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Member Since 27 Jan 2010
Offline Last Active Today, 12:34 PM

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In Topic: Game Prices on Steam: should there be regulation/guidelines?

24 May 2016 - 07:07 PM

Since we mostly agree I don't want to spiral down into nitpicking. I'm definitely not saying that the Steam market is perfect (or even necessarily that good), or that there aren't real problems with race-to-the-bottom price competition, or anything to minimize the issues we're talking about. I'm really just saying three things, which you may or may not agree with to varying degrees:


1. Price controls are hard to get right, and getting them wrong doesn't necessarily result in a better situation than what you were trying to fix in the first place

2. The problems we are talking about are real, but likely have other solutions than price controls

3. Given (1) and (2) a price floor seems, to me, unlikely to be the best choice

In Topic: Game Prices on Steam: should there be regulation/guidelines?

23 May 2016 - 05:05 PM





1) Nothing prevents the dev. Yes, that is how I understand it. And I am not sure IF the dev should be prevented from doing that.


I just question if the fact that there are games with a certain quality standart, garnering pretty good reviews, and not extremly short, available for 2$ on steam is actually benefitting anyone. IF somebody should force the dev to rethink his pricing decision IDK... I am not for too much regulation. I just fear that IF that new price floor for GOOD games starts to catch on with the "more ruthless" customers (the ones who are just looking for the best deal), and following that the "less self confident" developers (the ones with an imposter syndrome, or just not able to defend themselves agains the "ruthless" customers), a downward spiral might result that might affect AT LEAST the Indie devs at the lower end of the foodchain.

It's definitely possible that some devs might make poor decisions in response to the pricing patterns that are common now.




2) If I understand you correctly you are not looking at the price as a piece of "Information"... instead, you use it as a "quality threshold", so you will need less information about the quality of a 2$ game to buy it, than you would need if you had to lay out 80$?


Now, when we reach the price of a coffe (here in switzerland  :)), I am not so sure anymore if lowering the price further (apart from sales, were its a different effect than just the low price making people buy) has any positive effect on sales.

Given we are talking about a country where 5$ are still almost nothing (like a single meal, or a cheap shirt, or a single bus ride), why would you buy a game at 2$ if you are not ready to invest 5$ into the same game? Is it because you could buy 2.5 games at the same price, in the hope one of them is good enough to entertain you for some minutes?

Personally I feel like there is some price floor, goind under which is no longer making sense for anyone.


For the first section, that is correct (though I would still say that the price is conveying information, just that the information it conveys is imprecise and indirect with respect to game quality). I do infer things about a game based on its price. For example, a $1 game is, to me, a game that almost certainly doesn't offer an experience that I like-- it's the cost of a mobile game I would maybe play instead of standing in line for something, doing nothing at all. On Steam, it's an almost guaranteed non-buy for me.


For the second part, I would believe that there is a price level for a video game where I become indifferent (so I don't think differently of a $2 and a $4, for example). Like you said, below that point we aren't talking about substituting one game for another so much as (potentially) buying more or fewer games.




3) Most of it is already discussed, but as of the last few sentences and taking a developer centric point of view:

I don't think my point of view is extremly developer centric. Its a pragmatic view given I am mostly talking about developers at the lower end of the food chain. We are NOT talking about prices that will make customers go broke in most countries of the world, or taking away their freedom to choose.

I don't think that it's a question of extremes (though that is almost certainly the case for some, especially on the developer side). It's not that customers will go broke buying games with a price floor in place. It's that inefficiencies in information about game quality currently favor consumers (through any rock-bottom price trends) at the expense of developers. Using a price floor reverses that and favors developers (at least somewhat) over consumers. If a game is worth $10 (assume for argument's sake that there is some reliable way of getting that measure) and is priced at $5, then my buying it is a good value for me and a poor deal for the developer. But the developer could have set a higher price. If the game is priced at $10, then everyone is happy. If the game is priced at $20 the developer will get more money from a sale but I will feel that I got a poor value for my money. If all games are priced at a minimum of $20 (or whatever price level you want to set) then I will view every game priced at the lower end of the allowed scale with suspicion and I will make fewer purchases. It's not necessarily the case that the lost revenue from fewer sales will overshadow the increased revenue from higher prices, but there are almost certainly a lot of configurations of minimum price level and consumer price sensitivity that result in net revenue loss for the developers you want to help.



