Originally posted on February 10th, 2016
Most regular PC gamers booted up Steam late last week and were surprised to find the first Lunar New Year platform-wide sale. This new sale arrives one month and a day after the Winter Sale, the last platform-wide sale, ended. As a gamer, I was pretty excited. As a marketer and indie publisher, I was not.
Gamer. Another platform-wide sale meant another potential opportunity for me to snag a game I’ve been eyeing on the cheap. Despite my best efforts to not buy anything just because it’s on sale — a couple years ago I attempted to stick to a personal policy of making purchasing decisions based not on price and sales, but rather on my bandwidth and where a game sat in priority in my backlog — I ended up buying two games. I really wish I could stick to that personal policy but the allure of a quality game on the cheap is just too much for me, and obviously for many other gamers too. So while it may be against my “sometimes adhered to purchasing policy,” I will get to playing those games at some point and as a gamer, am happy to get something at discount that I would have purchased at full price.
Marketer. But while I will purchase games at full price, many won’t, and the more platform-wide sales Valve throws the more average user on Steam will become conditioned to wait for a sale. When looking to price an indie game, there are quite a few routes you can take. I like this breakdown for the most part. As more Steam users wait for sales, any pricing strategy where frequent discounting isn’t in the mix becomes seriously non-advisable. That’s why as a marketer and publisher, I am not digging another platform-wide sale. It simply means less flexibility on price. This certainly won’t be true for all g ames but for the indie games who have to be firing on all cylinders to fight off obscurity, one of the vital P's has become even more restricted.
If you’re not a fan, you shouldn’t really blame Valve here. This could just be one additional sale or this could be start of a many more. I’d assume the company is continuing to experiment in finding the optimal amount of platform-wide sales to have a year. That could end up being three, could be six, or it could be nine. And that optimal amount could change from year to year as time goes on, user behavior changes, and the amount of users on Steam continues to grow. Valve knows what they’re doing and will floor it or pump the brakes based on the data it receives. For most of the big games out there — the major drivers of revenue on the platform — whatever is best for Steam as a whole will likely be best for them. But Valve is working for the little guys too. For the last two sales it has been gamifying (awful term) discovery on Steam that has resulted in meaningful traffic that lead to sales.
Indies I personally know can definitely vouch for increased traffic during these times but can’t say too much about increase sales. Though there are others that are certainly seeing positive sales bumps, which is great. It’s likely that in order to position your game to take advantage of the increased traffic during these times your game needs to be offered at a hefty discount. So another reason to “price high, sale often.” It’ll be interesting to see what ends up being effective if we do in fact see consistently more platform-wide sales. While I’d still certainly prefer full flexibility on price, Steam is the platform in which we play. Act accordingly.
If you dug this, please feel free to follow me on Twitter. You can also sign up to our newsletter where we send an email every six months or so about marketing indie games, platforms, and other gaming thoughts.