Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

We need to talk about unplayed games

You hear the comment quite often ‘I’m not buying anything till I clear my backlog’ and ‘I bought that game then realized I already owned it’ and ‘I bought the first one but didn’t play it, might pick this up…’

This is nuts. Gamers are being played, played like a fucking piano, every time you see the word SALE. This is a big psychology trick that is being used to siphon money from gamers, and it’s a bad thing, and if we can (and I think we probably can’t) we should stop it. Here is why I think using deep discounting to sell games to non-players is bad:

  • It kills off game launches. That thing where everyone plays the latest game doesn’t happen so much now. The game is ignored until the first 50% or 75% off sale. You don’t get that ‘water cooler moment’ where everyone talks about a game. That means some multiplayer games launch without the proper size of players, and the company isn’t making enough to retain support staff to patch and improve the game at launch.
  • It’s a step away from selling based on quality. When a game is in a one-day 75% off sale, how much research do you do before buying? Did you watch a lets play? the trailer? did you read any reviews? how many? Admit it, you have bought a game based on the name, a logo and a screenshot because it was under $5 haven’t you? If so, this is a problem. We are rewarding games with cool names & screenshots over actual quality.
  • We are handing power to people who run sales. If anyone can sell $50,000 in a day with any game just by being on the front page of a sale, then that makes the people who manage the sale webpage the kingmakers. Is that right? is it fair? is it an optimum maximization of everyone’s satisfaction and enjoyment? Or is it more likely making hits out of games who are well known (or liked) by the owners of the big portals?
  • We devalue games. We expect games to be $5. We don’t ‘invest’ money in them, so we give up and discard them at the first time we lose, or when we get confused or stuck. Some games are complex, tricky, hard to master, take a while to get to the point at which it all makes sense. We are increasingly likely to not bother with complex games, if we paid $5, we want something quick and disposable.
  • We don’t play beyond the first 10%. There is not a single game in my steam collection I’ve finished. Not ONE. And I almost always buy full price. There are many games I’ve played for under 30 minutes, some for under 10 minutes. They may have wonderful endings, who cares? I have another X games sat there I can experience the opening level of instead. And yet… gamers insist on 50 hours of gameplay. Cue 49 hours of back-tracking and filler, because game devs KNOW that 90%+ of buyers will never see the game ending anyway…

I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it. Discounts work. Sales work. There is some mileage in building a reputation for maintaining high prices for longer, I think I’ve built that up to some extent. D3 has never been lower than 50% since release back in October, with no immediate plans to re-do that 50% off or go lower. This is quite rare though. I got called a ‘fascist who hates gamers’ one month after release because the game was not on sale. *sigh*.

I understand that varied price points to suit different gamers is good, I understand the reasons for sales being economically efficient ways to maximize global utility. But this implies utility is derived from the product. We are no longer selling products, we are selling discounts. The endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually *playing* the game. This is bad.

Am I right? Am I wrong. TELL ME :D

67 thoughts on We need to talk about unplayed games

  1. I’ve heard tales of publishers/distributors and such that when given control of the pricing can sell the product at possibly lower price point than would be necessary. Shipping costs incentivize ordering a bunch of things at the same time, and unless there’s some urgency to buy the thing, it just makes sense to wait for sales on some of the items.

    I think the most important thing about doing discounts is doing them in a way that stays under the radar, yet allows those who would not buy otherwise to gain knowledge of their availability. You don’t want those who “bought high” to know they bought high. Infact, you should increase prices with inflation and then those will feel good their high became a low.

    Anything else just risks devaluing the product by leading to an expectation of future discounts. Low volatility accompanied with “flash crashes” on the stock market is a reflection that most of the players have wised up to how the game works. For inflation-correlated instruments, most of the time the price is near the highs. The “crash” is just a reflection that no one was willing to buy high except the computerized “market makers”, who quickly pulled their quotes (“market disappeared”), allowing the true value to be discovered.

  2. “The endorphin rush is now from getting a bargain, not the fun of actually *playing* the game. ”

    I think you may be right, for atleast those of us who have played pretty much everything in terms of computer games. After I got into Eve Online seriously for 2 years (in GF & PL), I figured nothing was going to top this experience, but it was seriously feeling like a job and very stressful one. After that I started studying playing the piano/keys and later capitalism and trading. I lost about 50% buying high and selling low. I decided I’ll become expert at doing it the other way around. It’s a pretty good rush to buy low with high leverage. Not as exciting as Eve Online but close. Playing piano (with an audience) is bit different kind of thing and way more difficult to me than anything else I’ve seriously tried. It’s feels like trying to do high frequency trading manually.

    This goes into why game mods are very important (as long as they’re easily available without installation or reading forums like in Trackmania), they tend to offer unique things as they are often created by gamers who haven’t had their need satisfied otherwise (need discovery/”tickle the right spot”), and with suitable match making system, offer challenge at the right level.

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