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PC Game Prices — Valve Starts the Race To Zero

Soulskill posted about 5 months ago | from the year-of-micro-transactions-on-the-desktop dept.

Businesses 212

An anonymous reader writes "Last week Valve made an interesting but seemingly innocuous announcement: they're giving game developers control of their own pricing on Steam. Nicholas Lovell now claims that this has effectively kicked off a race to zero for PC game pricing. He says what's starting to happen now will mirror what's happened to mobile gaming over the past several years. Quoting: 'Free is the dominant price point on mobile platforms. Why? Because the two main players don't care much about making money from the sale of software, or even In-App Purchases. The AppStore is less than 1% of Apple's revenue. Apple has become one of the most valuable companies in the world on the strength of making high-margin, well-designed, highly-desirable hardware. ... Google didn't create Android to sell software. It built Android to create an economic moat. ... In the case of both iOS and Android, keeping prices high for software would have been in direct opposition to the core businesses of Apple (hardware) and Google (search-related advertising). The only reason that ebooks are not yet free is that Amazon's core business is retail, not hardware. ... Which brings me to Steam. The Steambox is a competitor to consoles, created by Valve. It is supposed to provide an out-of-the-box PC gaming experience, although it struggles to compete on either price or on marketing with the consoles. It doesn't seem as if Steam is keen to subsidize the costs of the box, not to the level that Microsoft and Sony are. But what if Steam's [unique selling point] was thousands or tens of thousands of games for free?'"

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212 comments

It's not free (4, Insightful)

Scutter (18425) | about 5 months ago | (#46406671)

The "race to zero" has done nothing but create a wasteland of crappy "freemium" games. Dungeon Keeper [slashdot.org] is the culmination of developers' efforts to move the pricing model away from initial purchase and into in-app purchases. The practice has absolutely decimated gaming. I don't necessarily see Steam's move as a good thing.

Re:It's not free (4, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#46406823)

It's simply not going to happen. In casual mobile gaming, yes, because the product is essentially interchangable and there's not a lot of specialist interest, but that's a much weaker phenomenon in console gaming and practically nonexistent in the sort of games Steam users tend to play.

Re:It's not free (3, Interesting)

N1AK (864906) | about 5 months ago | (#46406891)

It's simply not going to happen. In casual mobile gaming, yes, because the product is essentially interchangable and there's not a lot of specialist interest, but that's a much weaker phenomenon in console gaming and practically nonexistent in the sort of games Steam users tend to play.

It's already happening on PC and console. There are a crazy number of freemium PC games and they are increasingly popular with younger demographics. Free games on consoles (Xbox at least) exist and even the default for games we buy is that the retail price is subsidised by an endless stream of expansions.

As a generation who got into gaming without paying for games reaches the age where they would become the typical console market they aren't going to swallow $80 price tags, even if the games charging that are providing excellent value for money.

Free games have always been the norm (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#46408171)

The question is not how many freemium games there are, it's whether their existence is impacting the market for purchased games. In ages past shareware and freeware had the lions share of the PC gaming market (at least among every gamer I knew in middle and high school, and most of my older friends as well), for the simple reason that nobody had $30 to throw away on a game that *might* be good. Consoles were the only place that purchased games dominated, for the simple reason that there were no free games available - but everyone I knew who had a console also had a huge library of free PC games.

And frankly these days the odds of a given pay-up-front game actually being good seems to have fallen dramatically. High production value != a game worth playing, to say nothing of the vast oceans of shovelware. Of course freemium games are also far more expensive and annoying than shareware ever was, but at least you get to see if the game is any good before you pay anything.

Re:It's not free (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#46408445)

Where we differ seems to be that I don't think there's a lot of overlap there; that younger demographic playing free games is, to my eyes, a new gaming audience, not a conversion of the existing audience. I get your point though.

Re:It's not free (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 5 months ago | (#46408515)

Ya know what the solution is to this "race to the bottom"?

Government price supports. Create an artificial shortage on how fast their servers can sell and distribute games by buying hundreds of copies a second and downloading them all.

"We are the world. We are the children. We can come to make a better place so let's not givin'."

Re:It's not free (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406835)

It's not a good thing for us, but the very last thing Steam, as a corporation, gives a cunting fuck about is us.

Re:It's not free (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406849)

Pick one instance of a category and declare that every member of that category is identical to that instance: Easy way to win rhetorical points, not actually a sound logical point.

Picking the worst free to play game and saying that therefore free to play can never work is bullshit of the highest order. Especially when talking in an article about FUCKING VALVE. Consider the following games:

DotA 2
Portal 1
Team Fortress 2

You know what they all have in common? They are either currently free to play, or they have had times when they were free to get and keep permanently. You know what else they have in common? Fucking incredible gameplay and production value that have made them some of the most popular and most played games for PC.

So take your fucking "Free to play games can never be good because there was this one example where it wasn't" bullshit and shove it.

Re:It's not free (5, Informative)

Jaysyn (203771) | about 5 months ago | (#46407123)

Hawken & Path of Exile are pretty damn good too.

