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PC Game Prices — Valve Starts the Race To Zero 212

Posted by Soulskill
from the year-of-micro-transactions-on-the-desktop dept.
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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PC Game Prices — Valve Starts the Race To Zero

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  • It's not free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Scutter (18425) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @06:42AM (#46406671) Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @06:57AM (#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?

  • by RogueyWon (735973) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:14AM (#46406807) Journal

    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:problem is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blackicye (760472) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:15AM (#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:It's not free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:18AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:22AM (#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.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:27AM (#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.
  • Re:The future (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @07:46AM (#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.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @08:46AM (#46407303) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • lies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @08:49AM (#46407311) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Wednesday March 05, 2014 @10:10AM (#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.

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