) that board game prices have gone up _dramatically_ over the past five years. The deep discounting is a way for publishers to effectively charge retailers more. There was a trend a couple of years ago where some of the big publishers- Days of Wonder, FFG, Games Workshop- were actually NOT selling things through distribution at wholesale. Instead, they did something called net pricing. It’s a flat rate with no percentage off for the retailer. And this price was typically much higher than normal. This was done to protect B&M stores from the discounters. The problem is that the more aggressive discounters didn’t adjust their prices accordingly- they just accepted less margin on the items.

      1. Mike –

        I understand and don’t disagree with any of it. To be honest I try to buy direct from smaller publishers and at game shops when I can. I’m not however going to pay $80 for Rex because FFG can’t spare a review copy but I will pay $40 for something like Dragon Rampage to help out FRED.

        As you’re well aware a lot of us do this just because we love the hobby and like to talk about it. But unless your going to positively youtube review every game sent to you and self promote yourself (I know you know who I mean) then you’re fucked.

        Think I ever heard from Toy Vault again after my Godzilla review? I realize i am straying into a whole different topic so to steer this back online.

        I just think GoG (who I love) was taking a shot at Steam. Frankly like I said if not for Steam sales I wouldn’t be playing games like Scary Girl or Hoard etc.

        I spend more money during the Xmas and July sale then any other time of the year and that money is going to smaller places not EA or Ubisoft so to me that is good.

  13. No, this is not bad for the industry. Like it or not, the gaming industry does not exist in a bubble, and even if it did, PC games are still competing against the likes of the apple store where games over $1 are considered expensive. Also, a lot of these sales come right before a new DLC drops. You also have the benefits of building more community for games that rely on multiplayer. Plus, guess how many people check steam daily to see what deal is currently going on, and guess what else they see at the same time, full priced new and featured games, which translates into potential sales.

  14. The first thing I do before buying a heavily discounted game is research it. Check out gameplay clips and reviews. Checkout forum threads and such.

    I never buy a game, cheap or not, without first figuring out whether it’s a game I would actually want to own.

  15. Marketing executive continues to ignore the obvious. Video games are great fun, but they won’t feed you or clothe your children.

    Joe Gamer is on a budget, and all the value added cloth maps and making of documentaries in the world are not going to put extra gaming money in his wallet. Give Joe Gamer the choice between purchasing 1 game a month for $60 or 5 games a month for the same $60, and he’s probably going to choose the latter.

    The marketing executive solution is to increase the price of games. Obviously Joe Gamer will have no choice but to spend more money every month. That’s just basic math, right?

    Meanwhile, back in reality Joe Gamer looks at his bank statement and sees he’s got the same $60 a month to spend on games. He’s not going to drain his kid’s college fund or start bouncing mortgage payments to buy more video games. He’s going to stick to his available budget and buy and play fewer games.

    Eventually Joe won’t buy or play any games at all. And much to the disappointment of the marketing executive Joe Gamer won’t die from a lack of gaming. Joe will find another hobby that he enjoys just as much and can afford.

    Dear Gaming Industry Executives,

    Your customers are not bar graphs, earning per share, sales forecast, or economic models. They’re human beings with limited time, money, and motivation to buy your bullshit.

    Price your products accordingly.

  16. An odd stance seeing as how GOG gives away games for free. I played Ultima IV and Fallout I when they were new and jumped at the chance to get them again when I saw them free.

    Are Ultima and Fallout bad franchises? Well, Ultima is now but that’s more of an EA thing.
    Am I a poorly educated shopper? I don’t think so. I got two classics for free.

    I think the real problem here is that when Steam sells games for an 80% reduction it’s hard to justify going to and paying the same price for something like Sanitarium (I played, it was good. Buy planescape torment instead.)

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