Re:It's not free (1)

gajop (1285284) | about 5 months ago | (#46407555)

Those are indeed games with a good free2play model (you can only buy cosmetic items with no gameplay benefits), but they also aren't really the best example of how money can be made with f2p. The games you mentioned are made by Valve, and are also used as a way to popularize Steam itself. I know a couple of (hardcore) games who signed up for steam just to get Dota2, and that's a demographic you really want to attract.

Re:It's not free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407909)

TF2 was subsidized by The Orange Box buyers.

DotA2 makes most of its money taking a cut from user generated and sold content.

Portal 1 isn't free.

Re:It's not free (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 5 months ago | (#46408205)

I got portal 1 for free from valve because I was a part of its Linux beta program.

Re:It's not free (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406863)

Exactly. What we get with most free-to-play games are empty shells that require players to pay more than the price of a normal game title to be able to play without spending countless of hours grinding.

Damn how I miss games with endless of hours of content, like Jagged Alliance 2 or X-Com Apocalypse. Wasteland 2 seems like a promising title, but even that had to be crowd funded, which is really sad.

Re:It's not free (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#46408297)

I suppose it's sad in the sense that the big production houses mostly just want to stick to rehashes of last years blockbusters, but I think that's the unavoidable price to be paid for gaming going mainstream - I give you Hollywood as another example. Personally I find it rather uplifting that a bunch of enthusiastic developers can actually fund the creation of a semi-niche game with high production values. The days when a sophisticated game could be made by two guys in a garage seems to have mostly passed - producing contemporary art assets alone have completely dwarfed the cost of whole games of old.

Re:It's not free (2)

gweihir (88907) | about 5 months ago | (#46406907)

I don't think it is a problem. What I see actually happening is that the dross of the developers creates free stuff of low quality for the huge masses that do not want to pay. The good developers still charge a fair price and get revenue and/or move to alternate financing models like crowd-sourcing. I think we have one instance of capitalism actually working for a change here: Games are priced in relation to value provided.

Re:It's not free (2)

ReeceTarbert (893612) | about 5 months ago | (#46407115)

The "race to zero" has done nothing but create a wasteland of crappy "freemium" games. Dungeon Keeper [slashdot.org] is the culmination of developers' efforts to move the pricing model away from initial purchase and into in-app purchases. The practice has absolutely decimated gaming. I don't necessarily see Steam's move as a good thing.

Speaking of Dungeon Keeper and the flood of "freemium" games I'd like to see less and less of, here's a much a more sane (as in opposite) take on the subject: How In-app Purchases Have Destroyed The Industry [baekdal.com]

And now, I don't think that what's good good for Apple or Valve is going to be necessarily good for gamers and game developers.

RT.

Re:It's not free (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 5 months ago | (#46407151)

It isn't free to make these games, especially if the games are of any particular quality.
So if they are going to offer them to users for free, they will need to find an alternative method of getting compensated for their work.
They will have adds in their games, they will put product placements in their games, they will have paid add ins, they will partner with an other company to make their product a promotional item...
It isn't free gaming, it comes at a cost. And I don't care for the idea that Gaming should be free either, unlike Operating Systems, and web servers and web browsers, where they are an important part of an IT Infrastructure, games are for personal enjoyment, and they should have a cost to them.

Re:It's not free (1, Offtopic)

tpstigers (1075021) | about 5 months ago | (#46407301)

The practice has absolutely decimated gaming.

The "race to zero" has removed one tenth of games?

Re:It's not free (1)

Bert64 (520050) | about 5 months ago | (#46407557)

The problem is that hardcore gamers are a niche, these freemium games attract a much large audience and are therefore far more profitable.
Also consider multiplayer games, the more players you have the more attractive the game looks, having the game available for free will bring in a lot more players.

Re:It's not free (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 5 months ago | (#46407561)

The problem is that making AAA games where you charge 60 dollars after 2 years of development is dangerous. Great companies have died repeatedly when they've gone to market only to not have the game sell as well as they need it to sell.

Freemium and microtransaction are a different business model that has shown itself to be successful.

I don't like it either.

I prefer a preorder/kickstarter system where the games are funded not with big bank loans but fan/customer contributions/purchases prior to release.

OR

The telltale system of serialized gaming where small games are released about once a month to once every two months. Each piece having somewhere between 1 to 2 hours of content. Then you offer customers/fans the ability to purchase games on a per episode basis or a season pass. That way rather then investing 2 years of time and waiting for a big payout at the end, you can test your market every 2 months. This keeps you from over investing in a game that might not be popular. Further, though this hasn't been done yet... this has the potential to allow a developer to produce a game with the same business model as the Simpsons... You never have to stop releasing episodes if people keep buying them. So rather then make one game you could keep releasing episodes for 20 years for the same game. Up to the customer base.

Re: It's not free (1)

Bram Stolk (24781) | about 5 months ago | (#46408207)

Hrs of development does not scale linearly with hrs of play.

A game with double the content will typically take marginaly more dev time to create.

Re:It's not free (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 5 months ago | (#46408477)

AAA titles are safer bets than an equal amount of dollars in lesser productions. You know why? When you have one title, as opposed to say 10 titles, you're spending X money marketing one game rather than X/10 money marketing each of the individual games. Success of a title does not grow linearly with marketing dollars and more dollars often yields a far larger ratio of value than a small amount of dollars. Your marketing dollars are also not being spent competing against your own titles by having a single AAA over multiple titles.

