Steam Sales and Value

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Wow, has the Steam Summer Sale this week been great to me!

Honestly, I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to buy anything at full price lately. Whether it’s due to a valuation of the product or a lack of funds on my parts (not so much the latter), I can’t spend more than twenty dollars on a game unless I really, REALLY want said game and can’t prevent myself from buying it. Notable products in this price range as of recent include Bayonetta (day one purchase), Final Fantasy XIII-2 King of Fighters XIII, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend, and Soul Calibur V. Yes, that is a lot of fighting games, but Soul Calibur’s the one near and dear to my heart.

Still, my PC gaming exploits always feel like I’m sitting in a room by myself playing a game – hence, my reliance on consoles. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a gaming PC collection, but I prefer playing them on a big screen, with the exception of FPS or TPS games (seriously, mouse and keyboard rock).

This is where the Steam sale arrives at my doorstep, beckoning me to buy games for dirt-cheap prices. What did I buy this week? Stuff I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise.  Certainly, I picked up both Ys releases that Patrick Gann recommended, but you never go into these sales expecting to buy that much stuff. I didn’t like Bioshock very much, but at five dollars, I can give it a chance. Would I ever have bought LA Noire if it wasn’t 7.50 with all of the DLC included? Probably not. Orcs Must Die! is infinitely more entertaining that I thought it would be, and buying copies of Sanctum and Dungeon Defenders for three other people is such a steal I feel like I’m committing crimes! Getting the last two Prince of Persia games and all the Thief games into the collection was just icing on the cake. The sale’s not even over yet, but I’m looking forward to the next crazy deals we see on this thing.

I’ve heard a lot of rumblings, though, that these sales devalue the games themselves, that we perceive they’re worth less and thus gamers wait for the big sale to pick a game up. I don’t think this is true for a few reasons. First, most of the games that end up on sale are either 1. completely unknown or 2. incredibly old (in gaming years, anyway). If you’re selling a ten year old game for two dollars and forty-nine cents, vale only takes seventy five cents out of that, and the rest is pure profit. Publishers and developer alike make a great deal of money through this system, more than you’d think. Even turning additional money on an old game is an incentive for companies to participate; I think iD software still making money off DooM and its variants is pretty awesome. Second, indie developers and those games you don’t know about gain lots of exposure due to the sale. I wouldn’t have bought Orcs Must Die!, or Sanctum, or Dungeon Defenders, or even looked them up if they weren’t on sale. It’s a great promotion tool, for one, and getting people hooked into games with DLC is almost like self-promotion through sales. Again, developers and publishers on Steam make 70% of a sale, and to make MANY, MANY more sales can make up the difference of not having to create a box copy, ship it to a store and then have it sell at a brick and mortar. This goes for the newer games on sale, as well; they’re make a bigger cut than they would retail, so chopping a good percentage off the sale price isn’t hurting the bottom line.

Nor do I think these sales devalue the games. I’m surprised, for example, that Thief was even on there; it’s a fifteen year old game, yet new audiences, like myself, get to play these games if they can look past some dated graphics. The value of a game isn’t determined by its replay value or “how many hours” it provides. It is determined by the quality of the experience being provided. It is up to the individual consumer to see his/her tastes, see if that taste lines up in accordance with the price, and purchase/not purchase accordingly. I’d say Steam sales, in that respect, get more people to the experience by presenting such quality games at such a low price. It’s like an artist’s dream; even if your product didn’t sell well at full price, at least some guy or gal out there gets to immerse themselves in your game, and I can’t think that isn’t part of the reason why these sales exist.

But, and I think this is the rub, game reviews usually base the score or judgment on hours provided and “value”. That, to me, is preposterous. Even talking among two gamers, opinions vary wildly. My Conker’s Bad Fur Day examination wasn’t well-received by some, who saw it as a derivative game from a developer who was running out of time with a particular game. Neither of us discussed the issue by “how long” the game was; that is totally irrelevant. That’s why JRPGs have become overly long, and even games like Arkham Asylum (so many times have I mentioned this game) is entirely too long for the content it provides. Once they think you need to make the game longer arbitrarily, you destroy the pacing. Now that the price point is set at 59.99, developers can’t help but bow to the whims of consumers who think good = long.

That’s what is the problem with games, in that we see them as products worth a certain price, and not experiences that stand alone regardless of their cost.  Much of the reason I can’t see it that way is the story of Jesus and the rich young man. Used in just about every circle imaginable to describe Jesus’ need for people to be poor (man, do I not see that), it’s an admonishion of putting worldy goods before what is truly important. In this case, we’re talking about evaluative judgments of games based solely on their costs, but it could just as easily be judging a person based on their social status. Mark 10 should help flesh this out:

17  As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘ Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “ How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “ With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

28  Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you,there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 Butmany who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

It is because the rich young man places his worth on his possessions, his market value, that he can’t let go. He can’t perceive that, perhaps, there’s something beyond those material good that he can’t see, intangibles that he couldn’t grasp without seeing them. It’s a material centered life. Once we’ve lost a way to quantify what’s good and bad solely by a price, a review score, or a “review”, it’s difficult to see the value in something from our worldly perspective. That why Jesus “loves” him even in his misguided attempt to carve his worth based on value, rather than agape love. I can’t see games or people judged by that standard, but we can resist that urge. I try my best to do that.

So yeah, Steam sales are awesome.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.