4) Your last sentence pretty much sums up the point I want to make. Although I am NOT so opposed to leveling prices between good and bad games at release (after all, you don't know how BAD a game is unless you release it to the wild)... in the end, price after release is still flexible, thanks to sales and discounts.
I think we agree, at least broadly. But again, the result of more expensive games, on average, will mean I buy fewer games. If games are priced levelly at launch but the prices can adjust afterwards, then that just guarantees that I will pretty much never buy a title at launch but will wait until I see if the price will adjust or not.
Again, we see the same problems in the Steam pricing trend. I just don't think that a minimum price is the right solution because it 1.) doesn't necessarily solve the problem at issue, 2.) causes other problems which I'm not sure are less severe, and 3.) is probably not the best available solution.

In Topic: Game Prices on Steam: should there be regulation/guidelines?

19 May 2016 - 04:01 PM

@Gian-Reto: Thank you for your replies. I think that our positions are closer together than it might appear at first glance.


[1)] [...] That is exactly WHY it is so important to release the game at a level price in the first place. [...]

Sure, it's great to have some place to go with price reductions as demand for a game shifts whether that's due to poor quality, time passing after release, or whatever. But nothing prevents devs from releasing games at a higher price than $2-$5, unless Valve's negotiating strategy is way worse than I'm imagining.


[2)] I would wager that even 10 screenshots and 3 minutes of video hold a ton more information value than an abstract price put to the game by the dev. The price just shows how much the dev trusts the game... sure, that has some value.

I would rather hear from unbiased players how they rate the game. So as long as you are not the early adopter (and lets be honest, you get screwed >50% of the time by being the early adopter), screenshots, video and most of all the ratings and reviews of other players is where the information value lies, not the price.

I didn't mean to imply that screenshots and videos aren't sources of information about a game. What I was trying to express is that they aren't great sources of information about it with regard to quality or fun. If there are 10, 20, or 30 screenshots you can bet that those are the most appealing 10, 20, or 30 screenshots the devs could find-- they are meant to cast the game in the best possible light, not necessarily to accurately convey the game (though they may do that also). A game that I find obviously unappealing based on screenshots is an easy case, but one that looks OK could be anything from an incredible find to a total dud. Reviews are a much, much better source of information.


[3)]Price is a factor... for me, and most probably for everyone else too. But not in the way you describe it. I don't look at the price and say "hey, this costs 2$, must be crap"...

That's not what I'm describing; of course price isn't the ultimate indicator of game quality. What I'm trying to describe is that if, based on other available information, I can't tell the difference between a game I'll thinks is worth $50 and one that is worth $2 I will be more likely to buy at a lower price than a higher one. It's easier for a game to be worth (to a buyer) at least $15 than it is to be worth at least $80. It's a marginal decision. The price won't ever perfectly match everyone's willingness to pay with a nominal price approach, and with across-the-board low prices the mismatch will benefit buyers and hurt sellers. I'm not sure that the reverse situation, where a mismatch between price and my willingness to pay benefits sellers and hurts me, is necessarily better for everyone. You are focusing on developers producing fewer games because they can't afford to do so while I am focusing more on buyers purchasing fewer games because it's a worse value for them (and at some point, less affordable). Explicitly favoring the developers' side may or may not be better for the market as a whole, but I'm not ready to conclude that right now. Especially when developers have a lot of scope to set the price.


[4)]There is savage competition because too many game devs want to sell too many products to too few customers. This tends to put the less successfull ones into a more desperate situation, and at the end makes many believe that slashing prices might help them compete.

I don't disagree, but raising prices arbitrarily doesn't (necessarily) increase sales or enlarge the pool of customers and instead applies pressure in the other direction. I also agree that giving developers more tools to demonstrate the quality of their games to buyers, and especially improving the community reviews, would be way more valuable than allowing prices to approach $0. But I don't agree that destroying whatever limited information price can convey while also raising the average price of games will automatically improve the market.


Instead of making the crappiest games on Steam cost the same as a decent game I would rather invest effort in persuading developers to set prices at a level closer to the revenue-maximizing price, not to chase increasingly meaningless unit sales in a race to the bottom.

In Topic: Game Prices on Steam: should there be regulation/guidelines?

18 May 2016 - 05:25 PM

I see where you are coming from, but:


Do you really believe a dev sets his price based on the quality of his game? Ask two devs who developed more or less the same game... one will tell you "my game is awesome, worth 10$!"... the other will tell you "I know my game sucks, I still hope I make some sales, well, 2$ is the most I can ask for it"...