Re:It's not free (1)

Jeff Flanagan (2981883) | about 5 months ago | (#46408229)

>The practice has absolutely decimated gaming

Well, that still leaves us with 9 out of 10 games. That doesn't sound so bad.

The future (2)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 5 months ago | (#46406673)

The end of innovation kills capitalism.

If technological innovation slows down, we'll have to promote marketing innovation.

The point is to make people happier with "the new", it doesn't matter how.

Re:The future (5, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | about 5 months ago | (#46406963)

Well, it seems quite a few people actually do not want "new", but good. Just look at what games get financed on Kickstarter. These people are not the majority, but it does not matter. What matters is that enough people are willing to pay (and paying a reduced fee in advance with a higher risk is entirely fine by me) to keep good game developers able to practice their craft. What has been forgotten by many with the whole "publisher" mess, is that in order for a good game to be created, providing a reasonable salary and reasonable infrastructure funding for a relatively small team for a few years is quite enough. That is why 3 Million provided by 60'000 people gets us Wasteland 2, while no publisher would touch it at these numbers. This new model cuts out the greed. Don't forget that game designers _want_ to create games. Getting rich is not on their agenda. It is very much for publishers that today add nothing of value, but huge overhead.

Capitalism can actually work if greed is kept under control and monopolies are prevented.

Re:The future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407701)

You don't know many game developers I take it? They all want the moneys :-)

Who works for $0? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406693)

Also wow; still getting redirected to the fucking beta.
Haven't you got the message yet?!

On a more related note; who's going to be writing all of these amazing games and then giving them away for free?

Re:Who works for $0? (1, Offtopic)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#46406809)

Good question. Who made Linux, again?

Re:Who works for $0? (0)

deletedaccount (835797) | about 5 months ago | (#46406843)

Is the answer Richard Stallman or IBM?

Re:Who works for $0? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406867)

Yeah, just because some guys gave you a free hammer doesn't mean some other guys are going to give you a free car.

Re:Who works for $0? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406881)

Some rich dude that's never really sacrificed his livelihood to work on the kernel.

Re:Who works for $0? (0)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#46407023)

Good question. Who made Linux, again?

Some guy who began working on Linux while being sponsored [zcache.com.au] by the solid social welfare system of Finland*. These days for Linux Foundation, through which big companies give big bucks, essentially paying him a nice salary.

*) As a side note, these days you can't even "pull a Linus" anymore (slacking in an university, coding, drinking beer). The graduation times and student benefits have much stricter limits.

Re:Who works for $0? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#46407269)

And this is why I support our social system. Yes, a lot of people use it to be lazy, but sometimes something great comes out of it.

Re:Who works for $0? (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#46407627)

I agree completely.

Re:Who works for $0? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407033)

He said "amazing games", not Tux Racer and a dozen tetris clones.

Re:Who works for $0? (1)

njnnja (2833511) | about 5 months ago | (#46407055)

Just as royalty/government/oligarchs have been patrons of the arts and "bread and circuses" throughout the ages, companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon can highly subsidize the development of games. So game development would be paid for by a lump sum "commisioning" by one of these large firms, in exchange for platform exclusivity.

Income ing Game designers (2)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 5 months ago | (#46406703)

"Hear the Salvation Army Band
Down by the riverside
It's bound to be a better ride
Than what you've got planned
Carry a cup in your hand".

- Less than Zero

Re:Income ing Game designers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407573)

Simon & Garfunkel? [youtu.be]

Uh... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#46406705)

But what if Steam's [unique selling point] was thousands or tens of thousands of games for free?

Nice as it would be, that will hardly help Bethesda make the painstakingly crafted content for the next TES installment, now will it?

Also, Apple is trying to defy the laws of nature. They're just unwilling to accept that computers have been able to do pretty much anything for decades now, and whatever the cost is will inevitably decrease to the point that the software will be more expensive (at least in terms of human labor investment, if not in monetary cost). It has already happened in the desktop area. Of course, Apple, being a HW company, will always try to make you think otherwise.

Re:Uh... (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 5 months ago | (#46406901)

Painstakingly crafted? You are talking about The Elder Bugs, right? Er I mean The Elder Scrolls.

Re:Uh... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#46406923)

The Elder Bugs

Why do you think the Ancestor Moth monks are taking care of them? ;-)

Also, wake me up when much more popular software like web browsers stops being exploitable at every competition. Then we can talk about the less-popular things with fewer developers.

problem is (1)

arbiter1 (1204146) | about 5 months ago | (#46406707)

We pay same price for digital downloads as we do physical copies. Its a lot of BS cause digital ones are cheaper since they don't need to give you a box and dvd.

Re:problem is (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 5 months ago | (#46406751)

...as long as the thing you're downloading is utter crap, of course the value of the disk and the paper packaging will be considerable in comparison.

