Another EA executive is talking to the press, again. This time about unique approach that Origin is taking on digital game sales. That is, they won’t be doing the big 75% off sales that Steam has historically become famous for.
My pragmatic stance is that EA can do whatever they want with Origin. It’s obviously their platform (and, let’s be honest, pretty much just their games so far). I’ve even said that I’m in favor of finding great reasons to ask for more. But as a gamer, I found his remarks about the gamemakers working hard to make the property fairly ignorant.
Let’s work with the assumption that Steam will retain its practice of big, nasty sales semi-annually. The marketplace of digital stuff is less about devaluing any one specific piece of property but, instead, turns the value equation around. The gameplay value of the $50 game you are selling needs to be demonstrably better than the $7.50 games I just bought. Not just one of the games, all of the games. Otherwise, I will probably not buy it.
Nobody, game developer programmers included, really gives a crap about the sanctimonious protection of intellectual property on a sale-by-sale basis.
And if you believe Valve, game sales not only tend to exponentially increase absolute money during the deep discount sale, but also they significantly cause an uptick in the sales of that game after the sale is over. It’s an error to treat Valve as a rogue organization, forcefully thrusting ridiculous prices upon the publishers of the games that they host.
From all available information, Valve seems to discuss its past statistics, behavioral psychology research, and historical findings with the game publishers to let them decide how to proceed based upon that. So, while a gamemaker may be encouraged to set the price a certain way for the betterment of the game’s sales temporarily, I don’t believe they’re suggesting that the games must decrease while Steam must increase or anything along those lines.
It seems far more likely that EA, just like Activision, imagines that digital distribution platforms need their games far more than the games need the platforms. Thus they are setting out to mine their own fortune without paying another party.
The whole devaluing games logic comes from retail shelf space, not from the short digitally distributed historical reality. That is, in the digital world, there isn’t a limited amount of games to push around that are all fighting for a fixed pool of money. There’s no reason to assume that it has to work this way, and that attitude alone is the most significant difference between EA and Valve’s approach to marketing their stores.
We don’t know what the bird in the hand is that the EA exec referred to. But in the long term, the Origin store’s probably looks a lot more like MS’s Xbox strategy where games have a minimum price. And while the EA interviewee insists that, for the first time, nobody could say anything bad about Origin after they announced free 90 day distributing for crowd-funded games, I was reminded of the Super Meat Boy bait-and-switch that Microsoft pulled on XLBA.
This is all a bunch of horn-blowing so far, anyway. It’s prudent to remember that no digital platform maker’s tidal wave can even relatively compare to Steam’s wake. Heck, Microsoft is on their 4th reboot of the Games for Windows Live effort since Steam started selling games; and their logo is on every box.