Then there is the cost to produce the game. I still remember the mech game where the dev claimed 20$ where in order because they spent years developing the engine alone.

A similar game might have cut costs where it didn't matter (like going with an existing engine), and would price the same game at 10$... because instead of 5 years, they only spent 2 making it.


I do think that prices are based on game quality, in part and indirectly. Developers set prices based on what they think will maximize revenue (or achieve some other goal, like building a good reputation for a studio), and it's not unreasonable to think that a "good" game will be popular, generate hype, and persuade people to buy it at a higher price rather than a lower one. We've all seen "bad" AAA games released at the normal price point and then quickly and steeply discounted soon after launch.


Price is no information of value to the customer. At least not as long as they guy selling the product also sets the price. This is why player feedback is so important, gameplay vids or screenshots also.

How many times did I click on an awesome thumbnail just to find out the ingame graphics sucked? Clearly most of the art budget was spent on that thumbnail. Similar with the price, you need to dig deeper than that to find out if a game is really as good as the dev claims it to be.

I agree that player feedback, screenshots, and gameplay vids are far more important than price in my buying decisions. But 10 pictures and 3 minutes of video, while better than nothing, aren't too informative either. What I'm trying to say is that game buyers are in a situation where we are lacking information about the quality of a game before playing it, and its hard for a particular game to demonstrate its quality before purchase. If the buyer is skeptical that it's worth $X, and the game can't improve on that perception before the sale happens, then the price has to drop.


Look, I might be a little bit different in that I really don't care about the price as long as it is fair. Some dev wanting 25% more from me than people from neighbouring countries? ... or I just don't buy it at all. Someone trying to sell me their game for 120$, or locks parts of the game as DLC? No sale, until the game is put in a sale.

I bolded sections where I think we're saying the same thing. When deciding whether or not to buy, price is a factor (though not necessarily a decisive one). My point being that a game can definitely be priced too high for its perceived quality. In the $120 case for you, from your quote, it's a question of whether or not any game could be worth that and your answer is no. If all games were priced at $120, how many would you buy? I would buy, maybe, one per year at that price because I've played few games that I feel gave me $120s' worth of enjoyment.


Point is, I don't believe money plays nearly as much of a role in buying decisions for most gamers than you might think. They might not pay AAA game prices for a small Indie expierience... but the game price differing by the amount of a small chocolat (here in switzerland) or a burger (in the US.... prices for food around here are insane) will most probably not sway a players opinion on what game to put in the cart during a sale, given the more expensive game looks more interesting to him.

If that's true then why is there such savage competition driving prices down, and why would a price floor help things? Whether you think that price is a meaningful factor in game-buying decisions or not, I still think that the solution will involve conveying more information about the game to buyers, not just making games arbitrarily more expensive.

In Topic: Game Prices on Steam: should there be regulation/guidelines?

17 May 2016 - 04:30 PM

How much does price influence your purchasing decisions when it comes to video games? I have two tracks that usually come in to play for me: I'm either looking for a specific game, or I'm looking to see if something catches my eye. In the former case a high price might persuade me not to buy it right now, and a sale or a low base price is a bonus. In the latter case I may or may not buy a given game but if I'm on the fence I'm more likely to click "buy" if the price is low. It's not necessarily a choice the dev has between a higher price or a lower price, it's a choice between making 1 sale or 0 sales.


With the really cheap games, in the $2 to $15 range for base prices, it's an information problem. Steam is flooded with games and unless it's one that has a lot of press I have no idea at all what I'll get out of any of them. If a dev (or publisher or whomever) wants me to buy a specific game they can persuade me that it's worth my money. It's hard for a game to differentiate itself well through the Steam platform alone, and that leaves price as the only thing to entice me. If there were a mandatory minimum price for games the main result, for me, would be that I would buy fewer of them.


Rather than an information-destroying policy like price floors I would rather see an approach that gives me more information about whether or not a game might be worth my buying it. Steam has tried a bit of this with their customer reviews, customized recommendations, curated game lists, and return policy. Maybe those aren't enough to avoid some Pyrrhic price competition but there will always be some games that flat-out aren't worth $X. Making it even harder to identify such a game could very easily reduce sales enough to offset the extra revenue from a higher price, leaving indie devs even worse off.