Re:problem is (1)

sixsixtysix (1110135) | about 5 months ago | (#46407771)

Bandwidth is way, way cheaper than packaging and retail distribution (especially if they distribute via torrent. where's my distribution discount?), so the costs should be less. that, and the fact that most physical goods can be easily borrowed, resold, whatever. taking away that should also lower the cost. I do realize this is about pc software, most of which is p.i.t.a. to resell, as cd-keys are now generally tied to an account, but hey, the account can be sold; license terms be damned. I also realize that because there are still physical goods, the digital distribution system has to pick up some of that slack, but what about when it's 100% download-only?

Re:problem is (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406765)

I don't really care about that.
The digital version is more convenient for me.
No more boxes, no more swapping disks around
No more going to the store or whatever.

Re:problem is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407607)

Dude, that's not how haiku work.

Re:problem is (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406801)

The majority of the costs involved in selling a game (or most pieces of software for that matter) are not in distribution but in development. Those programmers and artists, and yes even publishers and marketers and other people involved in production all need to eat and pay their living expenses. Distribution is a trivial fraction of the costs involved so please do not expect significant gains there. Just putting that out there.

I do not like where the gaming industry seems to be headed. If prices on pc fall as low as mobile where the only way to make up the difference is to sell in large volumes in an already crowded market, then things might become much more difficult for indies. A gamer might have 50 dollars to spend on games in a month, but he will be much less likely to spend precious time on 50 crappy games costing a single dollar each. Alternatively he might blow it all on micro transactions in a few highly addictive skinner boxes. Either way, not good for quality gaming.

Re:problem is (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 months ago | (#46407353)

This is the point that a lot a lot of people seem to be missing when they talk about digital sales of music, movies, games, and books. The cost of the physical product is essentially zero. If you want proof, go down to your local dollar store, where you can buy any of these items for $1. That $1 pays for somebody to produce that book/dvd/cd (and many other items of similar complexity), ship it to the warehouse, ship it to the store, and pay for all the employees handling the product along the way. With Apple and other online stores taking 30% of the final sale, selling digital products may even get less money for the original creators of the product.

Re:problem is (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 5 months ago | (#46408173)

"That $1 pays for somebody to produce....." No it doesn't. The dollar store is selling rejects, overstocks, lost shipments and such. Almost everything in there is a loss to the maker, not a profit.

Re:problem is (1)

Bert64 (520050) | about 5 months ago | (#46407779)

Development is a fixed cost which remains the same irrespective of how many copies the game sells...

And this is largely why games and software in general are moving towards a free model. Publishers always got greedy, and would continue charging high prices long after the development costs were recovered resulting in extremely high profit margins, and this creates resentment among the customers.

Other things like DRM schemes also create resentment, there are plenty of angry customers who paid full price for a game only to be unable to play it, or have to find a cracked version. This usually causes people to go directly for the cracked version and skip the broken paid version. Where a game is distributed free there is no reason to try and discourage copying (the opposite infact), and if a user downloads a free game only to find it doesn't work they will usually just delete it and forget about it rather than feeling sore about the loss of what to many people is a significant amount of money.

And finally software moves towards a free model because it can... Hardware and services require not only up front development costs, but also ongoing costs for every unit sold whereas software can be infinitely replicated. A lot of software can also be reused, there are lots of ready made game engines out there including free ones and most publishers will reuse code and other assets from one game to the next.

Re:problem is (5, Insightful)

blackicye (760472) | about 5 months ago | (#46406811)

We pay same price for digital downloads as we do physical copies. Its a lot of BS cause digital ones are cheaper since they don't need to give you a box and dvd.

They don't need to pay any distributors, middlemen or retailers a cut either.

Re:problem is (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 5 months ago | (#46407339)

Which I never understood. Steam supposedly takes some generous, fixed cut.
But many many games on Steam have a publisher. So does Steam take 60 percent off the top, and then teh publisher takes 60% off the top, and the developer gets what left?

Re:problem is (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#46406833)

Have you been on Steam lately? Even when there's not a sale on, the prices are pretty impressive.

Re:problem is (1)

jma05 (897351) | about 5 months ago | (#46407179)

I have. Between Amazon, Gamersgate and Steam... I did not find anybody to specially distinguish themselves on price. Sure, Steam may have a sale when others don't and vice versa. But the base prices of digital downloads seem to often (with a few exceptions, understandably) be standard across all vendors. Until someone does a proper statistical analysis and shows otherwise, I will remain unconvinced at this argument.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406715)

The SteamBox will be the new Ouya?

Still not worth it.

"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406743)

Even now, the mobile faithful still cling to their hopes that someday mobile gaming will be as revered as console games, but their insistence? Nay, their obsession that games must be free, or at the very least cannot cost more than $1, has absolutely destroyed and incentive for companies to build better games. Why bother making an epic RPG or sprawling adventure game when you can pump out some random one-gimmick game or straight up clone in a few days and rake in the advertising money for little to no effort?

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#46406853)

All hope is not lost! Let's not forget that mobile gaming also means dedicated handhelds such as 3DS and Vita. The quality is good over there, and there are not many $1 gimmick games.

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407411)

http://social.msdn.microsoft.c... [microsoft.com]

Summary: over one million ad requests, got 21 euros. CPM of 0.03. To claim, line up, bend over.

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 5 months ago | (#46407611)

I don't see how Windows Phone could be counted as a dedicated handheld gaming console.

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46408293)

I bet the Italians miss the Lira. It was nothing to make a million a day.

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 5 months ago | (#46407199)

I think you'll find that the people hoping for a future for mobile gaming and the people paying zero dollars for it are different groups entirely. A quick perusal of Touch Arcade suggests they favour those $5-10 console ports and things like Year Walk.

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407313)

(Posting AC because I'm at work and I don't log in from work...)

Why bother making an epic RPG or sprawling adventure game...

When was the last time you played an epic RPG or sprawling adventure game? The vast majority of single player games can be completed in ten hours or less of game play and I would most certainly NOT describe that as "epic" nor "sprawling".

Re:"Free" has ruined mobile gaming (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | about 5 months ago | (#46408239)

After removing that "vast majority", you're still left with a number of games. Some are epic, RPG, sprawling or a combo. None of those sell for $1. By the way, I play a sprawling, epic RPG almost daily. Not hard to find.

Oh good. (1)

GauteL (29207) | about 5 months ago | (#46406747)

Now the "for sale" list will be an utterly useless way of finding a good deal because it will be filled with spam and god awful "freemium" games from the publishers. Every game will be continuously "on sale" and if Valve has any rules against this, the publishers will use the same tricks high street retailers use to always advertise a sale even in countries with marketing laws regarding sales (i.e. introduce a product at a ridiculously high price so that they can then advertise it at 50% sale the next week).

Re:Oh good. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406821)

> i.e. introduce a product at a ridiculously high price so that they can then advertise it at 50% sale the next week

Which wont matter because the purchase price itself is all that people really care about.

And if something is stupidly overpriced, nobody will want to buy it until it is as cheap as they think the product is.

We all know the old steam summer sale effect... buy a bunch of things we may not even play "because they are cheap"... It isn't 'buy them because they are on special'.

Sorry, but I call BS on this. (5, Insightful)

RogueyWon (735973) | about 5 months ago | (#46406807)

TFA is, I'm sorry to say, complete drivel. It ignores two key considerations.

First, Valve's platforms - Steam-on-PC/Mac and the forthcoming Steambox console - are home platforms. Where the pay-to-win model has achieved some success (and even there, the successes are outweighed 100-to-1 by the failures) is on the mobile platforms, where people play for snatches of a few minutes here and there. PC and home-console gaming remains dominated by more substantial offerings, with more significant development budgets and (frankly) a more discerning audience.

And the second point is just that; games cost money to develop. Quite a lot of money, these days. We're already seeing an increase in the RRP for games on the new consoles, which, irritating though it is on one level, is probably something the industry has needed to do for a while now. Long story short - nobody is going to be rushing to give these games away for free. If Valve wants a console, retailing at a per-unit profit, whose selling point is a mass of free titles (and I don't believe for a second that it does) then it will need to throw a massive, unprecedented subsidy at game developers. And that's just not going to happen. We've seen what happens when you try to launch a console whose selling point is the kind of games you actually can give away for free or near-free. It's called the Ouya.

Which, as we all know, is doing just splendidly. Or not.

What Valve's move does unlock the possibility of is smarter and more responsive pricing for games. And this is where there's real potential for the industry to do better.

Historically, we've sold games as though they were movies. There's basically one price point when they're new and another for when they get a budget re-release. Ok, indies and the like have always played around outside that system, but the actually relevant commercial developers have had very fixed price structures. What Steam has moved towards - and seems set to move further towards - is pricing that can price games more accurately reflecting the value they offer, their review scores and their week 1 sales.

Bricks and mortar retail stores sometimes try this, but the way in which they purchase stock and are insured on those purchases makes it a last resort for them. The ability to flex prices rapidly at the publisher level is much more useful. If you have an Elder Scrolls style RPG with a huge development budget and hundreds of hours of game-time, then go at $80. If you have an average sized shooter, perhaps in the $60-70 range. If you have a 2d platformer or sh'mup, then perhaps you should be thinking more about $20-30 for your first release.

Nintendo, in particular, desperately need to learn this lesson. My theory on the unnoticed reason behind the Wii-U's continuing disaster is that it's just too obvious that Nintendo's pricing is vastly out of whack with the value their games offers. Ok, the $60 price-point might be ok for something like Super Mario 3d World, but is it really appropriate for 2d platfomers (Donkey Kong, New Super Mario) or HD remakes which sell for $30 on other platforms (Zelda: Wind Waker).

No long slashdot post would be complete without a car analogy, so I'll say that game pricing needs to be less like movie pricing and more like car pricing. It should have a much wider range and be more responsive to features like production costs, quality, features, brand and image.

Re:Sorry, but I call BS on this. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406911)

Not to mention devs have always been able to set their own pricing, or chose to participate or not in sales. This is just a change to make it possible for devs to run sales, within limits, without having to interact with Valve 'manually' ("Hey valve handler, we would like to run a sale between...") in any way.

Re:Sorry, but I call BS on this. (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 5 months ago | (#46407321)

Even these items are a little high, and only for the first few weeks. Steam has also become very aggressive are deep discounts relatively shortly after release. Skyrim is probably one of the least effected games I have seen so far, and it had OK discounts the year is was released and gets down to 66% off.

So even AAAA games can be had for under 15 bucks a month after release, and the price or a generic steam key, from PWYW sales is only like 50 cents. Steam simply offers a wider range of games, for pretty much whatever you want to pay for them. That said, I think games across the spectrum are going down in price, and we will see even more affordable games in the coming years.

Not the best example. (4, Insightful)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 5 months ago | (#46406873)

I don't think that the iPhone and Android are the best model for comparison here. iPhone and Android games more or less filled the same niche as Flash games, which were already dominated by free.

Pay what you want & ethical microtransactions (1)

advid.net (595837) | about 5 months ago | (#46406875)

Some good games can collect a lot of money with ...

- "Pay what you want" as in Humble Bundle (however there's a lot of games previously sold at a classic price)

- Ethical microtransactions, which mean not needed at all to succeed in game, like cosmetic purchases in Path Of Exile.

Re:Pay what you want & ethical microtransactio (1)

addie (470476) | about 5 months ago | (#46407095)

I agree with the spirit of your comment. I've bought plenty of Humble Bundle games, and have no issue with making in-game purchases available if it has no effect on gameplay.

However I take issue with labeling a subsection of microtransactions unethical. It may be annoying, and insulting, and even borderline illegal as regards false advertising, but there's nothing inherently or fundamentally wrong from a philosophical standpoint about charging extra for gameplay elements.

Now that doesn't mean that such publishers shouldn't go fuck themselves seven ways from Sunday, but that's another issue altogether.

Re:Pay what you want & ethical microtransactio (1)

advid.net (595837) | about 5 months ago | (#46408533)

[...] I have no issue with making in-game purchases available if it has no effect on gameplay.

Many people are like us.

I would say that I'm rather tight when it comes to buy any software, games included.

But when the game is really free, with hours of entertainment and good support, I'm happy to buy those silly cosmetic stuff for fun and to support its development.
I paid Path Of Exile some $35 the month I started to play. I think I've never spent that much for a game !

I've read that I lot of people do so. When those purchases are rendered in game as cosmetics we see the support of the players for the game, that's nice.

I believe that I could be the future for a substantial fraction of the games, but not all of them.

[...] labeling a subsection of microtransactions unethical [...] may be annoying, and insulting[...]

Yes, that's right.

I've just used the same wording as advertised, I understand it may be unfair.
However I really don't like a situation where I'm lured into something labeled "free" and once there I realize that nothing really cool will happen without paying for a few things.
Saying "I don't like" is an understatement, I won't describe the feeling.

This seems to be the opposite of the argument (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 5 months ago | (#46406877)

This seems to be the opposite of the argument in the real world. Here we say that supermarkets are bad as they force farm prices to be artificially low to get business. On the other hand farmer's markets, where people pay a small fee then sell their produce at a price they choose - we see as good. People say that this lets farmers trade based on quality.

Why should it be the opposite on Valve - surely people with quality games will ask for what they see as a fair price?

Re:This seems to be the opposite of the argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407215)

Because in this case it's not separate entities. The "farmer market" as it were is located somewhere in the back of the Costco and you'd have to wade through about a billion free clones of Flappy Birds to even approach it. Obviously the "farmer market" prices never make it into the "circular" because they never trend as they never gain enough attention to achieve signal through the noise.

If Steam goes this route and they make more of an effort than Google Play and Apple Store to highlight these games in some way then maybe, but otherwise you're looking for the few gems hidden amongst a billion fart apps.

Dear $deity, I hope not (3, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | about 5 months ago | (#46406889)

99% of those 99 cent games are "tap the screen at the right time to watch a cute animation" one-trick ponies. While all right to waste a bit of time while you're waiting in line somewhere, it certainly isn't something I'd willingly pick up when I sit down to play a game.

Also, TANSTAAFL applies universally, and hence also to gaming. "Free" games are rarely free. One of three things is almost certainly part of the deal:

1. Handing over your privacy.
2. Enduring endless streams of ads.
3. Micropayments to keep playing.

And usually it's more than one of them. Somehow I doubt I'll be the only one who will not enjoy this kind of gaming on a PC. When you sit down to play at a PC (or console for that matter), you don't want to play a one-trick pony game. You want to be involved, challenged, entertained. It's not just something you do to kill some time waiting, i.e. what mobile games are very often used as.

What I could see is that we're going to see a lot more low budget games from independent programming teams that want to cut out the studios, either to avoid dependency or to avoid being told what to do (or both), people who want to make the game they make because they themselves want to see it come to life (let's be honest here, does anyone think those "freemium" games are something any developer WANTS to develop? Then whey should they be free?). They might even be inclined to sell it for a low price, somewhere in the vicinity of 10-30 bucks rather than 60+, while not offering any less gaming value and neither suffering from one of the three problems lined out above that "free" games usually have.

But free, I doubt. Games are not like apples, they're not identical and only differ in price. You can't simply say "Oh, Game A costs 20 bucks and Game B costs 10, so I buy Game B". What if Game A is more what I'm looking for and Game B is nothing but a cheap knockoff of a game idea that has been trampled to death ages ago? Why should I buy Game B in that case?

Games might get cheaper, and studios will maybe lose their position as kingmakers, but I highly doubt that PC gaming will go the way of mobile gaming. It's a very different market with a very different audience (or, rather, with an audience that has a different "taste" on PC compared to mobile devices, it might even be the same audience).

Re:Dear $deity, I hope not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46408343)

I don't think it's so much a "Race to Zero" with Steam as it is allowing themselves to remain competitive. Steam has been facing some harsh competition from Amazon and sites like GreenManGaming, who put games on sale at prices below those on Steam both during Steam's own major sales and throughout the rest of the year. Before this change, it was convienient for most developers to only change prices during the major Steam sales, which meant that it was entirely possible to see a game on Steam for its full initial price up to five or six months after release, when most other retailers had discounted it.

This change is actually a good thing, because it means less deceptive "discounts" on games. I can still remember seeing Call of Duty 4 on sale for the first time, something like three or four years after it had been released. The game still had a base price of $50 that hadn't changed since release, and went on a seemingly huge 75% discount to $12.50. In reality, the game had long since been bargain-binned by most retailers, to the point where you could probably pick it up for less than that.

A minor quibble... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406925)

They already had the power to control pricing. What steam is letting them do is to discount prices separately from steam's official sales events. They could always artificially simply reduce their price from $50 to $10, if they so wished. The only real difference is now they have the ability to have it done as a temporary sales event ("80% off! one week only!") rather than changing the official price.

More bullshit.. (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 5 months ago | (#46406937)

... the reality is most games today are clones or don't have enough development money/time behind them to be particularly interesting or deep. 9/10 games released today are crap or released way before they are even ready (battlefield 4, etc) and these are supposed to be major fucking releases. The whole game industry is run by incompetents, conmen and morons.

The reality is developers/publishers themselves are flooding the market with low quality games and putting all sorts of shit in their games that lower their value (DRM/Microtransactions/etc). There will always be a place for good games, the problem is there are still many problems to solve in development costs and tools to drive down game costs and make building large AAA projects better. The game industry has a long way to go.

Re:More bullshit.. (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 5 months ago | (#46407435)

I've had much more luck with the sub-$20 market on steam than I have with the AAA titles. They tend to be a lot more innovative and creative and it's no big deal if I drop a couple bucks on a game and don't care for it. I've put about 7 times the hours into Rogue Legacy that I played AC3 for before getting bored with it. Minecraft started the whole trend for me, and I've probably played that more than all the AAA titles in my library combined.

I never liked insane sales (3, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 5 months ago | (#46406939)

Steam has for me drastically lowered the value of a game, because while it is ONE thing to see game slowly decrease in price over a number of years, it is another to find prices slashed to 1/4 of the price seemingly at random.

Well okay then, I won't buy unless there is a deal going on... but I want to play right now, thepiratebay! Always the best deals!

I kinda like to know that if I pay a premium for a newly released game, that it is "worth" it and that it is not going to be on a sale for the fraction of the price a week later. It ruins the value of a product because it shows the product has no inherit price but is rather just a charge put on the product for the sake of it.

Same as say a public toilet at a station, they can charge 1 cent, a 100 cent or a 1000 cent and it has nothing to do with the cost of providing the service, it is just an amount someone thought up. If a product can be sold for 1/4 of the price on week, it never had full price value to begin with, that was just a sucker price.

I don't want to be a sucker. I am one but I don't like my webshop telling me that I am one.

Because I can tell the game producer they are suckers too by downloading the game for free.

Re:I never liked insane sales (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407143)

If you buy the game digitally, it not longer has any value at all once your purchase it. For something to continue to have value, someone must want and be able to purchase it from you. Digital prices should be lower than physical copies if for no other reason than you have pissed all over first sale doctrine and no longer have rights to it (among all the logistical discounts of obtaining digital copies.)

Re:I never liked insane sales (1)

EvilSS (557649) | about 5 months ago | (#46407551)

If you buy the game digitally, it not longer has any value at all once your purchase it. For something to continue to have value, someone must want and be able to purchase it from you. Digital prices should be lower than physical copies if for no other reason than you have pissed all over first sale doctrine and no longer have rights to it (among all the logistical discounts of obtaining digital copies.)

As opposed to physical PC games (because that's what we are talking about here, steam doesn't sell console games) which have a rich resale market. Wait, no, they don't. It's against the EULA and most are tied to your Steam/MS/Origin/whatever account anyway so.... I guess there is value in physical media as coasters, but really, is that why you invest in games?

Re:I never liked insane sales (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 5 months ago | (#46407303)

Well okay then, I won't buy unless there is a deal going on... but I want to play right now, thepiratebay! Always the best deals!

Those sales have changed nothing, because you have not changed. You're still willing to violate copyright in order to get the game for free. As long as that is true, pay-to-win games are going to continue to proliferate.

Re:I never liked insane sales (1)

Mitreya (579078) | about 5 months ago | (#46407309)

Steam has for me drastically lowered the value of a game, because while it is ONE thing to see game slowly decrease in price over a number of years, it is another to find prices slashed to 1/4 of the price seemingly at random.

What difference does it make what the price of the game is? The re-sale value of the game is zero because (as far as I know?) one cannot sell or even give away Steam games after purchase.

As an owner of a bunch of used games (both PC and console), I think that's too bad.

Gaming is a commodity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46406977)

Why should the video game market be immune to the same trend towards commodification that other market suffers from? Oh that's right, gamers are very special flowers!

Re:Gaming is a commodity (1)

chill (34294) | about 5 months ago | (#46407117)

You know, that would explain the excessive amount of "fertilizer" coming from gaming companies these days.

Summary makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407063)

How does giving developers _more_ control over the pricing help Valve to lower prices?
Why would individual game publishers want to help promote Steam with free games, lowering their own revenue stream?
Quite the opposite makes sense. Developers may increase prices (maybe only through offering less "sales"), because Valve will not enforce low prices and sales upon them.

Maybe prices will eventually fall, but not for the reasons stated in the summary. Much more likely due to the free-to-play, pay-to-win trend and because people are natural cheapskates.

Re:Summary makes no sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46408041)

How does giving developers _more_ control over the pricing help Valve to lower prices?
Why would individual game publishers want to help promote Steam with free games, lowering their own revenue stream?
Quite the opposite makes sense. Developers may increase prices (maybe only through offering less "sales"), because Valve will not enforce low prices and sales upon them.

Valve could not enforce lower prices until now either. That is why some (even old) games are never on sale at a significant discount, the price can only be reduced with the publisher's agreement.

It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but discounts can in fact allow for more income in the long term, because they increase the number of copies sold, and this effect persists for a while even after the sale ends (because of the increased publicity the game gets). The mere fact that there is a temporary discount can convince some people to quickly buy a game they would otherwise have ignored. Also, a game with a greater number of players (previously popularized by sales) is more likely to attract even more players.

EA and Ubi already controll their prices.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407119)

via their respective websites (Origin, Uplay), and their prices are much higher than an average game on Steam.

On the upside, it they are enticed back to Steam because of this, maybe I won't need their crappy ecosystem anymore, which is a win.

apple hardware sucks for gameing and the price is (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#46407129)

apple hardware sucks for gameing and the price is a joke next to other pc systems that are better off for the same price or less.

Valve better not go that way.

Most Imacs have weak video cards for there screen size.

mini only has intel on board video.

mac pro very high price and workstation video cards that are not really the best choice for gameing also that 256GB storage can go fast with a lot of games.

Developers are not going to make games for free (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 5 months ago | (#46407165)

Just because it would help Valve out.

Yes games are getting cheaper, but even if it is 50 cents, they will always cost something.

No DRM for me. (3, Interesting)

grub (11606) | about 5 months ago | (#46407231)


I'll pay on GOG.com [gog.com] rather than free with DRM.

lies (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about 5 months ago | (#46407311)

Free is the dominant price point on mobile platforms

No, it isn't. free-to-play is, which is something else entirely. Most F2P games are considerably more expensive then traditional games if you buy the equivalent of what would've been in a box. It's the razor-blades business all over again. It is full of lies and deceit and psychological warfare on the customer who is lured in with "free" and then shaken down for every penny with addictive (instead of fun) gameplay, click-bait and carrot-and-stick tactics.

It is, in two words, distasteful and dishonest.

Get what you pay for (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 5 months ago | (#46407359)

At some point, developers will realize that there are people like me who will gladly pay full-price for a great game that gives good value.

I do not play F2P games because I find them creepy. Even the best, like Planetside 2, leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I just love how these stories ignore games like GT (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 5 months ago | (#46407469)

I just love how these stories ignore games like GTA 5. Massive investment cost followed by massive profits. All with a simple box priced product.

But hey, what is a billion in sales these days eh?

I'm surprised that this is "a move" (1)

Kartu (1490911) | about 5 months ago | (#46407465)

In my naive world developers already had control over pricing.

Not remotely the same (2)

rebelwarlock (1319465) | about 5 months ago | (#46407471)

"I'm putting my game on sale for a couple weeks" is not even close to "I'm moving to a freemium model". Lovell is an idiot, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Steam boxes are free.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46407489)

I'm sure a large majority of steam users built their own computer, and will repurpose a current computer or build their own stream box.
I can only imagine buying a controller from valve.

Rather sell more than make stuff expensive (3, Interesting)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about 5 months ago | (#46407567)

Because as a game developer I see two main motivations that are essentially the same as every other artist:
1) making enough money to live
2) bring your stuff to as many people as possible

so if I have the choice of selling 10Mio copies at 5€ or 1Mio copies at 50€ for me the first option would clearly win.

That is not a coherent theory. (2)

seebs (15766) | about 5 months ago | (#46407939)

Apple makes a ton of money off app store licenses, and Valve makes their money selling software. The steam box is a device for getting people to buy games; it's never going to be even close to the profitability of selling games.

Selling software is a great deal for the vendor because the per-unit cost to them is effectively zero. Any theory that the vendor is going to try to eliminate the cost of software so they can make all that money on hardware is a stupid theory. And I don't mean "after sufficient research you can disprove it", I just mean stupid straight up.

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